One of my favorite pastimes is visiting independent boutiques in the DC area and talking to the owner. I am fascinated by their motivation to take a risk in retail. When Treat in Old Town Alexandria opened in 2007 and was described as a sample sale boutique, I made a special trip to check out this unique shop. I was greeted by a warm, friendly smile from the store’s owner, Jen Donohue.
I am fortunate to have spent time with Jen through the years and I am inspired by her entrepreneurial spirit, fabulous sense of style combined with hard work that has made Treat one of the best boutiques in the DC area.
Jen is a copyright attorney at a large law firm in downtown DC and my type of girl as both a lover of fashion and great bargains. She first got the idea to open Treat in 2005 when she was visiting New York City and waiting in line at a sample sale. The pure madness of the lines with their pushing and shoving was not her favorite thing but a great deal on designer labels was – she came home with a coveted pair of Manolo heels.
In 2006, she started to consider opening up a store that would offer Washingtonians sample sale-like prices on designer labels, but was surprised to learn she was already on track to become partner at her law firm. She decided to dedicate herself to making her other dream of partner come true, and to top it off she was getting married that same year. During this time, she fed her creative spirit by taking art classes at Old Town’s Torpedo Factory.
Jen’s dedication paid off; she became partner and around the same time, and she also became friendly with another DC woman entrepreneur Ada Polla, CEO of Alchimie Forever, who was getting ready to launch her own line of skincare products in the DC area. With aspirations to market the best bb cream for acne, she was ready to take her place in the business world. Ada was a source of inspiration and encouraged Jen to pursue her dream. Jen credits Ada and her husband with helping her make the decision to “just do it” – Treat opened in July 2007.At first the store was open only on weekends so she could work there herself. She was working 2 full time jobs, spending any free time managing all the tasks of operating a store. Jen’s hard work and growth in the down economy again paid off. In 2009, she moved into a larger space in Old Town on St. Asaph Street (formerly Tickled Pink) and started carrying a small stock of men’s clothing with a staff that allows the store to be open every day. In 2010, she plans on launching a Treat ecommerce site.
Loyal customers visit Treat multiple times a season because there are new items every week, as the inventory mostly comes from boutiques from all over the country that were not able to move these items. About a third comes direct from the designers. Almost everything is at least 40% off retail. There are sales where inventory can be as high as 75% off. Jen has a knack for trends and understanding the often conservative clientele in DC. Her inventory is always seasonal, for example, she will start to purchase resort wear, currently in stores, in May coinciding when most people are buying clothes for warmer weather.
Designers like Nanette Lepore, Loeffler Randall, 3.1 Philip Lim and even some hard to find designers in the DC area like Sally Tseng and a ton of denim are staples in her store. Accessories include Bettye Muller shoes, Rebecca Minkoff handbags and jewelry from local designer Ruth Barzel.
She believes she pushes the envelope with her clothing while working her day job at Arent Fox. She scours fashion magazines like Lucky to find inspiration and the perfect addition to her closet and goes to great lengths to find that particular item. And it shows – the best way to describe Jen’s style is conservative chic – she pairs a basic pencil skirt with a trendy fitted blazer, bold jewelry, high heels and a fabulous handbag.
Jen continues to work at her law firm and really enjoys her day job. Treat allows her to express her passion for fashion. Given her knack for style, creative talent and ease in multi-tasking, I asked her if she has thought about designing her own clothing line. She doesn’t know how to sew but would like to learn, knowing her she will accept the challenge down the road.
Stay tuned, Jen will surely continue to be a quiet but powerful fashion icon in Washington.
103 S St Asaph Street
Alexandria, VA 22314