Career & Finance

How Two Friends Turned their Instagram Following into a Growing Retail Business

For friends Lindsay Naughton and Brittany Brennan, launching a business wasn’t exactly part of the plan. But after developing an Instagram following through #OOTDs, both women realized they could take their passion for fashion one step further. The Patterns & Pops concept—their now thriving Denver-based business—was founded on a coffee shop patio, and has since grown into a sought-after online retail brand and Instagram-worthy mobile boutique. (You can find Patsy, the Chevy truck, driving around the city. She’s hard to miss.)

Read on to see how Lindsay and Brittany took their business from an idea to conception (hint: they Googled “how to start a business”), how they maintain a working partnership, and tips for turning your passion project into a reality. 

Name: Brittany Brennan
Age: 30
Location: Denver, CO
Current job/company: Co-Owner, Patterns & Pops 
Education: BFA, Printmaking, University of Colorado 

Name: Lindsay Naughton
Age: 26
Location: Denver, CO
Current job/company: Co-Owner, Patterns & Pops
Education: BSA, Exercise Science, University of Kansas 

Let’s start from the beginning. You actually met as teenagers and were colleagues first before becoming friends. Where were you working when you met, and how did you land the positions?
We met in college working our summers at a local portrait photography studio. Through different family friends we each heard they needed seasonal help during their busy season and it fit perfectly with our break from classes. We both started by working the front desk, fielding inquiry calls, scheduling appointments, delivering finished photos to customers, etc. There are a few years between us, so at first, we weren’t much more than colleagues. It wasn’t until after we had both graduated and accepted full-time positions with the studio that we realized how much we had in common (insert girl crush!) and really started to bond.

The photography studio was a small business and allowed each of us to take on pretty serious roles at a young age, something we are both forever grateful for. By the time we left, we were managing all of the ins and outs of the studio: Brittany the marketing and photo production, while I handled public relations and studio operations. The fact that someone would trust us with their business gave us a lot of confidence to break out on our own when the idea of Patterns & Pops was born.

Tell us about your fashion and design background. What inspired you to launch Patterns & Pops?
We have both always had a personal passion for fashion. Basically, we like to shop! As funny as it seems now, Patterns & Pops really started from a series of ootds (outfit of the days) on Instagram. At the photography studio, we primarily worked with high school girls, and one thing high school girls love is clothes! Luckily, one thing we love is clothes, so it was the perfect match! Working in an artistic environment daily, we found it tricky to be creative outside of work. The last thing we wanted to do when we got home was start a new project. As Instagram’s popularity started to pick up we became emerged in the culture of micro-blogging. It was a platform that allowed us to make a quick post without having to spend hours coming up with blog content and photos. The community was inviting, and the process so easy that we became instantly hooked. #Ootd and #stylediaries became normal phrases in our vocabulary, and we found sharing styling tips an easy, creative outlet that we could also tie back to our jobs of helping high school girls feel confident in their own skin. 

A passion for fashion is very different from true retail experience and we realized we had A LOT of learning to do…

With a background in photography we were able to make our pictures stand out amongst the masses and with slight adjustments to exposure, color, and saturation, our photos had a professional look to them. It didn’t take long for other brands to notice our happy and colorful photos before they started contacting us to be ambassadors for their companies. Along for the ride, we said yes (because how were two fashion loving girls ever going to say no to free clothes!?). And then came the question: If we can do this for other brands successfully, why not do it for ourselves?

Little did we know, a passion for fashion was very different from true retail experience and we had A LOT of learning to do…

We’re interested in hearing about the steps you took to start Patterns & Pops. Any advice for someone looking to turn a personal hobby into a profitable business? 
Since neither of us had ever started a business before, we quickly realized we had to shamelessly ask questions to figure out what our steps should be. Patterns & Pops’ concept and name were decided on a coffee shop patio: from there we went straight to the bank and opened a checking account. That was as far as our knowledge went…so we Googled “how to start a business.” Over the past two years, Google has been our best friend. We have learned more than ever how to utilize our resources and do our research. And when you find out the answer, no matter how tedious it seems, don’t cut corners! For your business to grow, you have to have a sound foundation from day one.

When you see an opportunity for change, make it! Being a business owner means evolving with your company. The worst thing you can do is be too set in your ways.

