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Open and Clothes

The continuing rise in e-commerce, as well as a desire to shift her lifestyle, made Carley Johnson reconsider the business structure of Modern Mess as it moves from a physical to an online existence.

Michele Chiappetta
Sarah Eliza Roberts
February 28, 2020

When it comes to dressing Tulsa, Carley Johnson does it with a love of fashion and flair for style that has gained her clothing boutique, Modern Mess, a strong following. Modern Mess first opened in 2016 as a brick-and-mortar store at The Boxyard in downtown Tulsa, a spot that is a bit of an incubator for new businesses. It was a perfect location in many ways for Johnson as she built her business from the ground up. Modern Mess, she says, all started with a passion for fashion.

“For as long as I can remember, I have loved dressing myself and others. It has always been my creative outlet,” she says. When Johnson was around 14 years old, she visited a local clothing boutique and experienced what it was like to have her love of fashion embraced and encouraged, a moment she’ll never forget. “The owner made me feel so special. I left the store knowing this is how I wanted to impact others someday,” she says.

Johnson developed the business concept for her clothing boutique while in college, pursuing a degree in business with a focus on marketing. Though online retail was and is a viable alternative to storefronts, Johnson wanted a physical store. “It was a risk I was willing to take to establish real relationships with customers. I love customer service, and I love building an experience with the physical existence of a store,” she says.

Between Johnson’s love of people and lots of unique clothing that is hard to find elsewhere in Tulsa, Modern Mess has grown in popularity. So, even she was surprised at first to find herself thinking about going all online as her next move. “If you had told me that I would be moving Modern Mess online three years ago when I opened, I would have laughed,” she says.

But the continuing rise in online shopping, as well as a desire to shift her lifestyle, made Johnson reconsider her business structure. Like a lot of small-business owners, she found herself working long hours and was always on call. So, when she decided to launch a second venture, a bridal shop known as Bryde, she didn’t realize how quickly her strenuous schedule would catch up with her.

And catch up it did. “Learning how to put my happiness and well-being before the business is what ultimately led me to the decision to move the Modern Mess store online,” she says. “When we opened Bryde, I committed myself to a seven-day workweek. That’s right, no days off. I thought I could do it for as long as it takes to get Bryde off the ground, but it caught up with me quickly. I knew a change in my lifestyle was needed, which ultimately led to the tough decision to discontinue the physical presence of Modern Mess.”

By moving online, Johnson realized she’d have more leeway to work from anywhere and have more freedom. “With the online store, I will have the ability to schedule my time more freely, and I am hopeful this will allow me to get more creative and interactive with the brand,” she says.

Even though the boutique is shuttering its brick-and-mortar location, Modern Mess’s customers will still be able to enjoy the same great products they’ve always loved. The online store officially launches March 10, and Johnson says she has been diligently working to make sure the online experience is unique so that customers can still enjoy everything that makes Modern Mess so special.

The online Modern Mess will curate different style collections each month, built by Johnson around a theme and reflecting the eclectic, eye-catching tastes that her clients have come to enjoy. “Each collection will be small and thought out. They will range anywhere from five to 15 different styles. Every single piece will serve a purpose to both the collection and the Modern Mess wardrobe,” she says. “Every new collection will be released on the second Tuesday of each month with a physical pop-up as it goes live on the website. This will allow me to indulge in my joy that is interacting with customers and assisting their styling needs in-person.”

Johnson is looking forward to expanding her offerings as time goes by, branching into areas such as personal styling and closet consultations, as well as a style blog. “We’re talking about a lifestyle blog with less posing in outfits and more showing you how we live every aspect of our lives as a Mod Mess,” she says. “Think topics anywhere from the playlists we love to some solid personal budgeting advice. We are keeping it real over here. We want to provide useful content to our followers that will enhance and benefit their everyday lives.”

That’s ultimately what Johnson cares about: the people she serves. “I adore my customers,” Johnson says. “They have been so supportive of this change, and they have been even more understanding than I anticipated. I can’t wait to show them what the online experience will look like. I think they are going to love it. We will not shy away from the unique styles that made us who we are as a storefront.”

Modern Mess