Passion and faith inspire graduate’s pop-up boutique
A fashion maven since nearly birth, Michelle Saltzman '19 began working in gown shops and boutiques on Long Island, New York, when she was 16.
She helped pair women with the perfect dress, gown, romper or whatever ensemble their special occasion called for.
When women entered the store where Michelle worked, many were not certain about what style they wanted. A phrase she often heard expressed by customers was, “I’ll never find a dress!”
In these moments, Michelle shined. She would stay calm on their behalf and kindly guide them through a series of questions like, “What colors do you normally go to?”
Michelle soon realized she had a talent for connecting women with clothing that made them feel comfortable and empowered. She also determined that doing exactly that was something she was passionate about.
When Michelle graduated from a fashion industries high school in New York, she knew she wanted to head south in order to continue her education. She checked out colleges and universities in Florida, North and South Carolina, Georgia and a few in Virginia before choosing Radford University. She majored in fashion merchandising her freshman year at Radford. But soon, the young woman who wanted to own a business since she was 10, realized she loved “the numbers” and fashion marketing.
Michelle talked with some of her Zeta Tau Alpha sisters who were business majors. “They said business students were the happiest people on campus,” she recalls. So, she joined them, eager to learn all the ins and outs of starting and running a business.
One day in her Entrepreneurship 101 class, Management Professor Jerry Kopf asked two simple questions, “What bugs you, and how could you fix it?”
Michelle knew her answer immediately.
“I got to thinking: How many women in Radford, and other college campuses, struggle to find a dress or a romper to go to a social or a winery?” she recalls.
Sure, there is online shopping, but it is often a hassle “when the clothes arrive, they don’t fit right and you have to ship them back,” Michelle explains.
She thought of opening a store in downtown Radford, but saving money to open a brick and mortar store could take several years.
Then, the idea hit her, and just a few months later, Michelle had a store. What is unique is, women do not visit the store; Michelle takes the store to them.
“It’s a pop-up,” she explains. “I load everything – my clothes, my racks, my cash register, everything – into my Nissan Rogue, and I take my store to women.”
When Michelle was a child, she took over her family’s garage sales.
“She would say, ‘I’ll take care of everything,’” Michelle’s father Steve Saltzman recalls with a smile. “She would set up, merchandise and handle all the money… and give correct change.”
Michelle learned much of her work ethic from her parents. And, when her father lost his job in Manhattan after 27 years of working in advertising graphic design, she sprang into action.
Michelle was 15, she says, when “my parents lost everything overnight.” It was a difficult experience, and one that drove her to get out of the house and go to work. First in a pizzeria and then in an ice cream shop.
She loved working.
“Michelle saw how losing my job hurt the family,” Steve says. “I think I created my own monster.”
Her father later secured a job in Philadelphia, worked there throughout the week and drove home to be with his wife, Michelle and her twin brother, Brian, over weekends.
“He has been my hero to the point that I work every day of my life knowing that I don’t want to go through the struggle he went through,” Michelle says of her father.
Even after Steve found a new job, Michelle never stopped working. She did more, going to work for a boutique and then a gown shop.
There, she became “so addicted knowing I was helping women find clothing that fit their bodies,” she says.
The feeling inspired her. A pet peeve drove her to where she is now.
“I always hated someone saying, ‘Oh, you’re an oval shape, or you’re an hourglass shape,” she says, emphatically banging her hand on a table. “I hate that women are defined by a certain figure. Clothing should be based off what fits you.
“And, that’s how I started my company.”
Using almost every single penny of the $11,000 she saved from working in pizza and ice cream shops, boutiques and gown shops, Michelle opened Faithful Fit Boutique on Jan. 27, 2019, with a shopping event in Radford University’s Heth Hall.
She set up five racks with about 250 pieces – clothing, jewelry, “everything but shoes,” she says – for college women to shop within walking distance of their residence halls and apartments.
“It was incredible,” Michelle says, still beaming over the opening event.
It was everything she had been dreaming of, working toward.
Starting a business during her senior year of college was an enormous challenge, Michelle admits. She juggled classes, worked 30 hours a week at a local restaurant, and on weekends, packed her car and hosted shopping events at college campuses within a two-and-a-half-hour drive. One trip in April took her to a sorority sisterhood event at the University of Virginia.
“I put a lot of miles on my car, but it’s great” she says. “Sisterhood events are so big. How many times do you get a chance to get together as a sorority and do something like this, shopping together and having fun when you’re not busy with school?”
Helping other women continues to drive Michelle. It’s what she thinks about when she buys clothes at trade shows for her pop-up boutique. “I look for clothes that are good quality that college students can afford,” she says.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the business for Michelle is going out on the town and seeing someone who has bought a shirt or outfit from her boutique.
“They’ll walk up to me and say, ‘You’re the boutique girl. Look what I’m wearing,’” Michelle says, laughing. “It makes me so happy to know other women are happy and satisfied and feel good about themselves wearing clothes from my boutique.”
When she goes to clothing trade shows, gleefully walking up and down aisles saying, “I want that one, and that one, and that one,” Michelle is determined to purchase clothes for every women.
“Every shape, every size,” she proudly says.
It’s what Faithful Fit Boutique is all about it.
“It’s not about the money,” Michelle says, although she has earned back her $11,000 savings, plus a little more, in less than three months. “I know I can make this into something larger, and I know I would not be where I am right now if I hadn’t taken business courses here,” she says. “I would not be where I am without Radford University.”
After graduating from Radford on May 11, Michelle now plans to move to her parents’ new home in Delaware, and run her pop-up boutique from there. She has ideas of expanding the business someday, traveling up and down the East Coast, trading in her small Nissan for a large van. Letting her father drive.
“I have a lot of faith in where this can go,” Michelle says, smiling. “Faith is my middle name. I love it. That is where my business name came from. And it’s what I live by – the faith I have in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to.”
“Responsive. Resilient. Real.” is an online story series published by Radford University that began in spring 2019. The ongoing series celebrates the Highlander spirit of students, faculty, staff and alumni by sharing their unique stories and their strong sense of Highlander pride. Through being responsive, resilient and real, Highlanders are making a positive impact and leaving a lasting legacy on our campus and in communities around the world.