High Style with Heart


Fab'rikfab’rik is like shopping in your best friend’s closet.

Written by Rosalind Fournier

Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

Will people buy kimonos in Alabama?

There was only one way to find out, and on opening night in August for fab’rik, a new clothing boutique in downtown Homewood, the answer was a resounding yes. “Some people were saying, ‘I don’t know if we can do kimonos in this market,’” says shop co-owner Melissa Mistrot. “But we sold out of several kimono styles opening night.”

Putting kimonos on display for the shop’s Birmingham-area debut may have been only a small risk, but it was one of many that Mistrot, a onetime buyer for Parisian, has taken over the past several months. Since leaving her full-time job years ago to be home with her kids, she has managed to keep at least a foot in the door of the fashion business, taking freelance jobs in photo styling, window-display design, and fashion-event planning. Still, in the back of her head, she always had the idea of opening her own store. Once her children were in school, she began researching the possibilities in earnest—and received a well-timed call from a close friend, Carmen Herndon, who lives in Atlanta.

“She said, you’re going to think I’m crazy, but let me run this by you,” Mistrot remembers. Herndon wanted to talk about opening a fab’rik franchise—the first in Alabama. Was Mistrot interested?

The idea appealed to her immediately. After that initial phone call back in March, things moved quickly. The day after Easter she and Herndon—who is now her partner, along with a third friend, Stacy Falls—visited several fab’rik stores in Atlanta, where the company is based. By late summer, they had negotiated a lease in Homewood and opened the doors in August.

Mistrot explains that many aspects of fab’rik made opening the store a relatively easy decision, including the company’s almost-too-good-to-be true stated values. “When I was looking into it, the mission statement talked about high style with a heart, without attitude,” she says. “It’s about empowering women to be beautiful on the inside as well as the outside, going out in the world to be who God wants them to be.

“And I thought, ‘Wait a minute,’” Mistrot continues. “The word God is in their mission statement? I had chill bumps. Every time I would go and meet with them or have phone conversations, I was waiting to be disappointed.” But she never was. She read about the company-led mission trips to Africa, as well as the free fab’rik community store in Atlanta—a  nonprofit “thrift boutique” where women who are struggling can enjoy free shopping sprees, take advantage of mentorship programs, and receive vocational training. “When the people at fab’rik talk about ‘heart,’ it’s for real,” Mistrot says. “They stand by what they say.” It felt like a way for her to use her own background in retail while being part of a company that gives back to the community at the same time.

Mistrot describes the store having the feel of “going into your best friend’s closet.” All items are priced at $100 or less, save for a collection of higher-end denim pieces. And the appeal seems to transcend generations. “I’ve seen a daughter come in for a homecoming dress with her mother and grandmother,” she says. “Daughter finds her dress, mom gets a new fall top, and grandmother is blown away by the fit of the new Spanx denim.”

She emphasizes that the inventory changes constantly. “Our corporate buyer works with our buyers in Los Angeles, who all have their pulse on what is hot off the runway,” she explains. Because the styles tend to change at lightning speed, aside from a handful of popular basics, the store never orders more than six of any one item—and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Mistrot says that the result is great for fab’rik’s customers, because they’re almost assured that whatever they’re wearing, no one else at a party, restaurant, or event has seen it before.

Meanwhile, Mistrot says she’s always striving to bring the corporate spirit of giving back and nurturing community spirit close to home. Every week, a customer’s name is drawn for the chance to host her own “rock star party,” a private shopping event where the winner can invite up to 20 friends, all of whom get a 20 percent discount while enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. “We also offer those private parties to charities,” Mistrot says, “where instead of offering 20 percent off, we will donate 20 percent to that charity. We love this and have had several already.

“I’m so proud do be doing what I really love to do, but I never wanted to be greedy about it,” she says. “If I’m going to be spending time away from my family and making other sacrifices for it to be successful, it’s important to me that I can help out, set a good example for my children, and at the end of the day, sleep well.”

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