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Monday, July 31, 2017

Charm Your Prince

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Local couple creates online specialty clothing brand, partners with Amazon

For eight years, Marshall Graham worked as a licensed residential loan officer at Aulds, Horne and White Investment. Each morning he woke up, got in the car and drove to work. But when the daily grind became tiresome, a desire grew in Marshall to break from the 8-to-5 mold. This is where his experience with brand management and a lot of trust in God would come in handy.

The idea for a clothing brand first began when Marshall was studying brand management in grad school at the University of Dallas. It fell by the wayside when Marshall decided to take a loan officer job in Dallas, then he eventually ended up taking a job in Shreveport. But at the age of 32, he realized that he wasn’t passionate about his job anymore.

“No amount of money could overcome that feeling,” Graham said.

With the help of his wife, Sommer, Marshall launched a clothing brand called (CYP). The pair came up with the name after discussing what motivates women to dress up.

“She [Sommer] felt it was important for spouses to look nice for each other,” Marshall said.

Thus, Charm Your Prince was born.

Founded in April of 2013, CYP is an online women’s specialty clothing brand based in Shreveport. Through their site, charmyourprince.com, they are able to sell women’s dresses that are comfortable but also stylish.

The Grahams originally started CYP from their home. They knew they needed to commit to the brand full-time in order to make it a success. Marshall left his job as a loan officer, and Sommer left her job as a director of social services. They took the leap of faith together.

“Sommer and I knew that if we were going to do this, we would have to jump. So we did,” Graham said.

Three years in, the Grahams moved their business out of their home to a location on East 70th Street. The location is primarily used to send and receive most of their inventory. The Web site is used as a landing place to display photos of their models wearing the dresses. The Grahams decided to use Amazon as their distributor because it gives Amazon Prime members the advantage of two-day shipping.

For Marshall, selling online has given him the ability to have a calm and casual workplace at home. Their store is open to customers 24/7, but the Grahams still have time to spend with their family, and they’re both doing what they love.

“I suppose I work a lot of hours, but I don’t really feel like I do because dealing with a brand is my passion, so it’s just fun to me.”

Sommer also loves the flexibility that starting a business with her husband has given her. She serves as the manager of operations at CYP.

“I love that we are doing life together in all parts,” Sommer said. “It is nice that we can schedule things according to our family schedule.”

Creating a dress design can be a long process. Marshall works with a fabric factory that provides examples of colors and styles as they need them. They also work with a manufacturer in China that handles all the quality control issues and ensures each design is as it should be. A design team is in place with the manufacturer to take the dress from idea to creation. Then, the dress is fitted on several different models so that any alterations or adjustments can be made based on their feedback. Often a new dress can be made with a simple pattern or color change.

“I like to people watch and look for dress designs,” Marshall said. “I often find a dress style that I like and combine it with one of our current styles to create a new dress.

I find clothing to be fascinating in its ability to copy itself over and over or how we can make minor design adjustments to reach a whole new market of people who weren’t being represented before. Overall, our designs are pretty simple. I hope they’ll stand the test of time.”

Marshall gets valuable feedback from his wife and the models. CYP was able to create an internal modeling agency called Elite CYP Models. They have 37 models from the Shreveport/Bossier area signed at the agency. The models are featured in CYP photoshoots that collaborate with other local businesses who provide services like hair, makeup and venue locations. Venues like the Silver Lake Ballroom, Remington Hotel and Shreveport Yacht Club have opened their doors to cross-promote with CYP.

“We always look at this as who we can partner with and how we can create a winwin situation.”

The one caveat with selling clothes only online is that the photo is all customers have when deciding if they want to purchase the product.

“We don’t have the benefit of women being able to touch, feel or try on our dress, so your picture has to represent your brand well.”

However, customers are always welcome to express their opinions. Marshall knows that making mistakes is all a part of the process when you are a business.

“Women will tell you what they like to wear,” he said. “I just learned to listen. I didn’t look at failure as a bad thing. I looked at it as a positive thing because I could learn from it and improve my business.”

“It’s been satisfying to start with a structure and put time in after listening to feedback from women and how they want to improve the design and implement that to create something beautiful they look forward to wearing. It’s always difficult for me to put into words the feeling of seeing one of our models wear a dress that we worked hard on over time. You can tell by their smile and how they feel just by wearing it.”

When putting together their site, the Grahams chose to include Genesis 2:21- 24 on their “Our Brand” page because it is a verse that means a lot to both of them.

“There is something very real and beautiful about those specific verses,” Marshall said. “The idea of a man and a woman coming from one flesh and then bonding into one flesh through matrimony is a beautiful representation of God’s love for us.”

Together, they have built a successful business and brand. Marshall says that at times it was a struggle, but they knew God was in control.

“I’m indebted to Sommer for all of her love and support – the trust and confidence that she placed in me to take this risk together.”

Moving forward, Marshall says they have new ideas they are working on. He envisions local boutiques carrying CYP items soon. Currently, the store has a variety of summer dresses for sale. They’ve created a 20 percent off discount code for an entire purchase from the CYP clothing line specifically for Forum readers with the code: CYPFORUM “When they [women] wear one of our dresses, I want them to feel the thoughtfulness and care that goes into each dress,” Marshall said. “I hope they feel they are wearing a dress that was designed as if someone had listened to their needs. I’ve always taken the approach that there is no need to sacrifice comfort for style,” Graham concludes.

– Jessica Carr

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