Stephanie Susemichel’s success is a mélange of talent, vision and gumption. That she inherited an innate sense for business was definitely a plus.
Her mother, Cheryl Susemichel, founded Secret Garden, a store specializing in home and garden furnishings that will soon celebrate its twenty-fourth anniversary. Her grandparents owned Susan’s Florist.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be in retail. It was a matter of the direction I would go,” says Stephanie. She gained retail experience working as a buyer at Whole Foods but she wanted more – to be an entrepreneur. “I found a space in Middletown and thought now is the time to take the leap and do it,” she says when talking about Magnolia & Fig, the boutique she introduced to Louisville in 2016.
She imagined the store being for the modern southern woman looking for unique pieces. “Having grown up in Louisville and loving to shop, I felt there was an opportunity in town for clothing that was well-crafted and didn’t cost a car payment. As for the name, my mom is from Alabama and I’m from Kentucky, so I wanted it to cater to the heritage of the south. My old house had three beautiful magnolia trees in the yard, and they’re a sentimental tree for me,” she says.
Being seven months pregnant may not have been the ideal scenario for opening a store, but being super organized and on her feet ten hours a day paid off. Magnolia & Fig became a huge hit. Retail can be a brutally competitive industry that requires points of difference and branding. She understood the need for both.
“Women look for things they aren’t going to see on everybody else when they go to an event, things are current and on trend but are so timeless they will love them for years. That’s a fine line to walk,” says Stephanie.
Choosing the boutique’s product mix can be overwhelming at times but oh, so fun. “Part of my job is narrowing down and curating all the options out there. I make sure different pieces from different sources will work together in a woman’s closet. A lot of it is just going on instinct and gut feelings.”
Trending for fall and winter at Magnolia & Fig are velvet and crushed velvet, leather and faux leather, midi length skirts and historical or period details like high necklines or tiny buttons on a poofy sleeve. She’s especially fond of lace and jewels, and metallics. Leopard print? It’s classic and neutral and will never go out of style.
She believes women have become more individualistic in their approach to fashion and hopes the shop local and shop small movement is inspiring them in their fashion choices. “If you love what you wear and you feel confident, you’re going to rock it and look gorgeous. Based on that, I try to push customers a little bit. It’s so much fun to see a woman glowing when she steps out of the fitting room when she’s wearing a piece she never thought she could pull off but is pulling off,” says Stephanie.
She relishes the chance to meet and interact with women in different stages of their lives, and to share some of the important times in their lives. “Customers may tell me they had a business presentation or went on a first date and were wearing something from Mag Fig in a big deal moment. They’ll say, ‘I felt like you guys were with me.’ I love that!”
Owning your own boutique sounds like loads of fun, almost not like actually work, doesn’t it? “Well, you’re the bookkeeper and the buyer and the merchandiser and you’re working the cash register and taking out the trash. It’s not a job where you clock in and later go home. I miss a lot of bed times with my son, Emerson. And I miss out on all the weekend stuff with him because I have to be at the store.”
That doesn’t mean she’s slowing down or isn’t eyeing the future. “I have no specific new plans. I’m trying to balance having a three-year-old son with my work life. But as he gets older and more independent, I’d love to do more with Mag Fig or a side project,” she says with a hint of a promise.