Sarah and Rebecca at Free Association

Rebecca Burkholder and Sarah Lockwood balance their respective roles to run Free Association Boutique in Alley A. 

As a teenager, Sarah Lockwood dreamed of having a clothing shop that would offer both a wide range of sizes and a space where plus-sized women would feel comfortable and confident shopping. She opened Free Association in February 2018 with her wife, Rebecca Burkholder, to do exactly that after working as a hairdresser for the previous 16 years.

The boutique carries clothes size 14 through 30, and the jewelry, accessories and skin care products are made by women or come from female-owned small companies. The bohemian-style store has drawn positive reactions from customers, which encourages Lockwood to keep stocking her shop with new and versatile options.

She handles the merchandise and helps assist customers in their quest to find the perfect outfit, while Burkholder is in charge of details such as the bookkeeping.

“She’s really creative and has a great sense of style,” Burkholder says. “She makes people feel very comfortable; she’s just really great at getting people to feel better about themselves.”

With summer on the way, Lockwood shares some of the trends for the season, her love for building relationships with customers and plans for the store.

How did you develop an interest in clothes and fashion?

I was the weirdo in school who was always combining bizarre outfits. In fact, my mom a few times was like, “Uh, not that, change that.” I’ve always had an interest in fashion. I love anything creative. The idea of fashion and people expressing themselves through what they wear has always been something I’ve loved.

How would you describe your transition from being a hairstylist to owning your own shop?

It is so different when you’re with a client. As a hairstylist, there are always clients in, you’re chatting, and you’re building relationships. It’s never quiet. Whereas in the shop, people tend to come in groups and talk to one another. There are lots of down moments where it’s awfully quiet. Instead of being part of a team, I’m now more individual. But there are parts of it that are really similar. The basis of both jobs: You’re trying to help people feel and look their best.

What is your favorite part of running the store?

There’s something amazing about being your own boss, for sure. I am running late almost every day, all the time, and it’s nice that I only yell at myself instead of being yelled at by others, but also just having the ability to choose. So, when something goes out on the floor, I’ve thought about it, and I know that it’s something that I’m going to love or that I have someone in mind that will love it. Rebecca’s really great. Like if I get overwhelmed by all of the choices she should be like “OK! This that, this that.”

Is there a favorite client reaction you’ve had?

I’ve had a client who was almost in tears because it was such a great shopping experience. She told me she’d never gone to a store where she could try on everything and have a number of options that would really work for her.

Tell us about the upcoming summer trends at the shop.

Bright colors and bold patterns. A lot of pops of hot pink and some bright reds and neon.

What is next for the store?

I’m hoping to launch a capsule collection, which will be a small run of items people will grab first out of their closet, in a few years. I feel like I have so much to learn about our clients and the technical side of fashion before diving into creating a fashion line. So, you could say I’m in the research phase. We’ll launch a book club on May 8 with selections from young adult mysteries to memoirs — all body positive or featuring plus-sized heroines. Our first book will be Puddin’ by Julie Murphy. I’m actually really excited to use it as a platform for women to make new friends and have open conversation about living, shopping and dating with curves or simply enjoy some good reads.

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