Erin Austen Abbott is the pretty lady behind the impeccably curated shop called Amelia; beautiful online, and a must-visit storefront in Oxford, Mississippi. She is a wife and mother to an adorable little Tom. Her life story reads like a novel, and when the interview was through, I would have liked to have requested 10 additional answers to learn more about her! Hope you enjoy as much as I, and be sure to follow Erin and visit her shop for all your gifting and personal needs! Really, though. I'm not just saying it. xo
You've lived in some major cities, but settled in a small town. What brought you to Oxford/Water Valley?
I spent my 20's moving around. I just couldn't sit still, wanted to see it all! I never wanted to feel like I had missed out when I finally did stop moving. I lived in Oxford until I was nine years old, so I just came home. I never wanted to leave as a child. I love it here so much.
What was your career path prior to starting your shop?
It all blurs together, so stay with me... I have had a lot of jobs, all leading me to where I am now. All through college, I worked in a vintage shop and nannied. The vintage shop taught me so much about retail. This was before ebay and the internet, so I learned so much hands-on about vintage, design and the like. I got my BS in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Florida, then went on to study photography at The Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston in 1999 and then the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, 1999- 2002.
While in Boston, I worked as a nanny and when in Seattle, I taught at a Montessori school.
After moving out of Seattle, I lived in San Francisco (2002-2003), where I was asked to start touring with a band, handling and selling all of their merchandise. I went on to tour with several bands over the next 5+ years, and I would come home and take care of children in between tours.
I left SF after a year because I was paying a lot to never be there. I moved to Memphis (2003-2005) to be near my grandmother, and then moved to where I live now, 20 miles outside of Oxford (2005-present). I also lived in Los Angeles in 2007-2008, while still keeping my home in Water Valley.
Still with me??
In 2007 I was asked to travel nanny for a band on tour. That lead to years working as a travel nanny for Mates of State, The Flaming Lips (whom I still work for) and Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR driver. After years of doing all that moving and traveling, I was ready to stay put. Opening up a shop was something I had always wanted to do since I was a little girl, when I used to ask for office supplies for my birthday and bought cards, with my babysitting money, just to have, from a very early age.
In 2009, the country was in a recession so it seemed like the perfect time to start not one, but two businesses, right? Now the recession is fading and both businesses are thriving. My second business, chARTer nannies, is a travel nanny business that I started with one of the moms that I nannied for, Kori Hammel of Mates of State and two other friends. We pair nannies with families whose jobs take them on the road, but who don't always want to be aways from their families.
What motivated you to open Amelia?
When I was ready to stop traveling so much, it was as if it was meant to be. The space became available around the exact same time I started looking for a spot. I didn't want a lot of space; I prefer small spaces. I found it... 187 sq. feet. It's perfect for me. Makes me think "inside" the box, as to how to merchandise and work within the space. I love it. All those years of traveling opened my eyes to so many amazing artists around the country. When we would pull into a new town, I would hop off the bus or out of the van and try to find that "cute part of town". The area that has indie shops or farmers markets. I like collections and memories. I would always look for a little something unique from each town, even if that just meant a business card from a local artist. Years later, that business card collection proved to be useful as I carry some of those artists today in the shop.
Did you start with an online shop or an in-person shop?
I opened the brick and mortar in July of 2009 and the online store in November of 2011.
How do you decide what you will sell in your shop?
That's the tricky part. There is so much I would love to order for the shop, but not everything would work or I don't have the space for it.
I start with selling what I like. There isn't anything that I have in the store that I don't love. I also try to buy smaller quanties so that I can move through it and keep the shop always feeling new. I think that's one of the benefits of working directly with the designers.
Do you ever have to pass on items that you adore, but may not sell as well?
I get so many daily submissions that I could never fit it all in (70-100 a week). It kills me to not be able to sell everyone's work, only because you can tell they are so passionate about what they are doing. I just have to stick with the aesthic of the store. I try to make the entire shop have flow and work from one piece to the next. There are a few pieces that I have loved that haven't sold as well as I thought they would so I haven't ordered them again. That makes me sad, but I'm a business woman at the end of the day and have to also be practical.
