Monday, May 16, 2022

ODU senior runs a fashion business from her mom’s dining room

A customer browses clothing in Bella Birtch Boutique. (Courtesy Rebecca Birtcher)
A customer browses clothing in Bella Birtch Boutique as owner Clarice Mayo (right) assists her. (Courtesy Rebecca Birtcher)

NORFOLK — Toano resident Clarice Mayo will graduate from Old Dominion University in December, and she already has a job lined up after college.

The job is with a company she founded herself. Mayo, an ODU senior, opened Bella Birtch Boutique nearly a month ago. She sells women’s clothing and accessories, both online and in person.

How does Mayo juggle being a full-time student and a full-time business owner?

“I have a very detailed planner,” Mayo said. “I have a to-do list every day.”

When it comes to her business, the to-do list can include stocking the inventory, selling her products, organizing events and scheduling customer appointments.

Mayo said Bella Birtch has nearly 2,000 items in stock, ranging from size small through 3 XL, all hung from more than a dozen racks.

Bella Birtch Boutique's inventory on display. (Courtesy Rebecca Birtcher)
Bella Birtch Boutique’s inventory on display. (Courtesy Rebecca Birtcher)

Her selections include dresses, leggings, kimonos, rompers and cardigans. Bella Birtch also markets handbags and jewelry.

“My goal for the business was to bring in more versatile items so women can dress up or dress down — wear it to work or going out,” Mayo said.

She sources her apparel from California brands such as PIKO, which makes its clothes predominantly from bamboo, and Umgee USA, a fashion-industry wholesaler based in Los Angeles, according to its website.

Mayo said she’s worn many clothes from the brands she sells, and in particular PIKO is among her favorites.

“[They’re] the most comfortable thing I’ve ever put on my body,” Mayo said. “They’re like wearing a cloud.”

Customers can browse and shop on Bella Birtch’s website. Mayo also plans to sell at pop-up events in Williamsburg, such as Second Sundays.

Family first

Customers can also can come check out items in person at her office – which is also her mother’s dining room, Mayo said.

Rebecca Birtcher (left) and daughter Clarice Mayo in Disney. (Courtesy Disney)
Rebecca Birtcher (left) and daughter Clarice Mayo. (Courtesy Disney)

“My mother has been so gracious to allow me to turn her office and her dining room into my boutique store front area,” Mayo said.

Mayo lives with her mother in Toano and commutes to Norfolk for classes multiple times a week.

Her mother, Rebecca Birtcher, is more than just a landlord – she’s an integral part of the business, Mayo said. The name of the business was even based on her mother’s last name.

As a photographer with her own business, Birtcher takes photos for Bella Birtch’s website, and has shared fashion advice with her daughter.

“I’m very supportive of her doing this,” Rebecca Birtcher said. “She’s very passionate about this and worked very hard, and used her own money to start it … I’m a firm believer that the best form of advertising is word of mouth, so I talk about [Bella Birtch] to everyone I know.”

Mayo’s father has also been one of the main inspirations in her life and career – even six years after he passed way.

Michael Lee Birtcher, a Chief Petty Officer Boatswain’s Mate in the Navy, was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2011, when his daughter was just a teenager. Before he died, Mayo said his lessons helped her develop the ambition to chase her dreams.

“I grew up around the Navy, so being hard-working and dedicated was introduced to me at a young age,” Mayo said. “He instilled that in me.”

He also instilled a family-focused philosophy that is apparent in her business today. Mayo said when she and her father argued during her childhood, and they made up afterward, he would say his signature line, “Family first.”

Mayo said the motto was the subject of the essay that got her admitted to ODU – and because her father died as an active-duty Navy serviceman, she has been able to attend ODU through the GI Bill.

Now his very legacy is his daughter, and her business.

“I knew I always wanted to own my own business since I was 13,” Mayo said. “I always had that eye for business. I wanted to be my own boss.”

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