Last month, the students who run Susie’s gathered for their last staff meeting of the semester.
Ahead of them: one final sale. Behind them: five months of thinking creatively, applying knowledge learned in classes, and working hard to turn Susie’s into a store by and for Stephens students.
The process of reinventing Susie’s began when President Dianne Lynch brought the store back under the Stephens umbrella in 2019. Together, she and Dr. Laura Nunnelly, vice president of Student Development, decided that Susie’s should be a student-run project.
In August, three students, Navé Miller ’20, Joyce Gayo ’19 and Jessica Gayo ’19, requested to move back to campus a few weeks early. Stephens provides free summer housing for students who are employed by the College, so Dr. Nunnelly offered the students the job of reopening and running Susie’s during Move-In Weekend.
The three seniors began transforming Susie’s from a quiet, dark space with a “convenience store vibe” to a warm, modern retail experience. According to Dr. Nunnelly, the students did so well with the project that she offered a newly created retail coordinator position to Miller, who then hired the Gayo sisters as the event coordinators for the store.
“I was very excited for the project, but also nervous,” said Miller, a fashion design and product development major.
The new Susie’s staff started by incorporating student voices. The Gayos, both apparel design majors, planned their first store event around invited students to come in and offer critiques. Miller interviewed and hired a full staff of student workers, each with a distinct title and responsibility. Using skills learned in their fashion marketing and communication classes, the staff repriced existing stock, selected new merchandise and redesigned the store’s layout and displays.
Bri Johnson ’22, a freshman costume design major, is Susie’s consignment coordinator, responsible for identifying student entrepreneurs and inviting them to sell their goods at Susie’s. Johnson said that, unlike many retailers, Susie’s allows consigners to retain 90% of earnings. Currently on display were clothing and jewelry by Grace Bailey ’23, a graphic design communications major with a minor in business. Bailey also consigns her pieces at Plume, a boutique just outside of Columbia, under the brand Chicory.
MacKenzie Allen ’20, a fashion communication major, is the store’s social media coordinator. Together with her classmates in Innovation and Design Studio, she pitched a store rebranding proposal to Nunnelly and Miller, which includes a new logo designed by Eden Crane ’20, and plans for redoing the store’s interior design. The proposal is currently under review.
Reagan McCutchen ’21, a fashion marketing and management major and Susie’s merchandising coordinator, designed a new sweatshirt that celebrates Stephens’ founding. She had the shirts printed with the help of Stephens alumna Kalani McElwee ’11, the store manager and graphic designer at Columbia’s Flying Cow Shirt Co. McCutchen is studying abroad this spring, and said she looks forward to seeing how the store’s merchandise has continued to develop under students’ influence when she returns to campus.
First-year filmmaking student Emma Schepker ’23 said she’s met a lot of fellow students and their families through her job at Susie’s, and has enjoyed observing her classmates in various phases, from their first day on campus to their last week before graduation. She plans to continue working at the store throughout her time at Stephens.
Susie’s reopens for the spring semester on Monday, Feb. 3, with hours to be announced soon. Though online sales are not currently available, the students have plans in the works to open an online store in the future.
Pictured at top from left to right: Navé Miller ’20, Joyce Gayo '19, Mackenzie Allen '20 and Jessica Gayo '19