Meeting Gabi Lee of The Sentimentalist
I met Gabi in the fall of 2015 at a workshop where I was an assistant. While I instantly felt drawn to her passion for design and gowns, her love for her business and those around her is what struck me the most. She owns the sweetest little shop, called The Sentimentalist, currently located on the west side of Atlanta. However, this is going to change, pretty soon!
Over the last 3 years, I've been able to not only myself grow as an artist and wedding photographer, but also see how her shop and team has grown. Since meeting, we've been able to collaborate on various projects together: from editorials to photographing different details and items around her shop, to trunk shows. One of the things that I love most about Gabi is how kind and passionate she is. She is so good at reading people, and instantly makes them feel loved, welcome, and at ease - you know that she's on your team - something that is so important when you try to go find your wedding gown. I am so excited to introduce you to Gabi! Stay tuned, because in the next installment, you'll be able to read more about some tips and tricks to making your wedding gown experience the best.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Gabi! I’d love for readers to get an idea of how it all began. Then, we can go from there.
I can confidently say that attaching yourself to a small-business owner is pretty much THE way to do things, if you aren’t interested in a more traditional career route. I found myself working for Elizabeth Dye and her store, The English Dept., while juggling college, restaurant jobs, and an internship with a wedding planning company, while unsure of any of these paths in particular. Once I started to move up in her company, I started to understand more about the the business model and subsequently fell in love big time. And I started to see the potential value of opening something similar in ATL. After my mother visited me in Portland and I eventually started making plans to move home, we began to brainstorm a store of our own ;) I guess you can say I stumbled into it… but thoughtfully...if that makes sense.
What’s it like to have a brick & mortar?
A challenge and a blessing, like everything ;) It’s a real, living business with constant increasing overhead, personale challenges, and endless accounting. We are just as much product and experience based and we are a service company, so it’s a LOT for one company to accomplish well, especially with increasing reproduction competition, online retailers and re-sell companies undercutting us at every turn. The brick & mortar market is generally pretty dire at the moment, but bridal is well positioned to survive if it’s done with unparalleled customer service as well as the flexibility to change with the digital market. I plan on doing the best we can, but every time you order a wedding dress online….a pretty store somewhere dies- it’s just ugly facts.
How did you come up with the name “The Sentimentalist”, and what should we know about your business? I know that you love vintage pieces, and even, the red couch was your grandmother’s!
I’m pretty sure Rhiannon, our sales manager/my bestie/sister/co-shop-founder brought it up after a night of white wine and biz brainstorming. We couldn’t connect with anything “super bridal” that felt genuine. We weren’t the romantic, or the idealist, but we were something that felt significant, special, and sentimental. We care a lot about the quality of everything we sell and imagine them as keepsakes in the making, which is why vintage inspires us and our designer collection. It also inspires the way we do business, old-school-above-and-beyond service, that recreates the luxury shopping experiences of the past. Everything is thoughtful, from the tea service to the decor- enter grandma’s red couch ;)
Who is a Sentimental Bride, and what about your store stands out in their minds?
Our bride is cool duh- a little bit the non-bride, a little bit the fantastical bride, and a little the fashion bride. Somehow also simple and most concerned with comfort. We only work with small, independent, North American designers and we know just about everything about their collections. So we are highly educated to find or create the perfect fit for all kinds of sentimental brides. We are also low-pressure, well-prepared, and keep our brides educated along the way. These things contribute to strong relationships with our clients and a pretty great reputation for our service. This service, along with our pretty space and cool collection, sets us apart from most...we hope!
What are 3 things that you strive to do for every single bride who walks into your door? How do you know that you’ve been successful in doing these things?
We usually have to spend some amount of time disarming our brides, ha. A lot of them are either dreading this process or have had some sort of horrible bridal experience in their recent past. We embrace the chill, boho gal with open arms and understanding ears, so watching that defense break down and this certain crazy PEACE come over our gals when they realize they are somewhere that understands them...that’s goal #1. Seeing them feel beautiful and comfortable and then beautiful again, all while feeling comfortable...that’s #2. Selling them a dress, when it’s the right fit, that might be #3.
Who are your most popular/favorite designers?
We love all of our designers, of course! And that’s because they are all unique ;) They don’t just crank out repetitive collections of ‘this year’s trends’, but rather create smart, timeless, and versatile looks. We love Daughters of Simone for their LA-boho-babe vibes, Carol Hannah for her couture custom color ball gowns, and Leanne Marshall for her ballet perfect fits. We are grateful to have close relationships with each of them that foster symbiotic sales and lasting growth.
What trends do you foresee and love currently, and what trends are so overused that it pains you?
Unique embellishments are all the rage r n- pearls, opal, moonstones, one-of-a-kind laces, and iridescent fabrics. I’m down with most of it, but subtly is always key. Overused - all iterations of the “naked dress”- unless it’s epically executed, I don’t consider the absence of fashion to be all that fashion, ya know?
What can we expect to see from The Sentimentalist over the next year? How are you evolving?
Our biggest moves yet! Ha! Deets are still on the down low, but we’re hoping to be able to see & dress twice as many brides by this Summer ;) Our retail & vintage collections will be diversifying and growing and we hope to be able to help brides with even more of their dressing process, from undergarments to alterations. Change or die, apparently...so, we are changin’!
What is the best part of owning your own business in this wedding industry, and serving women in this stage of life? Why do you continue to do what you do?
One of the most rewarding things about what we specifically do is dismantling the often horrible and sometimes scary preconceptions that many brides have. Watching a girl fall in love with herself in a dress, when she expected to hate the process and maybe even her body, that’s the real good stuff. That makes it obvious that we are still relevant, and needed, and a place of refuge for some women. That’s enough, really.