After a quick browse through Vivi & Kate, a brand new Mount Pleasant boutique, you’d never guess that general manager Elizabeth Raub’s first calling wasn’t fashion.
Beautiful, understated slacks and blouses hang across the aisle from bright, printed sweaters and polka-dotted dresses. A pair of navy-blue Wellies, each boot with a big, yellow bow at its back, sits on a high shelf. Scarves in greens, pinks and prints cascade down a tall rack by the cash register. The overall look is one of high-quality practicality mixed with enough fun to keep things from being dull. “Going by the 80/20 rule—that you wear 20 percent of your closet 80 percent of the time— we aim to be that 20 percent,” Raub says. “‘Updated classic’ is how I’d define our style.”
Vivi & Kate, which opened at the end of August last year, is owned by Raub’s mother, Cindy Turnbull. Turnbull also owns a clothing and home store in Beaufort, South Carolina, called Grace & Glory, which she’s had for 15 years. When she decided to open her Mount Pleasant boutique, she asked Raub, who’s a writer and editor by trade, to run it.
Up until then, Raub’s experience with the business end of retail and fashion was confined to what she’d heard from her mom over the years. “I’m going to go ahead and say no. [Stepping in to fashion] wasn’t natural for me,” Raub says. “Ironically, I’m not much of a shopper—and that’s probably why I always liked shopping in boutiques. In boutiques you don’t have to be a shopper because the salespeople guide you.”
That’s exactly what Raub’s mother did with her, albeit in a different way. The two went to Atlanta on Raub’s first buying trip last summer, right before Vivi & Kate opened. “Before I was immersed in this world— because it is a learned skill— going to Atlanta was kind of a daunting proposition,” Raub says. “My mom taught me a lot, she kept me focused. She’d say, ‘You’re not buying for you. You’re buying for everyone else and what they’ll like.’”
Raub must have learned the lesson, because the store has done exceptionally well. Part of that is due to Vivi & Kate’s mission. “There are a lot of great boutiques here, but we’ve made a niche for ourselves. It’s clothes that look good, feel good and are practical but not boring,” she explains. Brands you’ll find at Vivi & Kate include Nic + Zoe, Elliott Lauren and the British designer Joules (the one responsible for the adorable beribboned rain boots).
And the pricing helps, too. “I’m told our prices are very reasonable,” Raub says. “The price point for a pair of pants is around $130.”
Although currently the store doesn’t carry pieces by any local designers, they do have items by regional ones—like Robin Haley, a jewelry designer out of Nashville. Raub would like to add lines by local designers as the store grows.
While high-quality styles and fair prices are, naturally, a large part of why Vivi & Kate is successful, they can’t take all of the credit. “In my mind there has to be something more than that,” Raub says. “We want to create a place where customers feel at home— where they’re treated like human beings. The only way this has any meaning is if you can connect with your neighbors, meet them, make new friends. That’s really important to my mom and me.”
Elizabeth Pandolfi is a writer and editor living in Charleston