The first big step we took as a company was finding and hiring a web developer. From there we knew we needed clothes, so we found a tradeshow online and registered ourselves. (We even had to mock-up fake business cards to look legitimate.) Our first buying trip is one of our favorite memories—In short, it was a beautiful disaster…As we mentioned before, the extent of our fashion experience was visiting our local mall or shopping online—we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were still working our 9-5 jobs and we had one day to see the entire show. We flew to Vegas at 6:00 a.m. and flew back that same night. WAY overdressed, we walked in, asked a billion questions and bought our first five pieces. By the end of the day we were so exhausted we bought $40 sweatpants in the Vegas airport just to change out of the super cute and incidentally incredibly impractical outfits we had worn.

From the day we came up with P&P on that coffee shop patio, it took us eight months to turn our first profit—we each got our first paycheck, yay! It may have only covered a nice dinner and bottle of wine, but we were thrilled! Since then overall we have grown, but the numbers behind being a business owner are a roller coaster: one month can be great and the next not so great. We meticulously check our expenses and margins to see where we can save money, and always try to ask ourselves, ‘why?’ Why are we spending that money, why do we do this a certain way, why didn’t we do it this other way? It’s amazing how you can see a little change after a couple months that will make a huge impact on the profitability of your business. And don’t dwell on it: when you see an opportunity for change, make it! Being a business owner means evolving with your company. The worst thing you can do is be too set in your ways.

What about advice for two business partners looking to launch a company together? What has been essential to your successful partnership? 
As simple as it seems, we are so grateful to have been colleagues before friends, as we learned how to work together in problem-solving situations and ask the hard questions. We don’t always agree, but we still talk it through and make the best decision for our company. 

We put every waking minute we weren’t at our 9-5 jobs into Patterns & Pops. We endearingly referred to P&P as our ‘side hustle’ and boy, did we hustle.

Brittany: We have very different strengths, a quality we don’t fight, but celebrate. I am creative and artistically-minded where Lindsay is type A and logistical. Our approach to each situation is very different, but we complement each other perfectly. If you have a partner, find out what you’re each good at and stick to it! You have to be okay with letting go of some aspects of your business, because your partner may be better at it than you. Equally, you get to shine where you excel, so own it! 

Lindsay: And remember to have fun. We often end our day with a glass of wine and chat about whatever celebrity gossip or new clothing item has our attention at the time. We know that we spend more time with each other than our families, so at the end of the day we have to still like each other :).

When you first launched, you were both still working full-time at the photography studio. How did you balance this new endeavor alongside your 9-to-5 gigs?
Honestly, we would be lying to say we ever achieved a “balance.” We put every waking minute we weren’t at our 9-5 jobs into Patterns & Pops: nights, weekends, etc. At the time, we endearingly referred to P&P as our “side hustle” and boy, did we hustle! We wanted so badly for it to succeed and had so many ideas, we couldn’t help but work on it any chance we got. After six months of this crazy lifestyle we were literally running out of hours in the day and we had a decision to make. At that point it was either take the leap and quit to give Patterns & Pops a real shot, or we had to reevaluate. We couldn’t keep on living the way we were, or our business wouldn’t be able to grow. So we leaped and never looked back!

How did you market Patterns & Pops at the beginning? 
Instagram! We started building our brand online months before opening our store. This allowed us to gain a following of other women who shared our love for color, patterns, and style. To gain this following, we religiously posted three times a day, seven days a week, using hashtags, and tagging brands we were promoting that had a similar feel to the Patterns & Pops aesthetic. By engaging with other Instagram users posting with the same hashtags and promoting the same companies, we introduced them to our brand and hoped they would follow us! It was really a game of making internet friends; To this day, we still follow those first women that were along for the ride with Patterns & Pops. We feel like we know them, their friends, their family, their style…even though we’ve never met! Sometimes we will refer to these original followers in conversation, always by their Instagram handles, which makes us laugh since they all have first names—that’s just not how we know them. 

To this day, we still follow those first women that were along for the ride with Patterns & Pops. We feel like we know them even though we’ve never met!

Our idea was to take our followers from online friends to customers. Since the internet was a familiar platform for us all and Patterns & Pops, at the time, was just a website, we hoped it would be seamless transition. Lucky for us, it was! Not every follower started shopping, but some did and that was all we needed to get going. The fact that we both modeled clothing on our social media and site also gave our company a personal connection that had more value than we originally realized. Our fans loved seeing “real” girls wearing and styling the items. 