What are some highlights for the shop since you started in in 2009?
I feel like I have had some really amazing opportunities since I opened. I have worked a lot with Daily Candy, after winning their 2010 Start Small, Go Big contest, which led me to friendships with Jonathan Adler and Christine Lemieux of Dwell Studio. After my home was featured on Design Sponge, I got to know Grace Bonney and Amy Azzarito pretty well. They have been incredibly supportive of Amelia. I have been Anthology twice, once for chARTer nannies and once with a home feature. The women at Anthology have also been incredible supportive.
My home has also been featured in Design Sponge, Anthology, The New York Times and Flea Market Style Magazine, which in turn has been nice press for the shop. I've also been featured on Tomboy Style, Design Love Fest, Pennyweight and a few more...
I feel like each year gets better and better, so I'm excited to see what's next.
What is your style uniform?
Oh, funny you should ask... I wear denim on denim like it really is my uniform. I love jeans and I wear them year round. I love button up shirts. I'm very much still a tomboy. Although, I love a cute pairs of flats and heart shaped earrings. Go figure. I am not into wearing dresses that much and I never wear heels. I just look awkard in both.
Your favorite other small businesses or Etsy shops?
Oh, that's a really hard question to answer. I carry over 90 artists at Amelia, so I don't know how to narrow it down to just a few favorites.
There are so many amazing folks making really cool work. I love the new wave of craft culture that we have seen over take off over the last 8 or 9 years.
How do you balance your work and home life?
I'm still working on this but, I have an incredibly supportive husband. We are certainly a team in this. He is a musician and stay at home dad. Fortunately, when I opened, I knew that I still wanted to work on my own creative ideas, so I only had the shop open Wednesday-Saturday. Four years later, I've stuck with that. I wanted to have days that I could still work on my fine art photography, which transitioned from days I worked on photography to now also packing up online orders. It works out great because I'm home with our son three days a week and work four. Some days, I have design meetings on Monday or Tuesdays, but I plan those during Tom's naps if need be. I treat shop hours like my business hours and try to do all work on the four days I'm open.
Sean works on his music three days a week. I have been a very organized person since I was a little girl, so I feel like this is just one more area to organize and keep flowing smoothly. I plan meals ahead of time. I use Sunday afternoons to make Tom's baby food for the week and grocery shop on Monday mornings so I can have the week figured out as far as cooking goes. So far, so good.
What is your favorite time of the day?
I really love my mornings. That's the time it's just Tom and me. We have great mornings together. I started a tumblr documenting our mornings.
How does an ideal date look for you?
An ideal date to me would be getting off the highway and driving back country roads, listening to a good mix and just talking. Exploring. Maybe find a little town we have never been to. Him not minding that I want to take photos everywhere I go. Finding the local dive and grabbing a bite to eat. I never need fancy.
What is your favorite aspect of motherhood?
Seeing Tom learn something new everyday is amazing. I starting taking care of other peoples' children when I was 10 years old, so for 27 years, I've cared for children that were not mine. Hearing a child say "mama" and me being the mama they are reaching for is something I didn't know would ever happen and it's a magical feeling. I don't talk about if often (and never in an interview), but I had to go through a lot to be able to have Tom. I have lived with endometriosis and fibroid tumors for a long time and had to have major surgery to even be able to have a baby. It was a long road and I don't take a second with him for granted.
And your favorite characteristic of Tom?
I love that he wakes up smiling. He is ready to start each day with such wonder. He's incredibly observate as well. I love seeing him discover something new with such joy in his eyes. Another thing I love is the way my husband can get him laughing. He just makes a funny face and Tom is giggling. I joke that Sean gets to be the fun uncle all the time but honestly, it's very endearing. For my own personal reasons, I also love that he eats all the homemade baby food that I make and hasn't rejected anything yet. I feed the boy fish all the time and he loves it. He eats leeks and kale, all with no complaints. His health is very important to me. I'm one of those moms that doesn't want my child to eat refined sugar yet. I know he will at some point, but I'm hoping we can last until he's at least three. I wasn't raised eating sugar so I know it can be done. We've made it a year so far.