MOTLEY COLLECTIONS: BACK ON TRACK
The costliest tropical cyclone to date hit the southern U.S. and outlying islands this past August. Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, made landfall in Houston (three separate times in six days, actually) and caused about $180 billion in damage. It’s second only to Hurricane Katrina, which hit twelve years before in 2005.¹ But what’s the most devastating is the impact Harvey had on its victims–the men and women, the business owners and employees, the workers and their families–who still feel its ramifications to this day. To better understand how Hurricane Harvey has affected Houston in particular, we spoke with Motley Collections owner and Houstonian Allie Baker.
We’ve featured Motley Collections before: a contemporary and vintage brand based out of Texas, described by Allie as “the real life version of the clippings we take from the magazines to pin on our mood boards.” Allie started Motley on her own and, as all entrepreneurs do, faced the challenges of building a business from the ground up. But, armed with her own unique style, she got through the instability and unpredictability of the market to establish an absolutely authentic brand. But after Harvey hit, says Allie, “it definitely took a toll out of me that I wasn’t expecting.”
“I had a lot of confidence, then all that happened and I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ I’m so small, I don’t have the resources that these big companies have to just jump back into everything.”
Allie works on Motley in an office off-site. Whereas the storm thankfully spared her home in Katy, Texas, the area surrounding the Motley office suffered. “It was flooded so badly that I actually wasn’t able to get into my office for two weeks,” essentially an eternity in small-business time, “and it’s still being rebuilt.”
I knew it was bad, but when I first walked in, I instantly started crying. I was like, “What am I even gonna do?”
“All the water sat in there,” Allie continues, “and by the time I did get in, stuff had already been molded over… I had to throw a lot of inventory away.” Each vintage item Allie selects is an investment. Not only did she lose these funds, but she lost some great finds, hand-picked to live as part of the overall Motley Collection. As dedicated followers of fashion, Allie and I both acknowledged the loss of some great garments, pieces that could’ve made a customer really happy. And as Motley had only been open for a little bit over a year when Harvey struck, whatever money Allie had saved up was spent on new inventory and supplies. “It’s actually been really hard for me,” she says. “I’m just now feeling like I’m getting back to where I need to be, and I’m still obviously not where I want to be because I’m not back in my office.” What’s more, Allie shares this office with her father, who owns and operates a roofing company. “He’s been doing that all my life. He built that [company] up with his dad, and he lost everything.”
Owning and operating Motley isn’t Allie’s only job: she also works at a local elementary school. So as she’s been trying to revive her business, she also has to focus her attention on the school and the kids. In an unbelievably unfortunate series of events, the school flooded, as did 90% of her students’ homes. “It’s been really hard on that part… we’re doing everything we can to have our kids have a normal learning experience going from having all these resources to literally everything in the entire school going away. We had to start fresh.” The elementary school has been relocated to a temporary building for the entire school year as rebuilding commences.
“I was kind of in a funk,” Allie continues. It’s understandable: experiencing such loss across the board, in all aspects of her work life, is clearly devastating. But this story wouldn’t be complete without the part where Allie, the Houstonians, and the rest of the world fight back.
In times of strife, it’s natural to get mad; it’s normal to be upset. But the events and actions that follow tragedy are what really define a city, a place, a community.
“A lot of people were pissed this happened to them. But at the same time there was this great sense of, we have to pull together for everybody. We’re not the only ones in this. We’re all going through the same thing,” says Allie.
While reading the news and seeing pictures of the strength of the Houston community, Allie was actually brought to tears. “Even if you weren’t personally going through it, you were going through it, because this is your city and you’re seeing all this around you happen, and you just know, ‘I gotta step up, I gotta volunteer somewhere, I gotta get donations, I gotta do something.’ Allie’s right: it got to a point where so many people volunteered or donated–both within Houston and from other cities all over the world–the organizations didn’t need to accept any more. “It was really cool to see that people were so concerned. That it wasn’t people looking out for only themselves.”
Allie adds that the Houston Astros’ triumph in the World Series actually contributed to a lot of the city’s morale. “It was something for everybody to be happy about when they didn’t have things to be happy about before… everybody was out celebrating. I feel like it was the first time everybody was happy since Harvey. It was something the city needed… it brought the city together.”
In the aftermath of a tragedy, Allie says the collaboration of the community perfectly exemplifies the city of Houston. “It’s really such an amazing city. I’ve always loved living here, and that just reassured me that I’m in the right spot. People are so nice, going out of their way to rescue others and to do everything that they can.”
And as for Motley Collections? Like the city of Houston, immediately reconstructing itself instead of dwelling on the devastation, it’s getting back on track. Allie says, “I’m kind of getting into the groove of things… I did well with sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday which gave me a boost of confidence, and I’ve been able to buy more merchandise. It’s going better.”
We’ll continue to check in with Allie for updates to this story.
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Hurricane Harvey photos © AP; Motley office photos provided by Allie. All Rights Reserved.
¹According to The Weather Channel.