Published: September 27, 2017
Karmen Berentsen didn’t take the traditional route in to the fashion industry. A self-made “serial entrepreneur,” she built and sold a multimillion-dollar tech company before buying A Line Boutique. Here, she describes the way clothing can transform the way others see you…and the way we see ourselves.
Tell us why your store is named “A Line Boutique.”
The original owner named it A Line because the cut of an A-line dress looks like a letter A, right? And it’s flattering on all body types, it really is. You can be 5’4”. You can be 5’9”. You can have hips, or no hips. It’s a universally flattering cut. She was a pretty savvy businesswoman and also recognized that “a” is at the front of the alphabet so you would be listed first. It’s interesting, with donations and charities our name is always the first one visible. It’s awesome.
Many people might not think of a store like this as one that caters to all “body types…”
I know there are a lot of women who are intimidated to walk into a boutique. They're intimidated because they feel boutiques are hoity-toity, they're not good enough, it's uncharted territory, we only have skinny sizes, we're the skinny girl store and we only have sizes 0-12. We carry size jean 24-32. Sure, the fashionistas are going to find us, because we have our brand, but it's the non-fashionista—the normal woman—who I just want to say, "give A Line one chance and I promise you, it's gonna be fun, effortless and you're going to feel like a million bucks."
How do you make shopping “effortless?”
In many ways. Someone can come in here and literally never touch the rack. They walk in and walk right back to the dressing room. We already have everything pulled for them, in their size and we’re also helping them build a wardrobe. We do free tailoring, wardrobe and closet edits, home and office delivery, text messaging styling…we are service centric.
So do your stylists work on commission then?
They don’t get commission on selling a sweater; it’s building clients that counts. Becoming indispensable for their clients. Our clients have literally compared shopping at A Line to shopping with your best friend. Shopping with a girlfriend who you would love to have with you because they’re honest. Sometimes a client walks out and a stylist says, “You know what? We can do better.” And they’re like, “Didn’t you just tell me this was cute?” And they’re like, “We can do better.”
You weren’t always in to fashion. You’ve built and sold tech companies…
At 26, I left JD Edwards software company. I was a financial implementation consultant who helped companies when they were implementing Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP. And, it's interesting because people always say, "How did you go from tech to fashion?" I didn't. I am just a serial entrepreneur who cannot help walking into a restaurant, hotel or any other place and think, "If you only did this and this and this…". I am a constant problem solver.
So when did you first experience the power of fashion?
I grew up very poor. I went to school on a full-ride academic scholarship because I had no parents by the time I was in school. Once I started having business successes, I started understanding the power of clothes. I was young and female in a male-dominated industry. The power of me walking in, dressed in a designer suit that was fit and fabricated and well made, I gained ten years, right? I, as a human, I just grew in confidence and I acted like I belonged there and then I felt like I belonged there.
…And now you’ve got quite a discerning eye for good fashion design. Tells us which designers you carry at A Line?
RTA, Iro, Rag & Bone, Helmut Lang, Citizens of Humanity, Mother Denim, Bansh. Bansh has only been distributed in Europe. You can't even buy them online, they only ship to European addresses. Now they've chosen to partner with us to bring them into the states. We've got exclusivity. We've also gotten exclusivity for Sonya Rykiel. So we’ve got quite a few French, European brands.
The original A Line is in Greenwood Village. Why did you choose Cherry Creek North as your second location?
Real simple. For years, I got text messages from our clients who live in Cherry Creek North and Park Hill and saw "for lease" signs in that area. After a couple of years, I was tired of it, so I was like, "Sure, why not?" And I am delighted in the first year we did $1.8 million at that location.