Food, fashion and friendship have proved to be a winning combination of ingredients for Vanilla Clothing.
The locally owned boutique with two locations — one in White Rock and another in Langley — is the brainchild of owner Deanna Whissell and her late best friend Sharon Rees.
With Whissell’s background in marketing and sales for a major food manufacturer and Sharon’s extensive entrepreneurial experience, mixed with a shared passion for food, their partnership was a recipe for retail success.
In 2009, the fashionable foodies opened their first location in Prince George — the taste of owning their own boutique was sweet, but they didn’t waste any time savoring it. A year later, the duo opened the doors to their second store in the Five-Corners Shopping District, 15208 Pacific Ave., White Rock.
Regretfully, Rees passed away from breast cancer in 2011 — just two weeks after being diagnosed with the disease. Their well-devised plan went out the window, which meant it was time for the Langley resident to sink or swim in her new lone role.
“The objective was that she (Sharon) would run the store in Prince George and I would continue to work at my job for three more years as part of my exit plan,” said Whissell.
“That three-year-plan quickly became a six-month plan.”
While her best friend and business partner is no longer with her, and Whissell has since closed up shop in Prince George, she is certain Sharon would be thrilled with how their unique business model has prospered.
“I think she’s looking down and she’s smiling — she’s with me all the time,” Whissell said.
And rightfully so.
In October of last year, Whissell opened up a third location, this time in Walnut Grove (6 – 8880 202 St.).
Similar to the White Rock store, the innovative boutique offers much more than just great fashion for women 35 and up — most of which is designed in Canada by various talented local designers like Sweetpiece Jewelry, Sympli, Neon Buddha and Frank Lyman — just to name a few.
One would be hard pressed to find any of the pieces that hang on the racks at Vanilla Clothing at any major shopping centre.
“The mall is flooded with younger stores for younger girls… there’s really nothing for women of our age,” said Whissell, who takes pride in providing retail refuge for the over-35 crowd who don’t want to sport the same attire as their daughter.
“Many women over 40 are uncomfortable because they are going through the change — they want comfortable, breathable fabric, which is why we’ve tapped into bamboo, linens and high-quality cotton.”
Unlike some of the boutiques downtown, Vanilla Clothing offers down-to-earth charm and a great selection of fashionable finds without having to cross any big bridges.
“It’s not like Pretty Woman, we will let you shop here,” joked Whissell.
Having spent the majority of her career in the food industry, Whissell is thrilled to have the opportunity to unite her taste for fashion with her actual taste buds.
“I wanted to do more to encourage women in our community to shop on this side of the border but I had to do more than just say ‘shop local’ — we had to create an experience for our ladies,” she said.
Last March, Vanilla Clothing began offering tours that take women on an adventure of fashion, food and drink right here in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland.
“The ladies have such a great time — they have no clue where we are going,” said Whissell, of the Retail Therapy-Boutique & Wine Tour that in the past has included stops at chocolate making/cooking classes, cheese shops, wine tastings and more.
For just $45, participants on the bus tour are provided with brunch, transportation and a variety of nibbles and sips throughout the day.
Giving back to the community is also at the heart of the store. On Oct. 27, Vanilla Clothing will come together with other local businesses and boutiques to sponsor the 2013 Women of Value – Fall Fashion Fair, an event for the Servants Anonymous Society (SAS) in Surrey at Eagle Quest Golf/Coyote Creek.
Tickets are $45 and include appetizers and a cocktail. There will also be a fashion show and the Fashion Police will be out in full force giving away prizes — more than $5,000 in prizes will be auctioned off or given away that night.
“It’s going to be a great night — 100 per cent of the auction’s sales will go to the charity and so will 50 per cent of the price of each ticket sold,” Whissell said.
For more information about Vanilla Clothing, visit the store’s website.