By James Cullum
Today, when Camille Leverett was sworn in as a member of the Alexandria Commission For Women and Leisa Collins as a member of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts, their business and community service partnerships officially merged. Leverett owns BeautyFull Boutique, the City’s only consignment shop catering to plus-sized women, and shares space with Collins, an accomplished artist and owner of studio/workshop Creative Art Nexus.
BeautyFull and CAN, 118 North Fayette Street, opened in September, 2010. Standing in a bright red dress, dangly gold jewelry and black Dansko clogs, Leverett was at ease.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I couldn’t figure out the hook, what I wanted to do,” Leverett said. “Part of the challenge for me was that I kept trying to find clothes, but it was hard to find them for me that aren’t frumpy. I’m not an old lady and I don’t wear a track suit all the time. But just because I’m plus size, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be fashionable. I knew there are women like me who travel all over the place to find clothes, so why not recycle some of this clothing and swap? So, I started researching plus-size clothing and started working on a business plan.
"What’s cool about Leisa, when we met in June, she was telling me what she wanted to do with Creative Art Nexus, but also with events that empower women, because one of my missions is to empower women to feel comfortable in their own skin. I’m hoping that through my work with the commission, it will connect me with other women in need. I truly believe in giving back. We weren’t just put here to take," Leverett said.
Collins, a New Zealand native, moved to Old Town ten months ago. “My husband and I drove all the way to Los Angeles, all up the coast, to Yellowstone, to New York, to DC and we got lost on Duke Street and ended up in Old Town and we loved it,” she said. “It turned out to be the right turn.”
Collins has painted street scenes, doorways, portraits, shops and the BeautyFull mascot, “Lady Beautiful”. Her artistic talents were put to use last October, when she organized the Del Ray Community Mural, the results of which can be seen on the exterior wall of the Mount Vernon Recreation Center.
“I found the artists, and none had ever done a mural, but we figured it out, and I formed Creative Art Nexus from the interest generated in the community,” she said.
Collins hopes CAN will become a local community art hub. She conducts art mentorship and creativity programs for all ages.
“The wonderful gallery setting of BeautyFull Boutique provides a perfect venue to showcase the work of CAN and to display my own art work plus the original art of other social minded artists involved with CAN,” she wrote on her website.
The N. Fayette Street space “used to be a sales office for two builders. The track lighting and open ceilings were perfect for showcasing their models. We didn’t have to do anything with the décor. They had already fixed it up considerably,” Leverett said. “The building used to be a Goodwill store. When I first saw this space in May, I knew that it had the right aura. It’s conducive for artwork and events.”
Over the holidays, BeautyFull collected gently used bras for another local merchant, The Full Cup, which donates them to women in shelters. The Full Cup, 218 N. Lee Street, also caters to making women feel comfortable.
“I can tell you in December, we collected 350 bras through different organizations like BeautyFull Boutique,” said Full Cup store manager Lindsey Palacios. “What we stand for is helping women. That’s our number one value in the company. It’s not about selling a bra, it’s about making a difference in the lives of women. We teach them about bra education, how it helps their health, how it helps them emotionally. It’s a dramatic thing for a woman. The majority of our customers, 95% I would say, are wearing the wrong size bra and we put them in a completely different size.”
Leverett is offering 10% off for customers who bring in a used bra. “I want to do it all year round,” she said. “I also recently established a partnership with the Friends of Guest House in Del Ray. They are a non-profit that gives temporary homes for women recently released from prison and in basic need of services. So, all of the BeautyFull clothes, after they’ve been on the floor for 90 days I donate unless the consigners want them back. These women [in Guest House] will go to Target, but they don’t get quality. Sometimes the only thing they have is one suit. If it’s going to be one suit, then make it a nice one."
BeautyFull also holds self-defense classes. “They’re killer classes, too,” Leverett said. “We put on sweats, move the chairs, put mats down and we tumble around and learn how to protect ourselves.”
Leverett has lived in Del Ray since 1999. Before owning BeautyFull, she was in marketing with the Graduate Management Admissions Council, “traveling around the country and doing a lot of public speaking and talking about the value of having an MBA,” she said.
That PR expertise has come in handy. “My personal style – I can be traditional and wear the suit. I can do the retro stuff. I can be classic. But my personal style, now – I want something that has sass, which is why I think my clothing at BeautyFull is unique and different. If you don’t want clothes anymore, you’ve got the opportunity to give other women a chance to find the clothes they will wear, and, of course, purses, jewelry and shoes as well,” Leverett said. “The best part about my Old Town clients is that a lot of the women consigning are fashionistas. Some of the brands we carry are James Jeans, Lafayette 148 New York, Chanel, Gucci, Coach, Louis Vitton and Chicos.”
Prices range from $5 for an accessory to $150, which would buy you a formal evening gown. “Business is good. Our return rate is very good,” Leverett said. “We have some customers who come in every week and I still get clothing every day. Some consignment shops stop with their sizes at 12, 14 and 16 and they may not have a full range of their sizes. Usually, what you find when you look at those stores is the dregs.”
BeautyFull Boutique is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.