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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Local High Schoolers Open Online Clothing & Accessories Boutique

Anna Steffen and Kennedy McDermott, owners of Kandid Boutique 
A high schooler's spring is busy. It's a blur of alarm clocks that ring much too early, procrastinated papers that require all-nighters, practices that push the body and relationships that test the heart. It's a time of angst and drama, first loves and first breakups, and the keen understanding that childhood is behind and adulthood awaits. Hours are dedicated to rehearsals, volunteering, projects, practices, after-school jobs, text conversations and college applications. And for two local high schoolers, this busy spring also signified something else: the launch of Kandid Boutique.

Kandid Boutique is an online clothing and accessory retailer, and the longtime dream of Ann Steffen, a Highlands High School senior and Kennedy McDermott, a Newport Central Catholic High School junior. Steffen and McDermott both attended St. Therese Catholic School in Southgate, Ky. Although they weren't best friends, they knew of each other and appreciated each other's style and passion for clothes. Fast forward to high school—Steffen ran into McDermott at Pangaea Trading Co., a boutique in Clifton, Ohio. The two began talking about how fun it would be to own a boutique together. 

At the time McDermott was already running a successful special occasion dress rental business—The Dress FanAttic—above her mother's sign shop in Newport, KY. (McDermott launched the business during her sophomore year, in the fall of 2013.) McDermott also was busy with dance—this weekend she was in Florida for The 2015 Dance Worlds. Steffen was working two jobs, at Country Heart Florist in Alexandria, Ky. and Altar'd State at Crestview Hills Town Center, as well as occasionally volunteering at St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas. 

Of course, this was all in addition to living the life of high schoolers. 

Still, Steffen and McDermott couldn't let their dream go. So in December 2014, with the blessing of their parents, they tasked themselves with learning how to open a business. "We did a lot of research," Steffan says. "We had to look up, literally, 'how to start a business.'" Steffen's father put her in touch with his best friend, Jim Morgan, an attorney in Covington, Ky., who graciously helped them through all the legal matters. "There was a ton of paperwork," Steffen says. Steffen and McDermott then built the boutique's website with Squarespace, using skills learned at school, in two days. And then came the clothes.

Anna Steffen and Kennedy McDermott use social media sites to post Kandid Boutique offerings and outfit inspiration.
Steffen says they strive to offer unique styles not offered at the mall in an affordable way. They seek to serve clients 16 and older, with a strong focus on college-aged women. And they're currently working on adding more pieces that will better serve women in their late 20s, 30s and beyond. 

To find their clothing Steffen scours the Internet daily, searching for trendy wholesale items that not only fit with the rest of Kandid Boutique's offerings, but that also can be easily paired with pieces their clients might already own. All the jewelry is handmade by Steffen's aunt, Sherry Steffen. And all the money required to start up, buy via wholesale and run the business has come straight out of Steffen and McDermott's own pockets, earned through The Dress FanAttic and part-time jobs. 

Kandid Boutique launched April 5. 

Like many teens, Steffen and McDermott are avid users of social media. Steffen takes pictures of her boutique's offerings, using skills gained in a photography class she's currently taking at Highlands. She often uses wood from her grandfather's Alexandria, Ky. farm as backdrops and her friends serve as models. She regularly posts pictures and outfit ideas on Instagram, and the duo are active on Facebook and Twitter. They also offer styling advice—simply email questions and/or pictures. 

Steffen still works at Altar'd State, 15-20 hours a week. And McDermott still runs The Dress FanAttic, and dances. During the week Steffen says she spends her afternoons and evenings scouring the Internet for clothing, and dealing with inventory and shipping out of a spare bedroom her parents offered up in their home. Already in tune with the need for work/life balance, Steffen says she seeks out down time on the weekends with family and friends. 

McDermott has another year of high school and then hopes to study business and/or fashion. After graduating from Highlands this spring, Steffen is taking a semester off to further expand Kandid Boutique and then will start business at Northern Kentucky University. 

All of Kandid Boutique's jewelry is handmade by Anna Steffen's aunt, Sherry Steffen. 
So far Steffen and McDermott have handled about 70 orders in the three weeks since the site has launched. Most have been thanks to word-of-mouth and handmade fliers placed around University of Cincinnati, NKU and bus stops in Lexington. Fashion blogger Olivia Rink at Lovely Little Style also mentioned the boutique, which caused a jump in sales. 

McDermott and Steffen haven't paid themselves yet, but Steffen says, so far, the experience has been awesome. Steffen's business acumen and enthusiasm is inspiring. The tagline on their site is "The best thing any girl can wear is confidence ... and Kandid, of course." Even at young ages, Steffen and McDermott already seem to be wearing both very well. 

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