Assisting Clients in the
Greater South Bay
hosted by: El Camino College SBDC

Dressed for Success

Small Business Development Center hosted by El Camino College
Estelle Boutique – Santa Monica, CA


Stella Shirman earned her MBA and worked in corporate marketing for 10 years, but she always knew that she wanted to get into the fashion industry one day. “I love fashion, clothes and design,” she says. In 2009 Shirman began doing market research and writing a business plan for a boutique to sell unique, elegant women’s apparel and handbags designed and manufactured in Europe. While researchingSmall Business Administration loans in the fall of 2009, she was introduced to Sharon Peterson, Senior Business Advisor at the El Camino SBDC.

Best Advice:

Shirman wanted to make sure her new business had adequate funding to cover its startup costs. Peterson helped her fine-tune her business plan and obtain a $10,000 unsecured SBA loan.

Lessons Learned:

  • Know where to go:Shirman had researched business loansextensively online, but Peterson’s expertise helped her take the next step. “Sharon knew exactly which loans I could apply for and suggested different organizations I could approach,” Shirman explains.
  • Make it perfect: “I had written a pretty strong business plan with a strong financial model, calculating how much cash I needed to make [the business] work,” Shirman recalls. Peterson helped Shirman polish the plan until it was perfectly tailored to obtain the types of loans she was seeking.
  • Get guidance: Peterson was invaluable as a guide throughout the loan application process. “She looked over [my] applications and knew the best way to answer all the questions the banks asked,” Shirman says. “When I didn’t hear back from a bank, she’d call [the banker] and follow up.”


Using the $10,000 loan proceeds to pay for inventory and her first month’s expenses. Shirman opened Estell Boutique in March 2010. The boutique on Santa Monica’s upscale Montana Avenue quickly earned a loyal clientele,breaking even in just three months. Revenues for the first 12 months in business were just under $90,000, and Shirman expects sales to grow even more in 2011.

Shirman is in the process of applying for a second loan; if she obtains financing, she plans to hire employees. She’s also looking into expanding into wholesaling and, eventually, hopes to add more locations.

While her extensive business education was a big help in launching Estell Boutique, Shirman says the assistanceshe obtained at the SBDC was vital, too. “Sharon is very knowledgeable, and the staff is very pleasant,” she says. “I enjoy working with them, and I know I can always go back there.”

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