For 2017, we all owe a special congratulation to an amazing organization and an extraordinary businesswoman. To begin with, it’s her boutique 20th year anniversary. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to share how Una Mae’s came to exist today. Well, of course, there’s a great origin behind every establishment, clothing company or otherwise. Regardless, let’s start from the beginning and ask the million-dollar question. Who can we applaud for this miraculous business accomplishment?

Northern Illinois University 

Similar Passions 

In 1997, Nancy Becker, Karen Prendergast and Sue Schofield founded Una Mae’s in the heart of Chicago, near Wicker Park neighborhood. For starters, Nancy went to Northern Illinois University, where she became acquainted with Karen and Sue. Surprisingly, they enrolled in college to pursue their common interest in art. Painting gave Nancy freedom and joy as well. In fact, it was her hobby, and she wanted her career to revolve around artwork and creativity. Additionally, Nancy and her friends took roughly a year to transform their business idea into an actual clothing store for both men and women.

Turning Their Ideas into Reality

Artwork or Boutique


Without a doubt, their business plan and boutique were still a work in progress. Amazingly, the women used their finances to startup the company. Without taking out a business loan, Nancy, Sue, and Karen worked two jobs, saving their earnings. As difficult as it was, they continued to invest in their dream as ongoing entrepreneurs. Perhaps, they wanted to get their doors opened and business up and running. They seemed eager to know how potential shoppers would react to their products.

Moreover, the three partners imagined a few other college friends generating products for customers to purchase too. For Nancy, applying her own brushes to canvas became undoable with holding the responsibilities of the store on her shoulders. Sure, she still enjoyed expressing herself as a painter. On the contrary, many of their artistic companions struggled with making decent salaries as painters. So, instead of being an artist, Nancy focused on being a business owner.

Gaining Full Ownership

Missing Art

In all honesty, she had hoped she could continue to do both. Unfortunately, her store made it impossible to express herself on canvas anymore. In addition, the conclusion to buy out both of her former partners didn’t necessarily increase her chances of painting anytime soon. During the beginning of 2000, Nancy Becker became the official sole proprietor of Una Mae’s.  Karen ended up going to LA, and Sue moved to Louisville Kentucky.

Even though she no longer had her partners, she gained more control over the business. Furthermore, having Nick Johnson as an employee helped her out tremendously. Again, she’s extremely grateful to have him on board. On a different note, she was able to bring in newer clothing over the years. Think of it this way. In the meantime, the boutique became her new creative outlet. Nancy found great fabrics and materials in St Louis, where she made plans to search for old furniture to refinish. Nancy came up with the idea to also sell vintage clothes, and only 20% of her store’s trends are vintage. It seemed Nancy always loved having vintage clothes in her store.

Different Creative Perspectives

Outside Inspiration 

In fact, twice a year, she would visit Arizona to gather any new trendy ideas or perspectives to add to her store’s previous collections. Looking at other vintage fashions also helps Nancy to think critically and creatively. Again, adding other styles and rare appearances is this store owner’s goal and passion. Most importantly, Nancy understands that society’s interest in fashion changes continuously. Nowadays, it’s essential to keep up with the latest trends. She wants Una Mae’s to define the most popular styles. It’s fun and captivating for her to finally see what looks are relevant for today’s shoppers, especially her clientele. Her store catches the eye of many people even tourists, which benefits her organization greatly. Nancy envisions her business spreading throughout Chicago. She has thought about opening up in different locations in Chicago, but opening up more stores will take more time and hardship.

What Keeps Her Going

There are 4 things Nancy loves about owning her own store:
1). She immediately loved working retail.
2). She’s still very passionate about her work.
3). She appreciates being her own boss as well.
4). She also adores her customers and working the floor.

Advice for Startup Companies

All in all, Nancy mentioned how starting her own company seemed scary. If she could give advice to anyone interested in having his/her business, she would advise not to be afraid of failure or loss. Besides, the money businesspeople use to invest in businesses can be seen as paying for an education in business. In actuality, even if you don’t succeed right away, it’s not money loss. This statement made Nancy feel better about her career decisions. Maybe, this advice can help someone else along the way.

Article Name
Nancy Becker, Karen Prendergast, and Sue Schofield founded Una Mae's in 1997. They started up a clothing store for men and women in the Wicker Park community. This year is Una Mae's 20th year anniversary. What can I say? The current owner, an extraordinary businesswoman, should be proud of her business success. Her fashion boutique continues to progress and thrive. There's a great origin behind every establishment, big or small. In fact, Una Mae's deserves an opportunity to share its story with the world.

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