Photos by Libby Rogers
Samantha Humphrey was only 19 years old when she decided to open her own boutique. She had no idea which way it would go, or what she wanted to do with it, but it seemed like it would be a good fit for her. At the time, according to Samantha, the “boutique boom” had not yet reached Huntsville. There were some boutiques in the surrounding areas, but none had arrived in Huntsville.
After graduating from Alpha Omega in 2011, she enrolled at Sam Houston State University and received her degree in Fashion Merchandising, with a minor in Marketing in 2016. Once she graduated from SHSU, she realized that she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She tried substitute teaching with the Huntsville Independent School District for a few months, and although she enjoyed being around kids, she quickly realized she was not cut out to be a teacher. “It was not my calling,” Samantha admitted. Nevertheless, it was an eye opener and a learning experience, since she had always been in the private school sector and had never been in a public school system.
Again, she was faced with the decision of deciding what to do. With a degree in fashion merchandising, you can either be a buyer, a designer, or own your own store, Samantha said, and in Texas, there’s not much of a need for buyers or designers, and she really had no interest in going to New York, which is where designers are more likely to make it. By this point, she had already delved a little into retail while doing internships at both Cavender’s and at Barefoot Campus Outfitters. With this experience, she arrived at the conclusion that she wanted to work for herself, and also not be tied down to a storefront, but soon came to the realization that “God had other plans.”
It had been a rough day, Samantha recalled, and although she still can’t remember why she went to see her dad that day, she found herself sitting in her car, outside in the parking lot, right in front of her current store location. “I remember the parking lot was really full, and as I was sitting there, I began thinking, I cannot sub anymore, and I don’t want to work for anyone, so what am I going to do?” That’s when she looked up, and saw there was a ‘For Rent’ sign in her dad’s rental property. She walked in, and said, “Hi, we would like to rent Suite A!” She called her best friend Cheyenne Robinson, who happens to be a hairdresser, and asked her if she would be interested in having her own space for a salon? This was the beginning of “Barbwire Barbie Boutique,” located at 4030 Sam Houston Avenue in Huntsville, Texas. “The salon is in the back, and I have the boutique in front. It has truly been a blessing.” said Samantha.
With the help and business knowledge of her parents, Russell and Tish Humphrey, and her own knowledge in fashion merchandising, she got her tax ID and blindly made her way through the startup process. She began really small, and added new items every six months. There really wasn’t another store like it in the area, Samantha proudly stated. As a Huntsville native, Samantha was well aware her beloved hometown was notoriously stigmatized as being a “suitcase” college town, where no one shops, “but people do shop in Huntsville now,” assured Samantha, “and I love it here!” She is convinced Barbwire Barbie Boutique is in a great location, and is confident the pink balloons and awning outside her store also draw in a lot of curious attention. The boutique is just close enough to the SHSU campus and to the various apartment complexes, which brings in lots of student traffic. Additionally, Barbwire Barbie Boutique also has a great online presence which has grown tremendously. Samantha invites everyone to follow BarbwireBarbieBoutique on Instagram, Facebook and on Pinterest. People definitely shop more at the store location and, although their Huntsville customer base has improved, their online store remains their highest sales drive. They have a weekly ‘Girls Night In,’ which is basically a Facebook fashion show. “I try on all the clothes and give a little background on each of the garments, and customers are able to purchase through Facebook Live,” said Samantha. It gives followers a chance to see new arrivals before anyone else.
Most of the merchandise at Barbwire Barbie Boutique comes from the Dallas markets. “We’re in ‘fast fashion,’ which is a term fashion designers now use to describe fast-moving fashion trends. In Samantha’s words, “You see it, you have the impulse to buy it, and you buy it.” It’s never tailored, so it stays at an affordable price range, with a 7-day turnover rate. Samantha estimates 50% of her merchandise is made here in the USA, with 25% made right here in Texas. The other half is made overseas. A lot of the manufacturers are overseas, but the designers are still from the U.S., so it’s still considered U.S. fashion, Samantha explains. “Our customers really like that we always have new arrivals and provide a customized shopping experience, whether in-store or online. I want our customer shopping experience to be personalized and individualized, rather than a “Come by yourself and shop by yourself experience.” Presently, the boutique has two part-time employees, Mekayla and Kendall, and she stresses to them the importance of giving customers that unique shopping experience.
When Samantha was just starting out, she began with a nice selection of jewelry, which was great, because she didn’t have to worry about sizes. Gradually, she expanded into clothing, but most was intended for college students, “Just a ‘grab an outfit and go,’” she said. “Girls don’t like to wear things twice,” she added. As the store and merchandise grew, so did Samantha’s selection in clothing styles. She began bringing in transitional pieces, like jackets, and mix and match items, sizes small through 3XL. The plus size selection is still not quite as large. She mostly caters to the missy contemporary world, as well as junior and women sizes. “Our objective is to stay mostly in those mid-sizes, and to stay at the top of the fast fashion industry.” Samantha describes her line of clothing style as, “Where southern belle meets Barbie.” You can even wear cowboy boots or stilettos with some of their outfits. “I’ve never claimed to be trendy; trends change…but we definitely stay pretty stylish,” said Samantha. Leopard prints are a staple at Barbwire Barbie Boutique and are always in fashion. In fact, some people maintain leopard is the new black.
Fashion is a way of expressing yourself, explained Samantha. “Clothes gives you an opportunity to say something when you don’t say anything at all.” For instance, when you go to a job interview, how you dress speaks to your prospective employer. “I have customers that come into the store after a bad day, so they try on outfits, play dress up, and walk out feeling lots better.” Samantha hopes to someday be able to branch out, but for now, the size of the storefront is perfect and easy to organize. Occasionally, she still runs into people in Walker County who have not heard of her boutique, which surprises her, considering the amount of advertising they do and how involved they are on social media. They also participate at various local events and rodeos: Conroe College Rodeo, Montgomery County Fair and Rodeo, Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo, as well as Junk Gypsy Peddler shows. This year, she had to forfeit their spot there, because they were invited to participate at Round Top Antique Week, a huge event held every year at the end of March through the beginning of April, and again at the end of September through the beginning of October. A vendor she gets t-shirts from called three weeks before the show began and invited her, and since going there had always been one of her biggest dreams, she wasn’t about to turn it down. During the event, they had a 30-foot-long mobile showroom, equipped with a dressing room, air-conditioning, and full-lighting. It looked just like when you walk in the store. Their mobile showroom was set up right outside the parking lot of the Glamp Inn, which is an indoor ‘glampsite’ with the fun of camping, except it is indoors! According to Samantha, they plan to participate in this event twice a year. Participating at Round Top Antique Week is an awesome experience. “You can find just about anything you could possibly want or need there—good food, antiques, clothing, and lots more!”
Although Samantha stays busy with her boutique, she always loves spending time with Justin, her college boyfriend. He was on the football team at SHSU when they met, and they have been together for the past five years. He also owns his own business, so for now, they have chosen to support one another in their business ventures. Samantha also enjoys hanging out with Ellie, her maltipoo. Ellie can often be seen at the store and accompanying Samantha to various events.
Samantha wants her community to know that she plans to be in the local area for a long time, and concluded by saying, “I’m a big believer in God and his timing, and I believe 100%, that He has this all planned out.”