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Boutique owners help women 'express' themselves

August 7, 2012

Mother-daughter team, Linda Best and Darla Self, opened Express Your Self: Interiors, Gifts and Apparel, at 611 Office Park Dr. in Bryant, nine years ago. What started three years before in a booth at David Claiborne in west Little Rock had developed into a booming business, and the two needed a bigger space. Now, shoppers from Bryant, Benton and all around, including Little Rock, Conway and Sheridan, come to Express Your Self to purchase fun, trendy clothes and home accessories.
Fashion-forward daughter, Self, and stylish mom, Best, have always loved to shop together and talked about opening a store together since Self was in high school.
“My dad and my husband decided we shopped so much, it was cheaper for us to open a store, so we could shop for other people — put our shopping to good use,” Self said.
On working with her daughter, Best said, “I love every minute of it. She keeps me young.”
In addition to acting as co-owners of Express Your Self, Best and Self do residential and commercial interior design jobs. Self studied interior design at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Before starting up the business with her mother, she worked at Cynthia East Fabrics and Ethan Allen.
“I always tell Mom, I don’t really care if I’m decorating your house or decorating you!” Self said, laughing. The two recently decorated Arkansas Bone and Joint in Bryant. They collaborate on interior design in addition to their co-ownership of Express Your Self.
“We have a lot of fun and depend a lot on each other,” Self said. “We’re best friends!”
Originally, the company only sold interiors and a small assortment of accessories. They later began to sell designer jeans, and the store grew from there. Now, they offer a wide variety of women’s clothing and accessories, including nine designer jean labels: Ivy Jane, Uncle Frank, Big Buddha, Hobo, Miss Me Jeans, Rock Revival, Hudson, Citizens of Humanity and Yellowbox. For fall, they are advertising new arrivals that include cowboy boots, 7 for All Mankind jeans and Big Star jeans.
Essentially, the two are in the business of making women feel good about themselves. Anyone who comes in the store is treated like one of their girlfriends.
They find helping them rewarding. “It’s exciting to see someone’s face when they put on a color that looks great on them or a dress with a great piece of jewelry,” Self said.
The reaction is the same when they finish decorating someone’s home, Best said.
By working in both fashion and interiors, Self has a unique perspective and has found that there is often a connection between the two worlds, when it comes to trends.
“You wouldn’t think so, but the same colors or patterns that are popular in homes will often be big in fashion,” Self said.
Self attributes part of their success to the fact that they have a diverse inventory. When Best and Self shop for items to put in their store, they also bring Self’s older sister and teenage niece. That way, they are catering to a broad range of age groups and tastes, Self said.
Mother and daughter agree on fashion — at least most of the time.
“She wasn’t too sure about some of my fashion in the ‘80s,” Self said, laughing.
Often, Best questions her daughter’s fashion choices at first, but then later sees that her suggestions work.”I usually let her win,” Best said, teasingly. “Darla has an eye for fashion, and she’s always ahead of the trend.”
Best said, years ago, before it was in-style, her daughter wanted a leopard print bag. Nobody was wearing animal print at the time, but after she got it, it became in-style.
Self’s knack for recognizing trends before they become popular is one reason for the success of Express Your Self. They sell items their customers love and want to wear or put in their home. When shopping at apparel market for pieces to sell in their store, Self and Best often find themselves buying things specifically for certain customers, Best said.
“Darla knows her customer better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Linnie Lyle, Express Your Self employee, “and I’ve been in this business a long time.”
Self understands all her customers are different. To her, individuality is key in fashion, “especially in a small town,” she said. “It’s important that everybody not wear the same thing. You don’t want to show up to the Junior Auxillary event in the same dress as someone.”
For this reason, they provide variety and don’t purchase mass numbers of identical items.
At apparel market, Self will purchase pieces in certain colors and sizes, with particular customers in mind, she said. “If I lived in New York City, I would definitely be a personal shopper!”
Self has practically memorized some of their frequent customers’ wardrobes, she said. “I will say, ‘Remember that necklace you bought from us a while back?’ or ‘You know those cowboy boots I saw you in not too long ago?’ that would go great with this outfit.”
Often, women will bring in a few different pairs of shoes and ask her opinion on which ones to wear with the outfit they purchase. “I love that,” Self said. She appreciates the fact that customers trust her fashion judgment. “More often than you’d think, women come in here on the way to an event. We take the tags off, and they go.”
Even when Self was a child, she was always designing. “Barbie didn’t shop off-the-rack,” she said, laughing. “Barbie was definitely couture.”
This creative spirit runs in the family. Best shares her daughter’s love for all-things fashion and design, and they both get this passion from Self’s grandmother. “I think I was the only child who had a Barbie house with custom-made drapery and throw pillows, sewn by my grandmother,” Self said.
They love their work, but, most of all, they are grateful for their “courteous and friendly” customers, Best said. “That’s the best thing about doing business in Saline County.”

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