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How friendship nourished with encouragement blossomed into new boutique

'We're stronger together'
Sheila Simmons stands next to Catrena Bowman-Thomas, who is seated, for a photo taken inside the new Inspired Fashion boutique.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 18:44:23-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — Everyone knows the importance of having a friend who will listen and help when times get tough.

This story is about the importance of having a friend who inspires, too.

That’s what Catrena Bowman-Thomas and Sheila Simmons do for each other.

“We push each other to say, you know, go after your dreams, go after your aspirations,” Bowman-Thomas said. “She has been my cheerleader, and I’ve been her cheerleader. And because of that, we’re better, and we’re stronger together.”

Bowman-Thomas and Simmons hit it off the moment they met at an event at Duke Energy Center in 2018. Before long they talked with each other about their business dreams and encouraged each other to move forward.

All of that pushing, cheering and encouraging will culminate Saturday in the grand opening of Inspired Fashion. Bowman-Thomas owns the boutique, and Simmons and her Fashionista Décor interior design firm helped Bowman-Thomas bring her vision for the space to life.

“The same way I would go to Catrena to help me get dressed for an event or find a cute outfit, she said, ‘I’d love to have Fashionista Décor consult me on how to design this boutique,’” Simmons said. “And that’s exactly what I did.”

Both also are building their businesses while working busy, full-time day jobs.

‘What’s stopping us?’

Bowman-Thomas is the executive director of Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, a position she’s had since July 2018.

She credits her mom for her interest in fashion.

“When I was a little girl, I would come home every day. And my mom, she would have new outfits laid out for me on my bed. Shirts and pants and shoes and earrings. It just really made me just feel special and loved and valued and appreciated,” Bowman-Thomas said. “I’ve always wanted to just give that gift to other women. So that’s really why I wanted to get into the fashion business. Really to help women to feel empowered and to feel beautiful.”

Simmons is a wealth adviser, working with privately owned companies on how to sell their businesses and invest the proceeds of those sales.

Inspired Fashion is filled with clothing and welcoming décor. This photo shows a rack of colorful garments and shelves that display photos and words like "blessed" and "LOVE."
Inspired Fashion is filled with clothing and welcoming décor.

“By day, I’m Sheila,” she said. “By night, I’m Fashionista Sheila.”

Simmons launched Fashionista Décor almost a year ago.

“Last December, Catrena and I had dinner Downtown on The Banks. I knew about her dreams and ambitions. She knew about my dreams and ambitions,” she said. “So we just said, 'Why don’t we just do it? What’s stopping us?'”

Bowman-Thomas said she remembers the conversation like this: “We kept talking about, oh, we want to go into business. We want to go into business. And she said, ‘Hey, this is the last time we’re going to talk about this. We’re going to be about it.’”

Bowman-Thomas started with online sales and had successful pop-up sales events in Lexington, Indianapolis and Cincinnati before deciding to open her boutique in Covington when space on Madison Avenue became available.

“I want it to be more than just a boutique, but really a safe haven for women to come and just enjoy themselves,” she said of her new store. “Grab a glass of wine, grab a seat, relax and just be able to enjoy this environment and just feel special in this space.”

‘Take that step’

Simmons said her business is all about creating tailored-made spaces to fit customers’ budgets, and it’s going well so far.

“Business has been very successful on both fronts,” she said. “I just sent off my 86th invoice, which is a lot for it to not be my full-time scenario.”

Both friends said they’re excited with their success and hope to grow their businesses even more.

They also want to share their story in hopes of inspiring other entrepreneurs, they said, especially women who dream of opening a business.

Sheila Simmons, left, and Catrena Bowman-Thomas pose against the selfie wall at Inspired Fashion. Each woman is holding a package wrapped in gold paper and ribbon.
Sheila Simmons, left, and Catrena Bowman-Thomas pose against the selfie wall at Inspired Fashion.

“My advice to women is to carve out time for the things that you love,” Bowman-Thomas said. “We spend so much time and dedicate so much time to our spouses, to our significant others, to our children, to our jobs. But what is that thing that is most fulfilling to you? Don’t let that go because of all of your other demands.”

Everyone has “that thing,” Simmons said, that they’re passionate about.

“Just take that step. Put your plan together. Bring resources to the table. Talk to others who may be doing it or doing something similar,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to just step out there. You will be amazed at what you’ll accomplish.”

Especially with friends who encourage and inspire.

Inspired Fashion is located at 827 Madison Ave. in Covington. A grand opening will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, with regular hours starting Tuesday, Nov. 23. The shop will be open Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. More information about the business is available online.

More information about Fashionista Décor – including contact information for Sheila Simmons – is available at fashionistadecorllc.com.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.