BROOKINGS – Erica Bousema doesn’t let grass grow under her feet. Only 19, she’s just opened Emerald Grace Clothing Company in downtown Brookings and is about to graduate from South Dakota State University with a bachelor’s degree.
“I’m excited to be in the Brookings area, and I hope to be here for a little while,” Bousema said. “I’ve grown so much just in these past couple of months that I don’t know where it will take me.”
A Minnesota farm girl who always liked school, Bousema learned a strong work ethic from her dad and brought that into her first business.
She has a clear vision for her store – offer stylish clothes in a wide range of sizes at affordable prices – and she’s already planning to expand her selections by connecting with local business owners.
“Try to start out small and I hope it’ll grow from there,” Bousema said.
Emerald Grace Clothing Co. is located at 412 Fifth St., across from the post office in downtown Brookings. Closed Sunday and Monday, the store is open from 1-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Due to her schedule of college classes and substitute teaching, the hours might fluctuate. If they do, she’ll post the change on the store’s Facebook page.
“Facebook is where I update everything,” she said.
Bousema can be contacted at [email protected]; leave a message on Emerald Grace’s Facebook page, or visit the website.
Bousema cautions folks to be sure to enter “Emerald Grace Clothing Co.” in the search engine because there is an Emerald Grace Boutique in North Carolina.
Emerald Grace Clothing Co.
Emerald Grace carries women’s clothing sizes small to 3X.
“The plus-size part is more special to me because I am a part of that range,” Bousema said.
Clothes are an important part of how a woman feels about herself.
“Fashion makes me feel more confident in myself,” Bousema said. “I love that people come in here and try and find that same confidence.”
She has jewelry, purses and other accessories, as well as small gifts, like tic-tac-toe boards and wax melts.
Bousema describes her selection as “more casual” but said some women could wear the items to work.
“I think a lot of teachers could probably wear this every day,” she said.
She should know. Bousema substitute teaches on a weekly basis at Brookings or the Volga Christian School and “I like wearing my stuff when I sub,” she said.
Women of all ages and sizes need fashionable clothes that work with their existing wardrobes and budgets.
“I have a lot of neutral colors and stuff that’s good to wear year-round,” Bousema said.
Being a college student herself, she knows they don’t have a lot of money to build a wardrobe for all their needs.
“I love that there’s a college here (and) that they can find some clothing, too,” Bousema said. “I also try to keep my prices as affordable as I can.”
She’s willing to work with customers’ needs, including “personalized appointments” if someone is nervous about being around others due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just message me on Facebook and I can set up a personal time,” she said.
She keeps operating expenses low.
“I’m the girl behind everything,” Bousema said. She has no employees and does all the work herself, from researching the markets and ordering clothing, to maintaining the social media accounts. “It’s all me.”
Bousema grew up on a farm near Worthington.
“I helped out along the farm when I was younger and kind of got my hard work and drive from that,” she said. Her dad would get her and her three sisters up early on summer mornings to go rock picking or help their mother around the house.
She was driven in other areas, too, earning an associate’s degree while she was still in high school, thanks to a program offered in Minnesota.
“I didn’t go to the high school my junior and senior year … I just went straight into classes at Minnesota West (Community & Technical College) and got my liberal arts associate’s degree,” she said.
Bousema will be graduating from SDSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a minor in human development family studies.
“Not many people can say that they will graduate college with a bachelor’s degree (when they’re) 19 and have a business, too,” Bousema said.
She took a couple of economics classes, but her business acumen comes from her father, who is a farmer, which is a business unto itself.
“I’ve kind of picked up a lot of my business mindset from him,” Bousema said, adding her boyfriend, Carter Grinde, is majoring in agriculture business so she gets tips from him, as well.
Her store’s beginning is a mix of drive and serendipity.
She and her sisters all love clothes, but being a “true to size extra-large,” she had trouble finding clothes. Knowing most stores only carry up to size large, Bousema knew “I always wanted to accommodate to all sizes.”
That led her into starting a thrifting business while still in high school. In Brookings, she started an online business in October out of her spare bedroom.
“I just kept going from there,” Bousema said.
“I honestly wasn’t looking for a (store),” she said, but she was doing a bit of building-shopping, driving around town to see what she could afford if she saved up a little.
The location on Fifth Street was open and small enough to fit her just-off-the-ground needs.
“I just knew it was meant to be, so I opened (Dec. 19) and I had a very successful grand opening,” Bousema said.
She was born in May, making her birthstone an emerald, and Grace is her middle name. She preferred the ring of “Clothing Company” to boutique, thinking it set her store apart from others.
Being in Brookings is important to her.
“I love Brookings; to me, it feels like home. It’s kind of the same small town community, and I love the way that they support businesses. I’ve just had a lot of support,” she said.
Bousema doesn’t think COVID-19 has been a problem.
“I don’t think that it’s affected my business in a major way,” she said, but added ignorance may be bliss. “I don’t know what normal is, I guess.”
In the future
Bousema has a lot of plans for the future.
Once she’s not in classes, she plans to extend the store hours.
“I would love for this to be my full-time job, and I would love to add onto my team,” Bousema said.
She wants to get a fashion studies intern to help out with the day-to-day business and so she can give back by mentoring someone who’s coming up.
She’ll need the help if her other goals are met.
Expansion is definitely in her plans. She wants to work with local artisans and feature more locally-made items in her store.
“I’d love to kind of expand and meet other small business owners that would like to have their products in a storefront,” Bousema said, adding she’s looking for smaller items right now because she has limited space. “I think it would be good for the local businesses’ aspect.”
When she offers more merchandise, she knows she’ll need more space.
“If I get wildly successful and need a bigger space, I’d love to have a store on Main. That’s my goal,” Bousema said.
“My ultimate goal – my five-year goal – is to open a bridal and prom gallery or boutique for plus sizes, too,” Bousema said.
“I’m excited for the future,” she said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]