by Hannah Morrow
Photographs by Deborah Farnault
No doubt the digital revolution and ascent of social media have aggrandized the use and meaning of “aesthetic.” Where style for some simply dictates how they dress in the morning, personal brands and their subsequent aesthetic are as relevant as ever. For Lucy Jolis, owner of the South Congress boutique Sunroom, that’s a tough thing to grapple with, as the store frequently gets labeled as strictly bohemian or beachy.
“Some people say [that] Sunroom is a beach or resort shop,” Jolis says. “Yes, we carry swimwear and caftans year-round and there’s a beachy feel.” But for Jolis, “laid-back” is applicable to both the boutique’s merchandise and its mission as a locale.
“It’s about finding lines that you’re not going to see in every other store, and it’s about the familiarity and environment we try to create,” Jolis says. “We want both stores to be fun and a space that’s easy for people to be in.”
It’s that distinctly Austin attitude that agrees with the affable 36-year-old. Jolis found our capital city after oscillating between the coasts. She grew up in Virginia and Massachusetts before moving at 18 with her family to California, where she worked at a boutique in Laguna Beach, planting the seed for Sunroom.
After attending college on the West Coast, she moved back East, to New York City, where she worked as an executive assistant for the CEO of Morgans Hotel Group. A relationship brought her to Austin, where the new beginning blossomed into the boutique. Sunroom was born in May 2013.
“When it first opened, I couldn’t really believe people were even coming in and shopping,” Jolis says. She loved the street and the space, originally on South Lamar. She had no intention of moving, but in 2015 New Waterloo approached her about moving into a space in the soon-to-open South Congress Hotel. They asked if she’d want to curate their lobby shop, ideally a rotating retail pop-up of sorts. And then they asked if she wanted a 585-square-foot space in the center of the hotel’s ground level.
If it’s not broken, the adage nudged her, why fix it? But with more thought, she decided to take the offer, moving Sunroom to its current location in October 2015.
“It was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” she says with a laugh now.
Two years later, in August 2017, Jolis opened Sunroom at the Malibu Country Mart, a sunny boutique mall not far off the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite years living on the West Coast, she says California was never the go-to for Sunroom’s second location. However, a friend of a friend from Malibu had visited Sunroom in Austin and insisted the move was the right one.
“I remember my mom saying, ‘Have you really thought this through? I don’t know if people are going to respond to what you’re doing there,’” she recalls. “‘It’s working in Austin because you’re bringing that California feel to Texas. But if you’re bringing California to California, are people going to care?’”
She hoped the approach she took in Austin — friendly service and a showcase for should-know items like Brother Vellies shoes and Yuliya Magdych apparel — would pay off. In Austin, local-first allegiance also makes the city fertile ground for start-ups and baby brands like Sunroom. “It was such a good environment to open up a store. Starting from scratch would’ve been so hard,” she says.
“It was the right climate with the right people who are down to rally and support small and independent stores.”
Jolis says Malibu has the same sense of community, a place where folks are far less than six degrees from separated and there’s a small-town feel despite the proximity to Los Angeles. And though both locations of Sunroom get foot traffic from tourists, Jolis maintains that it’s natives who remain her focus and drive the business forward.
“Every day [in the Austin location] there is an instance where friends are running into each other in the store, and I love that,” Jolis says. “I cannot wait for that to happen in Malibu.”
“There’s a certain ease and relaxed element about dressing in Austin, where looking nice doesn’t necessarily equal getting fancy. I think all of these looks would work for any daytime event and most evening outings too.”
“In terms of temperature, Malibu doesn’t get quite as hot as Austin. The days usually start and end on the cooler side, so having a jacket to throw on is always good. But again the same idea applies – you can be casual and still look nice, and a simple dress or jumpsuit can get you through the whole day. And we’ll always love boyfriend jeans whether we’re in Malibu or Austin! I like them slouchier and slouchier by the day.”
Read more from the Spring Style Issue | April 2018