Boutique offers sustainable fibers

Ashley Decker won’t be offended if you call her a “crunchy hippy.” In fact, it’s a term she embraces. As the owner and operator of Whole Life Wellness, she’s looking to introduce more people in Grand Forks and beyond to the benefits of organic Fair Trade clothing and bedding.

“We’re looking not only at the ethics of garment production, but also the ethics and sustainability of where our fibers are coming from,” said Decker.

Decker has spent years going through what she calls “a long personal journey of changing and growing,” eventually leading her husband and her to start the niche retail store.“With most of the money saved from working in our 20s and 30s, we decided that we were going to invest in a somewhat risky retail venture,” said Decker. “We don’t have a money tree in the backyard, so we quite frankly need to
be successful.”

And so far they’ve found success, with the help of First State Bank, and Bank of North Dakota’s (BND) Beginning Entrepreneur Guarantee Program. The program provides an 85 percent guarantee to a financial institution lending money to an eligible startup business.

“Most startup small businesses have a difficult time financing their project because of limited equity and no historical track record,” said Joel Erickson, Business Banker at BND. “A financial institution can mitigate those risks by using the Beginning Entrepreneur Guarantee Program.”

“Ashley will be the first to tell you: ‘Retail startups are not for sissies,’” said Will Kusler, Commercial Loan Officer at First State Bank. “The BND Beginning Entrepreneur Guarantee Program allowed us to listen to the Whole Life Wellness business plan presentation and focus on operations, knowing that we could backstop the project.”

Decker says that the store focuses on selling clothing of the highest quality, so even if people aren’t fully invested in the store’s values, they can still recognize the quality of the product. So far business has been good, with slow but steady growth.

“Every day we have new folks coming in who are excited about us. And it seems like some of the more hippy-dippy folks, like myself, are starting to catch on,” said Decker.

So far, since opening in June 2015, Decker is the store’s only employee, manning the operation every Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She’s hoping to hire their first part-time employee in early 2016, and thinks there’s potential to expand the business to Bismarck, Fargo or Duluth.

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