Shabby Chic…


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Shortly after the lockdown this past spring I started following MANY YouTubers and checking out new Instagram posts. Rachel Ashwell, the founder of Shabby Chic, caught my eye…and soon I couldn’t wait to see what she would post next.  I have always loved her brand but admit to never being in one of her stores or knowing much about her personally.

Rachel Ashwell is British.  Her father was an antique book dealer and her mother repaired antique dolls.  As a child, she spent weekends with her parents at flea markets and along the way, she acquired a taste for floral prints, vintage pottery and imperfection.  She was a young woman when she moved to America,  then married,  had two children and lived in a small cottage on the beach in Santa Monica.  While her children were still young she opened her first Shabby Chic boutique in Santa Monica.  She is best known for her white slipcovered, down-filled, (squishy, as she calls them) sofas and chairs.


I got hooked on her IGTV (Instagram videos) early on into the stories she started posting about her business successes and failures and was so impressed by the rawness of her presentation.  It was like she was having a cup of coffee with all her listeners and telling her life story…the good, bad and not so pleasant.  Like many women who start a business, Ashwell did what she loved to do.  She started small, was very hands-on, nurtured a personal relationship with all the people connected with her business and kept close tabs on the quality of the materials and production.  She was great at managing money…only spending the profit… the bag of cash…as she called it. (She learned this from her parents…they only spent the “bag of cash” they brought with them to the flea market.)  As the business became more successful and grew beyond her initial vision, she determined that she would need investors and professional help to take it to the next level.  Their suggestion was to open 12 or 13 Shabby Chic stores across the US and one store in Notting Hill in London.  As if on a collision course, the collapse of the US economy in 2007-8 happened soon after all these boutiques started up.  One by one the stores fell into bankruptcy, and in the end, Rachel Ashwell lost everything, including her trademarked name and brand.   She wasn’t ready to pack it in though and because of an exceptionally supportive relationship with the original landlord of her Santa Monica location she was able to start up again…this time without investors, just a single store and her experience and determination.

To say that I admire her courage would be the understatement of the century …or at least a very long time.  I admire her honesty too.  Not many people are willing to share the heartaches they’ve experienced and their failures.   Since the lockdown, Rachel Ashwell has been on her own, isolated in a small rented cottage just outside of London.  Her son lives in London, and her daughter and her business are both in Los Angeles. Luckily, she enjoys her own company and has managed well over the past six months.  She appears to be a soft, quiet, shy person who has used her Instagram account to communicate to her followers, opening up in ways she possibly hadn’t intended…she was just talking out loud…

Rachel Ashwell’s story and business career are far more compelling than my career as a retail business owner… but I related to many parts of her story.  My experience is a fraction of what hers is…I only had one store and certainly never achieved the international success or brand recognition that she did.  I did, however, have some of the setbacks she had…the downturn in the economy, ongoing road work and construction in the neighbourhood where my boutique was, and most devasting was a fire which forced a move.  After relocating, we found out that the anchor store that was to open in the complex we set up shop in had gone into bankruptcy.   We floundered for three years on our own…well off the beaten path.  The final demise of the C C on Whyte happened when our landlord reneged on renewing our lease because she wanted to expand her business into my space. Even though we were on a positive path, with a well-curated product mix, and an amazing customer base,  I had run out of gas.   With product protection enforced by many suppliers, it would have been difficult to find a suitable location that would allow us to carry the same product mix that we spent years compiling.

 I decided to let the store go…even if I wasn’t completely ready in my mind to do so…

Tomorrow I will continue with the Evolution of CC on Whyte

xox Judy

P.S  Rachel Ashwell has written many decorating books that are well worth a peruse…





10 thoughts on “Shabby Chic…”

  1. Judy, thank you for sharing YOUR story. Being in business is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. I have had so many setbacks and obstacles, I have lost count but I am not ready to let go just yet. You are coming back in a way (online) until the time you re-surface in your pop-up store. I would be like you….never able to fully let it go until I was good and ready to do so. Rachel Ashwell is also one of my heroines….have admired and loved her aesthetic for as long as I can remember. Kindred spirits we all are………♥

  2. Thank you for sharing both your story and Rachel’s. I loved my store for decades, and didn’t think I was ready to let it go when it happened, but now looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened. I was wearing myself out, and if I hadn’t closed before, this virus situation certainly would have killed it. It was a great experience, and watching it grow from a $25 birthday check from my mother to what it became was a hoot, but retail is certainly not for everyone.

    1. Hi Carolee…I’m sure your mother loved to see where her birthday gift lead you and that you have wonderful memories from your years behind the counter of your store.❤️

  3. I am so very excited for your next chapter of C C Judy! Looking forward to seeing your beautiful store


  4. Oh how i have enjoyed this post as Rachel has been a long time favourite and i have had an opportunity ti visit a couple of her lovely shops! such a beautiful post Judy there are a few of us business girls that can relate! i am so excited for your next chapter!! love the photos and cheers to u for…. keeping up with the times… as one would say!!

    1. Hi Tina…thank you for supporting me in at every step along the way. You have been there from the beginning…yes, we are “birds of the feather” xox Judy❤️

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