Driving down Jefferson Highway, there’s a little boutique tucked away in the Bocage area. I’ve driven by Southern Sophisticate almost daily for a year — been to the Panera Bread next door countless times and the Regions Bank too. And last weekend, I finally stopped in the for the first time… and now I’m kicking myself for not finding it sooner! But I can easily say the cute clothing and trendy accessories (and the location!) aren’t even NEAR the best parts of this boutique. What I love most is this boutique’s positive message about giving back to those in need.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
On my shopping trip last weekend, I left the store with a new dress and a pair of sandals — and, of course, with the excitement that I had just discovered a new boutique so close to my house. But it wasn’t until I talked more to the owner, Rachel Vielee, about her boutique and her passion for giving back to those in need that made me a true diehard fan of this business.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
When you first walk into the store, you’re greeted by Layla – the store’s official mascot. She’s the 7-year-old yorkie who will gladly keep you company while you shop. Chances are she has a bow in her hair too.

A quick look around the store, and you’ll see clothing, jewelry, purses, and shoes, but what will really catch your eye is all the signage around the store with information about all sorts of philanthropic brands that help fight world hunger, sex trafficking and more.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
I was blown away by this Baton Rouge boutique and all the brands it carries that can do good for people all over the WORLD. And Rachel said it best when she said “all these lives are being changed in the world, and we’re doing that by shopping.”

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
So today I got Rachel’s FULL story and even got to try on a few summer outfits. I’m so excited to see this boutique grow — not only because it’s helping others, but because Rachel’s passion and enthusiasm for doing good is enough to bring out the philanthropist in all of us!

“All these lives are being changed in the world, and we’re doing that by shopping.”

Starting A Boutique That Gives Back – 

Rachel has always loved to play dress ever up since she was a child, and she was even in beauty pageants growing up. But she never thought she would make a career out of fashion.

Before opening Southern Sophisticate in July 2016, she worked for her family business. For about 15 years, she worked many roles like mailing out flyers and working in accounts payable. She even branched out a few times trying to figure out what she really wanted to do.

“I wasn’t fulfilled,” she said. “I was really passionate about helping others, but I wasn’t sure how I could merge that into a career.”

After a lot of praying and soul searching, she considered opening her own boutique. But she didn’t want just any boutique — she wanted a boutique that would give back.

“It wasn’t enough for me to just open a boutique until I realized there weren’t many boutiques that give back,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think I could even run the store if we didn’t have items that gave back.”

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.

Finding The Perfect Name – 

Of course with opening any new business comes the hard part — naming it. After quite a bit of pondering and Googling, Rachel finally settled on Southern Sophisticate: A Benevolent Boutique.

“I love my Southern roots and Louisiana,” she said. “Yea, it’s hot and humid, but what we have is Southern hospitality. And I love our oak trees, our soul food, our crawfish – you just don’t get that anywhere else,”

She already knew Southern had to be part of the name. And if you can hear Rachel speak, there’s no doubt she’s from the South with her strong accent!

Next, she started playing around with how other words sounded. When she googled “sophisticate,” she found it meant “a wide, broad knowledge of something.” To her, she wanted the store’s expertise in fashion, clothing and brands to be clear.

And of course, people think of “classy” when they hear “sophisticate.”

“I wanted our name to portray that we have that sophisticated look,” Rachel said. “I wanted things to be modest and to portray a boutique with strong Christian values.”

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
Once she settled on “Southern Sophisticate,” she realized the name didn’t really include her core mission — to give back.

So she added the tagline “A Benevolent Boutique” to really show that kindness and charity are core values in the company.

“Plus, ‘benevolent’ just sounded a little Southern to me!” she said.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
 

The Brands That Give Back – 

Anywhere you turn in the store, you’ll find philanthropical accessories and clothing brands. Rachel keeps the signs visible so you can read all about the companies and how exactly your purchase is giving back.

Each item in the store is also clearly marked with a tag that says whether that item is made locally, cruelty free, fair trade, vegan or charitable. She’ll also mark if that brand empowers women or if it’s exclusive to her boutique here in Baton Rouge.

Of course, I had to ask Rachel about her favorite brands in store, but I could tell she was really having a difficult time deciding. And her passion for all these charitable brands is really contagious!

One clothing brand we discussed was Elegantees, whose purpose is to help women who have overcome sex trafficking. Each purchase helps to provide income for these women, as well as helps to reinforce their independence and their confidence.

Rachel’s favorite part about this brand is they put scriptures on the inside of all their care labels.

“I just love that,” she said. “And we’re currently the only Baton Rouge boutique that carries this brand.”

Hand in Hand Soap is another fair trade, cruelty-free brand that Rachel is passionate about. Their main purpose is to provide clean water and soap to children in Haiti. For each bath product that is purchased, Hand in Hand Soap donates a bar of soap, plus one month of clean water to a child.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
This is particularly important to Rachel, who sponsors a little girl named Cassandra in Haiti. She has to walk 30 minutes each day to access clean water.

“We’ve been connected for about two years,” Rachel said. “We send each other letters, and she will draw me pictures of flowers.”

Rachel was connected to Cassandra through the organization Food For the Hungry. Not only does the contribution help to pay for food, but it also helps send the children to school.

Rachel is also really excited about a couple local brands she has in store like The Priceless Collection and Hands Producing Hope.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
The Priceless Collection is based out of Baton Rouge and a portion of their proceeds go toward providing victims of sex trafficking rescue housing, career training and education.

Since women are purchased with coins and sold into sex trafficking, they use these coins and turn them into jewelry to show them they are priceless.

Hands Producing Hope (who is a familiar brand here on Southern Flair!) provides economic, educational, and spiritual resources to empower women in remote communities, specifically in Rwanda and Costa Rica.

Through the making and selling of jewelry, apparel and home goods, Hands Producing Hope is able to provide careers and a source of income for these women.

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.

The Good + The Bad – 

When learning about people’s businesses (no matter what field), I love hearing about the challenges that people face — and how they overcome those obstacles. I also just enjoy hearing what people love about their jobs — especially since it’s… well… a JOB!

Rachel said her biggest challenge thus far has been learning to wear many hats and learning how to juggle all of those roles. (I hear ya, sista!)

As a sole owner, she has to do it all — marketing, accounting, buying — you name it.

“I don’t have the resources as a small business to be able to hire and delegate yet,” she said. “But I handle as much as I can.”

Southern Sophisticate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a women's apparel boutique that gives back.
On the flip side, the struggle with learning work + life balance for Rachel is worth it because she’s so passionate about her boutique’s mission.

“My favorite part is meeting other people that are passionate followers of Christ and meeting people that get just as excited about these brands that give back,” she said. “That just warms my heart in an indescribable way.”

In the Future – 

Although the boutique is just reaching it’s one-year mark, Rachel already has big plans to continue to fill the store with brands that give back.

“My goal is to have every item in the store give back,” she said.

She’s currently working on bringing more new brands in, especially those that focus on clean water, hunger and sex trafficking. But really, she said she gets excited about any good cause.


You can find Southern Sophisticate on Instagram and Facebook.
The store is located at 7865 Jefferson Hwy Suite B.

Photos by Conrad Brethold

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