Lale Ketcham is one mother that’s determined, hardworking and unique. She runs a kid’s boutique Windy City Bebe that is full of unique finds, you are sure never to find anywhere else in the city. Her effervescent personality adds to the shopping experience in general- you can see it in her buying and beyond. Growing up in Chicago, studying at Colombia College of Fashion and spending time in Florence, Italy has given her a wholesome combo of global entrepreneurship and sass. Meet Lale (pronounced as Laa-lee), who maintains staying true to herself through and through.
Who inspired you during childhood?
My oldest brother is 11 years older than me- as much as I refuse to admit it now, I always looked up to him. He was the “cool” dude who had a boom box, NWA, Beastie Boys & Madonna tapes and who secretly let us eat and watch whatever we wanted. (sorry Mom)
..and role models?
This is going to sound ridiculous but I had a serious addiction to the show Living Single (I can still sing the chorus to that opening theme song) Khadijah was my favorite character- she had it all, sass- good jokes, and was editor of her own magazine, a real entrepreneur; plus she wasn’t like all the other girls, she was just plain bad ass- and had some awesome overalls to prove it. However- I always wanted to be like Rachel from Friends- she had it all, great 90’s style, was a great friend, her apartment was AMAZING and ended up with her dream job at the big fashion house.
Life in Chicago
I’ve lived in Chicago off and on my entire life. I think people who grow up in Chicago are unique, like the ones really born and raised here, the ones who had to take two buses and a train at 13 just to get to public school. It makes you rough around the edges but also gives you ambition and drive to really work for what you want.
Chicago has played such an important role in my success, without this city as the backdrop of my life I would not be where I am today
I fell in love, I went to College here, I started my family, started a foundation for what later became an amazing business, and continue to strive off of what this city has to offer. Chicago has a big city mentality with Midwestern roots- it makes you work hard but also reminds you to stay humble and count your blessings. Chicagoans are tough around the edges too, we deal with these brutal winters every year- because there is no better place to be than a Chicago on a summer day.
For lunch business meetings, it’s SOHO house. For date night or girls night STK anyday- their food is always amazing, drinks are to die for, and the ambiance is EVERYTHING. I mean what other steakhouse has a live DJ at all times? Kids Cafe: Little Beans Café is a great place to let my little guy explore, grab a coffee and pop open my phone or computer and work it out.
On balancing motherhood, family and entrepreneurship
Being a mother has been an adjustment, I have always tried to remain true to myself, and remember I have an identity beyond being a Mom. My son really is my greatest accomplishment- he has shown me a new understanding of what it is to love but he also gives me an incredible amount of ambition and drive to better the world. There are days being a mom, wife & girlboss are harder than others- but when the work day is done little smiles, dirty hands and hugs make it all worth it.
How are you hacking competition?
Fashion has and always will be competitive, I try to avoid it by staying true to myself and business ethic. I’ve encountered some horrible experiences along the way and there were nights when I cried myself to sleep. Soon, I realized at the end of the day its not about people and the experience makes you stronger.
Windy City Bebe supports over 40 other small businesses, most of those being small ‘woman designed/owned’. I remember when I received my first wholesale order when our first collection went to market- I jumped up and down and felt like I could rule the world with a 12 piece collection. I never forget that feeling and use it to always strive for better.
I’m not being biased but..
I honestly think Windy City Bebe is THE best children’s store in Chicago. Coming from a wholesale background (I used to travel the Midwest working for a showroom selling famous brands to retailers) I realized amongst the community of showrooms- every store in Chicago was carrying the exact same things, just designed differently. I sourced and continue to source our products all over the globe. From markets & social media to traveling to international showrooms there is no single show or place I buy from. I work so hard to not carry the same lines or products as other stores.. I like the different, the unusual, the mismatched… the androgynous style of the clothing and products we carry.
Her Humble beginnings
Midway through my pregnancy I started a blog called Windy City Bebe which highlighted the adventures of raising a child in Chicago while maintaining my personal identity. Soon after I added e-commerce to my blog and started my business with a handmade moccasin line. This was a time when moccasins were INSANE- Freshly picked was new and the market was thriving. My background in fashion and eye for the unusual and “different” inspired me to carry brands I found to love, that were inspired by Global adult street fashion.
Side note: When my son was 7 months old I started working for a Children’s showroom and traveled the Midwest selling famous clothing labels to retailers.
What changes have you noticed in the kids fashion industry?
The fashion industry as a whole has changed dramatically. The market is overly saturated (especially online) so standing out is sometimes a challenge. Social media has contributed to this change and certainly does rule the world. For example, all it takes is one person to share the right piece or the right image with public following and BAM a brand blows up overnight.
What’s your secret sauce recipe for success?
There is no magic recipe for success, especially one you work your ass off for. If there were a recipe it would be a combination of literal blood, sweat and tears, ambition, sleepless nights, constant doubt, and sometime stepping back and thinking “how did this happen”, all while thanking the stars for everything! I have always attributed my success to staying humble, and just being grateful. Hard work, however, does pay handsomely.
Advice to entrepreneurs
My advice to inspiring entrepreneur’s is don’t ever give up. People are going to doubt you, you will constantly doubt yourself- but the only one holding you back is you.
I was recently invited to join the board of Nasty Women Chicago and through this project, I am able to utilize amazing resources I have at my disposal to help support women’s rights. I also understand that sometimes standing up for what you believe could be questioned and everyone may not be on board. Staying true to your beliefs and bettering the world in whatever way works for you is better than being silent.
I think that people who have a public voice should use it in whatever way they can to better the world and the people in it. I genuinely feel better achieved when I can share achievements with others.
Quote you live by
“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin–real life! But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business…time to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. — D’Souza
Check out Windy City Bebe for awesome finds- www.windycitybebe.com