We had the good fortune of connecting with Caroline Marino & Jackie Hess and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Caroline Marino & Jackie Hess, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Our process behind starting The Backroom was our love for fashion and a desire to provide customers, especially in the Boston area, with clothing and home decor that is timeless, one-of-a-kind, and sustainably sourced. When we met at 18, one of the things that really bonded our friendship was our experimental attitude towards fashion; we loved trying new styles, thrifting & repurposing pieces for ourselves and our friends, and especially, using our outfits as a way to express who we really are. Graduating from Babson College, a school that specializes in business and entrepreneurship, we were accustomed to professional wear and corporate style which to be blunt, was our nightmare since we were taught that there’s not much room for style experimentation in the office. When we weren’t in class or meetings, we were looking for any excuse to dress up or style our friends with thrifted pieces. So, one of the major things that we wanted our brand to provide was multi-purpose, yet one-of-a-kind clothing that can be styled for anything such as a business presentation, drinks with friends, or casually running errands. That is why most of our time before a new drop is spent carefully styling the collection in a way that gives our customers inspiration to wear the pieces in a variety of ways for a variety of events.
We see with the rise of fast fashion companies that many people buy a low quality, “trendy” piece of clothing for one outfit and then never wear it again. It’s not only socially and environmentally detrimental, but let’s be honest, it’s boring. So, we try to instill a mindset in our customers that you can still dress on trend, but with uniquely vintage pieces that can be worn whenever and however you want and better yet, pieces not found being worn on the person next you. Overall, the basis of our business has always been providing our customers with an easy shopping experience since we’ve already done the heavy lifting for them with our hand curated, sustainable collections.
What should our readers know about your business?
First and foremost, I think we’re most proud of the fact that we stay true to ourselves and our customers. Our sole purpose has never been to make a profit. We take the time to curate a collection that we both love and would personally wear ourselves, but also one we think our customers would feel confident in. In other words (and ours), it has to fit the “vibe check.” Although this comes with challenges since it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to style and promote one-of-a-kind items across all of our social platforms, we realize that it’s the careful thought we put in that holds our brand together. So, if there’s one thing that we want people to know it would be that our brand is not just an online vintage shop, but rather a source of inspiration where we encourage and instill confidence in our customers to express themselves through one-of-a-kind fashion, all while shopping sustainably. As we’ve always said, our mission has been to not only make our customers feel good in what they’re wearing, but also about where it’s coming from. There’s nothing more exciting to us than seeing how our customers style and make memories in our pieces. And as we continue to expand both in brand awareness and product offerings, which will be seen with the introduction of our men’s line, we’ll never substitute the quality and care of our business for our time.
More so, the way we’ve approached gaining brand presence has always been organic. Fortunately, one of the perks graduating from a school that specializes in entrepreneurship is that we have a large support system of fellow students, alumni, and faculty that understand the risks and obstacles associated with starting a business. It’s not only their valued help and opinions that have helped us overcome barriers of entry, but it’s the support of our customers as well. One of the strategies that we’ve learned works best for our business model is building customer intimacy. We adapt to what our followers and customers are engaging with most depending on the season and trends by personally asking them what they’d like to see in new drops and if there’s anything that we can improve on. It’s by listening to our customers and building lasting, trusting relationships with them that helps our brand grow through word-of-mouth. Our customers are our lifeline and it’s their time and opinions that are the most valuable to us as a business.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Breaking it down by neighborhood, we’ll begin the trip in the Seaport District. Both being residents of the South Boston area, we like to walk along the water (yes, even in the frigid cold) and stop at our favorite coffee chain, La Colombe, followed by a short walk over to Tatte Bakery for breakfast. We’d then make our way to the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art) and check out any of the new exhibitions. After soaking up some inspiration, we’d head over to the Barking Crab for some classic New England lobster rolls and fried clams, followed by a walk over to Seaport Commons. During the summer, it’s home to Cisco Brewery where you can get a local craft beer and enjoy some live music, while in the Winter, it offers ice skating and a holiday market lined with small pop-up shops. After working up a sweat from ice skating or drinking, we’ll head to Committee, a Greek-fusion restaurant for dinner. To end the night, we’ll head up to the Lookout Rooftop, located in the Envoy Hotel, for drinks and the perfect view of Boston’s skyline, which has igloos to keep you warm in the Winter.
The next day, we’re heading to Harvard Square in Cambridge which is filled with cute coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants. Lunch will be at Source, which has amazing pizza and small plates. We’d then go for a walk along the Charles River, followed by thrifting at some of the local second-hand stores or the small pop ups along Mass Ave. Dinner will be at Little Donkey which has a global selection of tapas and cocktails. To end the night, we’ll grab a margarita (or four) at Felipe’s Taqueria which has a fun rooftop bar and music.
Starting the next day in Back Bay, we’ll do a casual brunch at Trident Booksellers & Cafe which is located in a bookstore and has the best comfort food (and the best mac & cheese). We’ll then walk down Newbury Street which is famous for its plethora of stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. After that, we’ll head to the North End for an Italian dinner at one of our favorite spots, Nico. We’ll order a bottle of red wine, mussels, and their fist sized meatballs. Before we leave, we’ll pop into Mike’s Pastry, where we’re guaranteed to wait in a long line to grab some cannoli. To finish the night off, we’ll head to Faneuil Hall and make our way to Bell in Hand, our guilty pleasure bar that we spent way too much time at in college. After drinking vodka red bulls and dancing to 2000’s hits, we’ll stop outside one of the street vendors and inevitably order a hot dog or sausage.
For the finale, we’d be frauds if we didn’t end the weekend with a Southie Sunday. This means brunch at The Broadway or Lincoln and ordering mimosa towers with breakfast pizza and nachos. We’ll probably be watching a football game depending on the season and there will be A LOT of rowdy fans. After brunch, we’ll head to some of the small businesses on E. Broadway to do a little shopping. Then we’ll go to Southie Bowl for a little bowling session. To finish the trip off, we’ll probably need a hearty dinner which means pizza, wraps, mozzarella sticks, and French fries from Broadways Best Pizza (literally the best), followed by an extremely long nap.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Besides our friends and loved ones who have supported us in the decision to start our own business, we wouldn’t be anywhere without our biggest fashion inspirations, our moms. As kids, there was nothing more enchanting to us than sneaking into our mothers’ closets, slipping into heels that were way too big for us and dreaming of the day when playing dress up would be our reality. It was their thoughtfulness and attention to detail that ingrained in us the importance that every aspect of an outfit holds. While choosing a pair of earrings or deciding on a hairstyle may seem insignificant to some, our moms showed us that it made a world of a difference.
When we’re not shopping at second hand stores or sorting through old fashion magazines, we’re most likely sifting through our moms’ closets for inspiration and of course for our own wardrobe. It’s their patience and creativity that taught us to sew, style, and shop and more importantly, the reason that we both use fashion as a creative outlet. They’re our biggest hype women and the reason we persevere through any of the challenges that we face. So, to our amazingly talented and beautiful moms, if you’re reading this, we love you and thank you for the support system you’ve provided to each of us (and we’re sorry for taking your clothes without asking).
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