From left to right: Jocelyn Gailliot, Madeline Grayson, September Votta
Simply put, we love boutiques. With one-of-a-kind curations involving a specifically unique variety of brands from across the globe, the feeling that you’re snagging a style unavailable anywhere else brings us a giddy joy. In beach towns and vacation hot spots, it can be easy to find adorable, genuine boutiques featuring must-have pieces void of flash-in-the-pan trendiness. But in the big city? Not so much.
Why stay shackled to the big box stores and brands that inhabit every mall, when you could shop from a collection curated by eyes with a firm perspective of its customer? Better yet, shop it all online in a smooth, logically-organized format, from the comfort of your couch.
This sentiment drove Tuckernuck founders Jocelyn Gailliot, Madeline Grayson and September Votta to create their wildly popular online boutique (and eventual brick-and-mortar store in Georgetown) in 2012.
The ladies had been on vacation together and shopping in the aforementioned adorable vacation-town boutiques and collectively dreaded their return to the boring shopping of their hometown.
“We just really, always were inspired by those local boutiques but felt like there wasn't someone that was curating that experience online and making it really an emotional connection that felt authentic and that was speaking to us in our life at the time and so we really just wanted to create that seamless experience online for our customer,” says Gailliot.
Once their plan was decided, the ladies packed up and headed west to Mountain View, California for six months to learn the ins and outs of launching a digital company. Gailliot had previously worked in finance, while her sister, Madeline Grayson and her friend from college, September Rinnier Votta, had recently graduated from school and were working in retail. The career shift was abrupt but not entirely unexpected for the group.
The boutique's name, Tuckernuck, was inspired by the ladies’ summers in Nantucket. Tuckernuck itself is a serene, nature-filled island in Nantucket that is entirely disconnected from electricity and without grocery stores and restaurants, so it exudes a laid-back vibe, especially for those typically hyper-connected to the internet.
With beachy, tranquil inspirations in mind, the boutique’s curation of apparel and goods could now begin.
“We've always really valued that high-touch boutique experience in stores where you feel like you're being exposed to a dynamic mix of brands and a lot of new labels that you've never heard of before and that curation has always been so so important to us and we always want to feel like we're first to market with the coolest brands that we're finding,” says Votta.
The founders knew they wanted to create a boutique that served busy women with kids and careers, just like them.
The boutique carries clothes to wear to the gym, to get drinks with friends in, visits to the office, date nights with your honey, and every occasion in between. But perhaps most importantly, the clothes have longevity – none of those micro-trend fast fashion creations made to be discarded after one Instagram post.
It took some time for the founders to acquire and curate their first batch of brands when they were starting out, but the founders found many of their brands in their travels, at trade shows, and even DMing brands they admired on Instagram.
“September is the queen of scrappiness, ‘never give up’ is her phrase nonstop,” says Gailliot.
The online boutique currently carries almost 300 brands, excluding its own, of both women's and men’s apparel, accessories and home goods. Designer highlights include Jonathan Simkhai, Ulla Johnson, SEA New York, STAUD, and Loeffler Randal, among highly-desirable others.
Instead of styling whole looks using pieces from just one brand, the founders opt to style looks based on the occasion and mix brands together however they see fit.
“We always feel, especially with a lot of brands, they always come at it from a very specific creative point of view. And so you don't necessarily want to be defined by some other brand's full look from head to toe. So by bringing on all these different brands that have creative points of view, and then you mix them together, and all of a sudden, you have your own style that feels fresh and very much you,” says Gailliot.
On the website, Tuckernuck releases lookbooks for inspiration each season. This month, find their ‘spring trend report’, ‘March must-haves’, and St. Barths travel guide’, with each guide including numerous fully styled looks, down to the accessories. Customers receive these guides through email or browse through them on the website. This extra step adds a sense of personalization to the brand and shows exactly how wearable each piece can be.
“As a result, our customers are always saying ‘your emails talk to us. It's like you understand exactly what we're doing in our life. It's like you're in our brain and you know what our calendar looks like for the next couple of months’,” says Votta.
What makes this personalization truly fascinating for the founders is seeing the results. The online boutique has customers across the United States, with hot spots in New York, California, Chicago and Texas, so it’s special to see how customers in different climates style the same pieces to suit their individual style, explains Grayson.
“It's what's allowed us to scale nationally, rather than when you're just in one store and you're building it store by store. You really are just thinking about that specific market, this way we've been able to really have everyone interpret Tuckernuck and all these different brands for their needs in their location,” says Gailliot.
