PROVIDENCE — Last April, Danielle Sturm and Charlotte von Meister sat down for dinner to chat about sharing a booth to resell second-hand clothing at a local flea market.
Less than six months later, they own a sprawling second-hand showroom together. Their new project, The Nest on Westminster Street, opened in August. It’s already running a profit, but more importantly to Sturm and von Meister, they are doing what they love and doing it together.
Though both women have always been fond of fashion, neither expected they’d create careers repurposing it.
Von Meister, 27, is from New Jersey, but went to St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island. Her friends always called her “the fashion girl” growing up, she said.
After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia with a degree in fashion marketing, she landed what were then dream jobs at fashion start-ups in New York and later Los Angeles.
Her work involved “constant marketing, and sales pushes, and manufacturing things that people ultimately didn’t really need,” she said. “With our marketing, we were almost making them feel lesser than without this object in their lives. And it felt gross.”
So, she quit the fashion industry she’d always wanted to be a part of and went in the complete opposite direction: She became a professional organizer to help people get rid of the excess they’d accumulated.
But just as her own tidying-business got off the ground in early 2020, the pandemic hit. So, when von Meister couldn’t go into other people’s houses, she returned to her own home in New Jersey.
Back on the East Coast, she spent the summer of 2020 visiting Rhode Island. In September, she moved to Providence full time. Quickly, mutual friends to introduced her Sturm.
Sturm at 25 has already had great success in a cutting edge industry — medical technology. Sturm is originally from the suburbs outside of Chicago, and had come to Rhode Island to attend Johnson and Wales University. There, she received a degree in sports entertainment and events management and then her MBA. Over the last few years, she’s worked her way up the ranks at New England Medical Innovation Center, eventually managing the company’s marketing.
But like many young adults, including von Meister, Sturm started looking for a life change when COVID hit.
However, unlike her new partner, Sturm said if her high school classmates saw her now, they’d be shocked to see her helping others craft their style. But even back in high school, when she didn’t feel comfortable expressing herself in her what she wore, Sturm would style her friends for school dances.
Though her wardrobe is “eclectic and wild” now, she said she used to be someone who only wore black to avoid attention and judgement. As a plus-sized woman, she said she also often had trouble finding cute clothes in her size. It took years and realizing she had a closet full of unique pieces that she never wore to embrace her sense of style — one that coincidentally complemented von Meister’s.
“We’re so young, and it’s a pandemic. Everyone’s been so alone, and everyone’s been looking for some type of partner,” Sturm said. “Who would have known it would be a business partner?”
About a week after their formative dinner, von Meister and Sturm saw the Westminster Street spot in a warehouse right next to the restaurant Ogie’s Trailer Park. The next day, they signed the lease.
The space had amazing light and didn’t need much work. They made small updates, including commissioning a large mural by local artist Catherine Druken and moving in heaps of clothes and furniture.
By Aug. 14, a whirlwind three and a half months later, they were ready.
“For me, it was really easy to make the jump,” von Meister said. “I’ve made a lot of decisions throughout my journey that my parents have tried to talk me out of, but deep down, I always knew it was right.”
But Sturm worried about leaving her job — her first real job after college. In fact, it wasn’t until the business had been up and running for a few weeks, in early September, that Sturm finally quit her full-time job.
Both agree that the leap of faith was the right decision.
They are now the proud owners of a showroom filled with colorful glassware, statement furniture from different decades, an assortment of funky clothes and shoes, and of course, lots of local art. Open on Monday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for shopping, Sturm and von Meister don’t call The Nest a “store” because they see it as much more than that.
As the name implies, their mission is to “incubate” sustainable, local style. While they’ve been selling their inventory on their shopping days and through Instagram, they’ve also held several sold-out events including workshops, a stand-up comedy show, and a clothing swaps. The pair also runs the professional organizing and second-hand sourcing side of the business out of the space.
Buying items for the showroom or finding a second-hand piece for one of their sourcing clients requires a lot of sifting through consignment shops and estate sales all over Rhode Island and part of Massachusetts, von Meister and Sturm said.
“I don’t love going into a big, fluorescent department store,” von Meister said. “I love going to an over-cluttered thrift store and finding the gems.”
Though right now their clothing options are mostly feminine, they said they’ve had a lot of customers asking for mens fits and more masculine options. They hope they’ll be able to accommodate soon if they can hire someone else more qualified for that type of buying, they said.
As of now, the business is just the two of them. They have had help from from friends, and collaborate with local artists, but are hoping to also expand their staff and recently opened up intern applications.
Working in their “studio” almost every day, Sturm and von Meister said they’ve had some late nights. Just last week, they were at The Nest until 1 a.m. taking inventory, and would like some more help.
But the hard work is paying off. In less than a month since opening, the pair have already made back all the money they put into creating The Nest. They see bigger plans on the horizon, including opening a Newport storefront and expanding their e-commerce to a full online store.
More than financial success they’ve had, they both said the best part about starting the business has been meeting each other.
Sturm said she has often heard the advice to never to start a business with a friend.
“But I didn’t start a business with my friend,” she said, laughing and reaching over to von Meister, who sat across from her on a golden sectional from the ′70s they’d just moved into their showroom. “We were business partners first, and now we’re best friends.”
Colleen Cronin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.