At first, Patterns & Pops was solely an online store. Eventually, you bought an old Chevy truck and ventured into the mobile boutique scene. What prompted this shift in business strategy? 
It’s funny because when we first started the business, we were really adamant on it only being a website. We liked the flexibility we had as far as hours and it was a platform we were very comfortable with. As time went on and the company grew, we really believed that the brand deserved to be more than a collection of beautiful photos online. So in a way, you could say the shift was a selfish one because we wanted to see the brand come to life. The truck just made sense; It was a way to expand the business without taking on a lot of financial burdens. 

Prior to the truck, in an attempt to get feedback on our buying, we had hosted a couple private “pop-up shops” for women to come shop our collection in person. They were so successful we knew we needed to do more of them, and the fashion truck concept was a way to have a “clothing party” that didn’t need a host and traveled around the city. It was perfect! 

What does a typical day look like at Patterns & Pops? Is it different/the same for both of you?
Brittany: Our schedule is currently driven by the truck’s schedule. When we have an event, whether it be a private party with a group of girlfriends, parking downtown, or a farmers market, we are out selling clothes. The rest of our time is saved for photo shoots for new products and social media, checking in inventory, and networking. Lindsay does all our books and deals with our vendors, while I handle our website and online aesthetics. We recently hired two new employees which is going to be a game changer. We will be spending less time on the truck and more time growing the business. Regardless of this shift, we will always find time to do an occasional stop because it is so important for us to connect with our customers and make sure our marketing is still relevant. When we have Instagram followers shop the truck and meet us, they are so excited. It feels like we’ve been friends all along that are finally meeting face-to-face. 

We think you’re programmed to take a certain course after college and it’s usually the safe course. There’s plenty of time to be practical and sometimes the best things come from not overthinking it. 

The Patterns & Pops brand has become a big success, especially on Instagram. When did you begin to feel like you really “made it”?
Oh gosh. I don’t think either of us to this day still thinks we’ve “made it.” Sometimes we actually have to step back and remind ourselves how far we’ve come. When you’re in the thick of it and working your butt off each and every day, you rarely have time to think about your growth. We are both guilty of being big dreamers, so the second we set a goal and meet that goal it becomes easy to come up with an even bigger and better one. That being said, it’s always an amazing feeling when someone from a different city, or even Denver, comes to visit the truck and tells us they’ve been following us on Instagram for a long time and have always wanted to come shop with us. I don’t think we’ll ever get sick of that one.

Where do you see your business in five years?
Still thriving! We are in the process of opening a brick and mortar in Denver, and after that we are going to franchise the truck. Our followers are constantly asking us to visit their cities, but unfortunately Patsy is just too old to make it past the Colorado border. One day you will see Patsy in all the major cities—we are coming for ya San Francisco and Dallas!

What professional achievement are you proudest of to-date, and why?
It would be easy to say the fashion truck, but that first non-family/non-friend sale is still one of our proudest moments. When the website first launched, within the first 24 hours we had someone that followed us on our Instagram purchase a hot pink blazer. Like most startup businesses, P&P started as a passion project, so to see that someone else loved what we were creating made us think, ‘hey, we can totally do this!’

What advice would you give your 23-year-old selves?
Don’t be afraid to take risks. We think you’re programmed to take a certain course after college and it’s usually the safe course. There’s plenty of time to be practical and sometimes the best things come from not overthinking it. 

Brittany: And of course…Travel as much as you possibly can! 

Brittany Brennan is The Everygirl…

If you could have lunch any woman, who would it be and what would you order? 
Chrissy Teigen, and french fries with a side of ranch dressing.

Describe your personal style in three words.
Colorful, feminine, and happy. 

Ideal day off in Denver? 
A sunny day at the Pearl Street Farmers Market with my family, followed by a glass of wine with friends on our patio.

Favorite item currently in your boutique?
Mustard Floral Shift

I wish I knew how to… 
Be really good at carpentry. The home improvement possibilities would be endless! 

Lindsay Naughton is The Everygirl…

If you could have lunch any woman, who would it be and what would you order? 
Ellen Degeneres, and whatever the cheesiest option on the menu was…

Way you stay organized? 
Lists! I have them on notebooks around my house, on my phone and computer. (If something is really important, it usually shows up in all three places).

Thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I taught anatomy cadaver labs in college—eek! 

Favorite fall trend?
The retro ’70s vibes: mustard yellow, rusty orange, and belled sleeves.

I wish I knew how to… 
Paint my nails—I’m terrible at it!