Even on a gloomy, snowy Friday, the city of Concord, N.C., is bustling with people. Behind a QT gas station and nestled in a small shopping center on the outskirts of the city, there is a little boutique called EmLeigh’s and Mama B’s.
The walls of the boutique are covered with a unique clothes and accessories not exactly typical in this part of North Carolina. Think boho, tomboyish style instead of monogram-filled, Southern prep. The boutique’s colorful decorations make the place even more inviting. When I walk in, the owner, Emma Blaney, is helping an elderly customer with her purchase. Emma smiles as she discusses her boutique and chats with the woman.
Emma makes sure she can see the cash register and entrance from where we sit down for the interview. She wants to make sure she can help anyone who comes into the shop because she is working alone for the day. Even though she still had a seven-hour workday ahead of her, Emma’s voice is full of enthusiasm and she instantly makes the room more comfortable for the interview.
Emma Blaney is starting a new trend with her boutique, implementing her own style into a predominately Southern fashion culture. She grew up around a car racing family but somehow found a love for fashion and created her own, distinctive style. A former University of North Carolina at Charlotte student, Emma created EmLeigh’s and Mama B’s when she realized owning a boutique was her dream. Launching her own venture has been a long process, but along the way she has had the support of her family, friends and boyfriend.
From Racing to Fashion
Emma, who grew up around car racing, is not the type of person you think would own her own boutique. Her father Dave Blaney is a famous sprint car driver who also ventured into NASCAR in his career. He had all three of his children race quarter midgets, which are small dirt track cars. Only Emma and her younger brother Ryan made a hobby out of it, though. They spent weekends racing at a track in Salisbury, and Emma admits she enjoyed the experience while it lasted. But as it became more serious, Emma realized she did not want to continue racing as a hobby.
“It was obvious Ryan was the driver of the family. I got into sports in eighth grade and then played sports all throughout high school,” she says. “That was more my calling.”
She also began to model by the time she was in eighth grade. Modeling pulled her into the fashion world, opening her eyes to many different fashions. Ironically, she started to fall in love more with the clothes than the actual modeling. Emma played volleyball and basketball at Bishop McGuiness High School, which was a private Catholic school in Kernersville, N.C. Even so, she never left the racing world completely. She still went to races on weekends and supported Ryan whenever he competed. Racing was something that was always going to be a part of her life because of her family.
During her freshman year of high school, she began to dream of opening up her own clothing store. She admits she had many dreams during high school, but the idea of starting a boutique came back year after year. Emma was not able to begin right away, though. When she graduated from Bishop McGuiness, she went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She only stayed at UNC-Charlotte for a year, but she had already learned to run a business from her experience working at Wicked Purple, a boutique in High Point, in her junior year of high school.
The owner of the boutique became sick, so Emma had the opportunity to experience management first-hand. At times she was almost running the store on her own, handling situations herself. Christa Dolan, one of Emma’s best friends, knew this was where Emma’s dream really started to take root. “I could see her growing interest in the industry,” Christa says. “Emma has always been a very innovative and creative person, and those traits extended into her working experience.”
While Emma enjoyed her time at Wicked Purple, she always knew she would pursue her own boutique one day. So, it was not long until she created her own little boutique.
The Creation of EmLeigh's and Mama B's
After her time at Wicked Purple, Emma started to create her store. This was an idea Emma made sure to prepare well for before presenting it to her parents. She created a booklet about how she was going to start her venture and gave many details to prove she could do it. All of Emma’s hard work paid off when her parents agreed to support her on her new journey.
EmLeigh’s and Mama B’s was originally created as an online store and gained popularity that way first. While there was not an actual boutique location at the time, Emma would occasionally set up shop in another boutique, host an event at her parents’ home or have a trunk show. She knew she would eventually want to get an actual building, but she was content with the success of the online store. Soon Emma’s mother wanted to pitch in and helped Emma purchase the store on Village Drive in Concord.
As far as the clothes she sells, Emma says she would wear everything in her store herself. She wanted to bring her own tomboyish, bohemian style to Concord. Emma went against some of the advice from her younger sister to buy what would sell, instead buying items she would wear herself. Emma even models the clothes for the boutique’s Instagram account.
The creation of the store has given Emma her own claim to success. “Now I feel like I go to a race track and people know me for me and the boutique instead of being Ryan’s sister or my dad’s daughter,” Emma says. “I like have that little sense of ‘Oh, she does something on her own, too.’”
Family and Success
Emma has had the support of her entire family through the whole process. Her family encouraged her from day one, and she surely has not forgotten that. Anyone can tell by how she talks about her family that she is thankful for them and loves them wholeheartedly.
Her mom became involved in the store and often goes to a clothing market in Atlanta with Emma and Erin. Meanwhile, Emma’s father gave her the encouragement to keep going and never give up.
“I have never been told ‘You can’t do that,’” she says. “It’s not that they have given me everything, but they have always pumped me up to where I can do it.”
Emma is thankful for her father and brother’s popularity as well. Both are household names for racing fans, so being in Concord, which is a center for racing, helps Emma out. She knows their popularity was not what made the store sought-after, but she acknowledges that it helped. With all his female fans, Ryan has the power to post something about the store and get Emma a bunch of new followers. Emma is thankful for this support and sees having her dad and brother there to back her as a bonus.
She also looks to her brother and sister every day for inspiration to move toward her goal and live up to the pressures. Ryan is the new racecar driver in the family and is currently driving in the premier series of the NASCAR. Erin is currently a first-year at the University of Alabama. Emma admires how her brother has matured with the pressure he feels as a rookie and that her little sister was brave enough to go to Alabama without knowing anyone there. “They’re not scared, and that gives me inspiration,” Emma says.
Erin also looks to Emma for inspiration and admires her for her personality. “Emma stands out in so many ways because her personality is so diversified,” she says. “One thing that is most inspiring to me about her is her ability to keep optimism and a sense of humor through tough situations.”
Emma’s boyfriend Cale Conley, who is also a racecar driver, has supported her as well. The two have been dating on and off for about seven years, and Emma’s face lights up when she mentions him. Cale has been with her through the ups and downs of the boutique’s creation and has been positive the entire time.
“I have become a more positive person because of him,” Emma says, explaining that while she was not necessarily negative, she could get down easily before she had Cale. He pushes her to be happy and optimistic every day.
Emma had a dream to found her own boutique, and her aspirations became a reality. When she discusses the biggest influences in her life, she gives a little advice as well. “I feel like you can never be scared of dreams, and if you have a goal, you can’t be scared,” she says. “You just have to do it if you have an idea.”