We had the good fortune of connecting with Deanna Rice and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Deanna, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
A few years ago I won a private shopping party at a local boutique here in Atlanta. I invited six of my friends to join me as we enjoyed champagne and tried on clothes. My best friend is curvy, but the sizes in the boutique only carried regular sizes from small to large. She was able to enjoy the champagne and check out the jewelry, but I felt bad that she could not try things on. That was the first time I thought, “There needs to be a boutique that offers this exact experience for all women, curvy sizes included.” I had always been drawn to fashion since childhood, but at that time I was a student at Kennesaw State University, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do when I graduated. I didn’t give it much more thought until I graduated a few years later and had to decide what my next move was. I prayed, did my research, spoke to other established business owners, wrote up a business plan, and decided to step out on faith and launch Elva Mae Boutique in September of 2018.
I noticed there was a lack of representation for women with real bodies on social media and in general marketing campaigns. I think the fashion industry has come a long way since then, but there is still more inclusive work to be done to make sure all women feel seen and represented. My Instagram was flooded with influencers and models for companies like Fashion Nova that were using coke bottle shaped women to market their styles. Even if they had a curvy model, often they too had a coke bottle shape as well. I found this to be problematic because for someone like me, I knew those cute styles would not look the same on me because I don’t have wide hips or a large butt. Similarly, not all curvy or plus size women have small waists and a large chest. We are all shaped differently, which is what makes us uniquely beautiful. I wanted to create a brand that used real women, like my friends and family to model our styles. It was also important to me that my brand is inclusive and diverse. My life is made so rich and full by the relationships I’ve formed with women from different ethnic backgrounds, so it was only fitting that my brand reflected the beauty in each of these ladies.
I decided to name the boutique after my grandmother, Elva Mae. She has always been a pillar to me my entire life. Hers is a story of resistance, unconditional love, resilience, grace, faith, and forgiveness. My grandmother fought such a difficult battle being ostracized and disowned by her family for marrying my grandfather, a black man, during the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties. Her strength to stand up for her family has always inspired me. Her willingness to forgive continues to inspire me to this day. She sees the best in everyone, no matter how ugly their demeanor or behavior. I decided to come up with an acronym for her name to keep me focused on my mission, which is to carry on her mission, which is to challenge the status quo in loving ways, and to be the change I want to see in the world. Embrace, Love, Value, and Affirm. This is the mission for Elva Mae.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve always been passionate about fashion and styling. I used to dress my little sister up when we were kids and make different outfits for her. I began styling professionally in 2019 in addition to running the boutique. I am most proud of working with a celebrity photographer whom I have admired for years, the renowned Derek Blanks. His journey is so inspiring to me.
Most of my styling jobs are through referrals, which has added to my portfolio. One challenge I faced was that I was so shy and insecure about asking people to pay my worth, but I finally had to realize that I am talented. I have a unique eye for coordinating looks, and I thoroughly enjoy making women look and feel like the best version of themselves, so I deserve to get paid for that.
Another lesson I learned is that I should have hired a financial advisor before launching my business. I’m more of a creative thinker, so operational business practices were not my strong suit. If I could go back, I would have made sure I had someone to tell me “no” when it was necessary.
I want the world to know that Elva Mae is a champion for women. I encourage women to fight to make their dreams a reality and to fulfill their God-given purpose on this Earth.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If I had a friend staying in Atlanta for a week, there are so many places I would take them! We would definitely have to check out some of my favorite Black owned establishments like Roc South with their amazing fried chicken and other flavorful menu items. I would also take them to Bar Vegan or Slutty Vegan, because you can’t come to Atlanta and not try it! At night I would take them to The Continent Restaurant and Lounge. We would have a delicious Jamaican inspired meal, beautiful and tasty drinks, and finish the night in the cigar lounge with a cocktail. Ponce City Market is another spot I would take them to. It’s such a chill vibe and there are so many different unique and delicious food options there. We would go on the rooftop and play some games, enjoy some drinks, and enjoy the view of the city. After that, of course we would walk the Beltline and explore the cool street art and stop at one of the many restaurants along the way. I would also take them to The Center for Civil & Human Rights, The High Museum of Art, and Skyview. I would also take my friend to Buford Highway to explore some international foods. Buford Highway is a keeper of many hidden food gems that don’t appear to be much based on the exterior, but are serving some of the best authentic Latin, Asian, & Caribbean cuisine. We would then head to Sweet Hut for a refreshing boba tea and some yummy desserts. I would also take them to Piedmont Park and have a picnic near the water. Another food place I would take them is Chattahoochee Food Works in West Midtown where we would try different vendors and sit outside and enjoy some fresh air and good food.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have to acknowledge my family and friends who love me with honesty & support. My career would not be on the track that it is without them. I also have to shout out two significant mentors: Montoya Turner, an amazing award-winning photographer who encouraged me to pursue styling as a career, and gave me my first styling opportunities, and Ryan Christopher, a fabulous and talented celebrity wardrobe stylist that took me under his wing and showed me how to style professionally.
Images courtesy of Made You Look Photo & Film.