Washington woman fulfills service-driven mission through clothing boutique

Service can be found in unlikely places, through unlikely methods. For JoAnn McCoullough, it's always been clothing. Through Lady J's Unique Boutique, McCollough strives to help the Washington community by providing high quality clothes, affordable prices, and an open ear.

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Abbey Slattery
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.

Joan McCollough has a passion for two things in life: community and clothing.

After getting her start in the clothing industry in the 1980s working for a T-shirt factory in Washington, McCollough perfected her sewing and fitting skills, and got to work making clothes for herself. It didn't take long for her jumpers and dresses to draw attention and praise.

"Growing up, I didn't have clothes like other children had, and I liked things I couldn't have. That put me on to be a blessing to other folks that couldn't afford things," McCollough said. "I wanted to be a blessing to help someone else, and I knew when I made clothes at a reasonable price, I could do that."

After moving on from her job at the T-shirt factory, McCollough began using her sewing skills to create clothes for her new coworkers and people in need throughout the community. Years later, that service-driven motivation served as the foundation for McCollough's very own clothing store, Lady J's Unique Boutique, where she provides high-quality pieces at an affordable price.

"Once it's in my hand, I am not trying to double the price, because I know sites that I have been to of other boutiques, they double those prices. And I don't want to do that," McCollough said. "People come in — even if they don't buy anything, and I don't know them personally — and they're going through a problem. I'll talk with them, and they leave blessed. Even though they don't buy any clothes, we feel blessed. That's what we are about at Lady J."

Originally, Lady J's Unique Boutique was located on Main Street, but has since moved to Market Street, so advertising and foot traffic doesn't come as easily. Now, McCollough relies predominantly on word-of-mouth and her Facebook page to spread the word. Whenever a customer walks through her front door, McCollough makes it clear that no matter who they are, they're always welcome in Lady J's.

"I go to the door, and say, 'You're welcome to come into Lady J's, come on in!' I can look out and see people standing on the road of Market Street, and they can look right at me through that big glass window," McCollough said. "I am waving at them and some of them do come in and say things like, 'I like your window shade, you have this whole bright, beautiful, attractive, storefront — I didn't know it was like this!'"

It's this warm hospitality that has led to a fair share of regulars and hearing about their experience at Lady J's helps affirm McCoullough's mission for starting in the first place.

"Ever since I've been in Lady J's, I've had one woman who has been my number-one customer. She buys from me every week. Every week. Good Lord, I mean, every week," said McCollough. "When she began coming, she wasn't feeling good about herself and had been through some tough things. But me, Lady J, my clothes and other things, began to encourage her to fix herself up, and it changed her whole demeanor. Now, she comes to the store to help me out without me even asking."

It's taken time for Lady J's to break down stereotypes, and it's still an ongoing process. But through welcoming each customer with open arms and open ears, McCollough hopes to see that change.

While owning a boutique has been a dream come true for McCollough, she has big plans for Lady J's in the future — namely, returning to her roots and crafting clothing of her own for the store. In fact, McCollough has already dipped her toes in the water, displaying two original pieces in the shop, both of which sold quickly after she stocked them. With the downtime from the stay-at-home order, she hopes to continue creating and eventually line the racks in her store with an original clothing line.

At the end of the day, no matter what the future holds, McCollough remains focused on that service-driven mission that fueled her to start Lady J's.

"It's just been a joy, and we love people. I feel so much joy when I go down to Lady J's. Somebody comes in and we can minister to them, pray for them, and see all of these women that have low souls fix themselves up. I am seeing them change," McCollough said. "Being a young black woman, I want to show black girls that there is hope. No matter where you are in life, there is still hope for you. I want to encourage people that they can make it through, and I am the lady that wants to help you do that."

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.