As the Tuckernuck website has grown, so have its needs.
“We really believed after curating all these third-party brands that there was still room in the market for a clothing line that really represented that classic all-American style. So we wanted to always be inspired by, you know, prints and details of the past but with modern updates. So we've now recruited an in-house design team and we're rolling out a lot of new verticals and categories that we're really excited about, and we're just going to keep designing it, you know, into things that we love and we're not able to find in the market ourselves,” says Votta.
The founders stay hungry to create items that work perfectly for their lifestyles, which evidently work perfectly for many of their customers’ lifestyles as well.
“The design team is really us even though we're not formally trained, and I think that gives us a good perspective because we're not trying to create something that's super on-trend. We try to take trends and translate them in a fresh way, but that's really wearable and approachable and at strong price points for our customers. And I think that's why there has been a lot of success. It's just every time we do anything with intention at Tuckernuck it's because we are the customer and we're saying this is a need that we can't find out there,” says Gailliot.
Whether Votta is hand-selecting buttons to go on garments or Gailliot and Grayson are searching for the next category to create for, all curation goes through the founders.
When COVID-19 rolled around and the ladies were playing tennis and golf more often, they noticed a need in the market for women’s athleisure that was functional and in the retro style they craved. As a result, Tnuck Sport was created. The ladies put together a mood board and started designing tennis skirts, sports bras, athletic socks, and shirts, in signature patterns, that they could wear on the green and cute enough to grab drinks in after. The transitional aspect of the athleisure pieces was key to the founders’ vision of the line.
Tnuck Sport has been out for about a year now and the founders are still working to improve its fit and functionality. They spent a full day trying the athleisure line on bodies of all shapes and sizes to see how they could improve the fit, as well as incorporating customer feedback.
What’s next for Tnuck Sport? Pickleball apparel. And what do you wear for pickleball? That’s the exciting part.
Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US, according to NPR, and Tuckernuck is looking to be a part of it. The brand is working to design clothing optimized for the sport. Bright colors and breathability are a must, but past that the possibilities are limitless.
“I think everyone's trying to figure out what pickleball style is right now, so it's kind of fun because we have the ability to help define it a bit,” says Gailliot.
For those fashion-loving readers wondering… Yes! Tuckernuck’s in-house design team is based right here in DC. The District is known for many things – politics, media, law – but certainly not fashion design.
“We brought on all these amazingly talented creatives that just are so grateful that there is a place in DC now where if you love fashion, if you love photography, if you love creating lifestyle content, we have amazing photo studios we're building out. We're bringing in young talent that are in schools now and helping mentor them because people are really excited that there can be this exciting creative fashion industry in DC. So we just hope to continue to build that in this area and create a diversity of, you know, employment and job opportunities in this city that we think is always very exciting,” says Gailliot.
While the online boutique serves shoppers from around the globe, the brick-and-mortar store in Georgetown is devoted to helping Washingtonians dress for the lifestyle of the city.
DC is very much an event-driven city, rather than trend-focused like New York City. So as a result, Tuckernuck stocks its Georgetown boutique with fanciful floral dresses, cocktail party attire and ready-to-wear styles.
The brand opened a storefront in DC in 2016 and chose DC because they had the support of their families locally and had free office space available. However, their DC location has made the brand stand out because of its unique clientele in the nation’s capital and its less trend-driven curations of quality, timeless styles.
With a successful ten years and counting under their belt, the Tuckernuck founders are energetic about their boutique’s future. Their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and aspiring boutique owners?
“First and foremost, never give up. I mean, if you set out to do something, then do it right and don't quit because that's what holds us back. All of these entrepreneurs just give up at some point but if you just keep going and you really believe and you just have in your mind that you've set out to do this and you're never gonna give up, you will always be successful,” says Votta.
“It's two important things, knowing your customer and or being your customer so just constantly listening to them and adapting your business to their needs and learning from them. And then also just being smart businesswomen. I mean, from day one, we've been able to build this on very little capital raised because we are always looking at the bottom line and asking ‘is this profitable?’ and ‘is this business sustainable?’ and the decisions that we make are very business-driven as well. So it's not just a creative fashion brand, it's a crazy creative fashion brand combined with really just smart business initiatives always,” says Gailliot.
What’s next for the brand? More athleisure collections, a hotly-anticipated summer collaboration with a well-loved influencer, and the Tuckernuck Home collection.
Explore Tuckernuck’s Georgetown storefront at 1053 Wisconsin Avenue NW, or shop the entire boutique online at tnuck.com.
Photography by: Tuckernuck