Fashion to fit Juneau

Sarah Lehnert, owner of Mabel McKinley, displays dresses at her new shop on North Franklin Street on Thursday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire

With an eye for fashion and an ear for what Juneau women are asking for, two women have opened up new clothing stores on opposite ends of town.

Mabel McKinley

One downtown storefront got a little brighter when Sarah Lehnert opened a pop-up shop full of colorful prints and patterns.

After a successful week, Lehnert signed a lease to bring Mabel McKinley, a boutique co-owned by Lehnert and her sister, Deela Roe, to Juneau permanently.

Mabel McKinley isn’t totally new to Juneau residents. The sisters opened the flagship boutique in Anchorage in late 2011. At the time, Lehnert was a school counselor and her sister had a full-time career as well. They would open up the store in the evenings for women to shop, but soon grew busy enough to hire someone to run the store during the day.

When Lehnert and her husband moved from Anchorage to Juneau for his career, she set up booths at Public Market and held trunk shows at people’s homes. When her trunk shows seemed to have outgrown her car, she sought out a storefront.

Lehnert said entrepreneurship was in their blood, that they come from a family of entrepreneurs — Grandma Nonie used to own a shop called the Pink Potato, which inspires them and the decor they include in the stores.

Lehnert’s son is the “boutique baby,” toddling around and waving at passersby through the storefront windows. Running her own business allows her to spend time with her son, and also saves her from having to find childcare. The sisters’ husbands and brother, though not owners, have been supportive and helpful as well, she said.

What made the sisters open up a clothing boutique initially was necessity — or desire — there’s a fine line when it comes to fashion.

“We had a hard time finding clothes in our size that weren’t at chain stores,” Lehnert said.

Mabel McKinley includes a range of sizes from small to plus, though they prefer to call it curvy.

Lehnert thinks carrying larger sizes sets the shop apart from other boutiques, which often cap sizing at XL or size 14, which is the average size of American women.

“I’m very picky about what I choose for the curvy section,” Lehnert said. “I want it to be stuff we would wear.”

She noted that they may not carry the exact same item from size small through 3X because “manufacturers cut off (styles) at Large and make a new item for plus-size women.”

Though they may vary from straight to plus sizes, there are similar prints and cuts.

The other goal Lehnert said they have in mind for Mabel McKinley is affordability. Though she and her sister are now married and have kids, they wanted to have a boutique that a young woman on a single income could afford.

Mabel McKinley also carries clothes for babies and toddlers and some Alaska-based brands, like Alaska Wild Child’s screen-printed baby gear, as well as designs from Roe.

Ultimately, Lehnert said, they opened the shop not to make money, but because it brings people happiness.

“It’s about seeing people’s response and happiness to an Alaskan-based business that we created,” Lehnert said, “We grew it from nothing to a place that (can make) a woman happy through clothing. It sounds silly, but it is what keeps us going.”

Cassandra’s Closet

Cassandra Bell has gone from sewing Barbie clothes as a child to offering a broad selection of styles and sizes for real women at her second-hand boutique, Cassandra’s Closet.

“I’ve always had a passion when it came to clothing. I’m a bit of a shopaholic,” she said. “Now I’m channeling that energy into providing for Juneau residents.”

Before opening Cassandra’s Closet on June 20 at the Airport Mini-Mall between the Valley Restaurant and Best Western Inn, she worked for the State of Alaska and hadn’t had any long-term goals of opening a business on her own. It was only in the last few years that the idea came up. In January, she said, it started to become a reality.

Bell was raised in Juneau and remembers a time when there were a number of larger clothing stores, like Gottschalk’s, J. Jacobs and the Plum Tree.

“I think when online shopping came about, that really took away from shopping locally,” she said. “It was quite surprising the limited options that we have now in Juneau.”

For a while now, Bell has run a Facebook group for buying, selling and trading clothes and accessories. In moderating that group, she came to realize there was room for another clothing store in Juneau, and that there were needs not being met.

She reached out to members of the group, asking what they were looking for.

“One of the biggest was plus-size clothing,” Bell said. “I knew I needed to stock all the way up through plus-size clothing.”

She has full-length racks along each wall and down the middle, with sizes from small through 4X.

She also asked women what brands they wanted and goes out of her way to carry them.

Bell brings in most of her stock from out of town. She takes trips to the Lower 48 or shops online auctions, looking for the sizes, styles and brands she wants to provide.

“My biggest inspiration would be my friends,” she said. “I have friends that wear each size, so I’m thinking of them — would this specific person that wears this size wear this?”

Bell said she’s also scouring the Internet to keep abreast of current fashions.

Though Bell is watching the current trends, she said she’ll always be second-hand and she wants to always be affordable. Her price range currently goes from $5.50 to $24.50.

“When I’m shopping,” she said, “personally, I love it when I purchase a big pile of clothes and don’t break the bank.”


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