Magazine September 2019

NWA Women’s Business Conference


by Mark Carter

Rediscovering Her Purpose in Bentonville

Women’s conference offers boutique director chance to share mission of beautiful Lives

A foreign-service officer for the U.S. Department of State, Alma-native Melissa Carter worked to better the lives of the vulnerable. Carter and her colleagues served as members of the nation’s official diplomatic corps and advocated on behalf of the oppressed, specifically women and children.

At posts domestic and abroad, Carter’s job centered on social justice and its introduction to those places in need of it, where “the vulnerable had systemic issues with oppression.”

“I loved the substance of the work I was doing,” she says.  

But the call of home was a strong one and the desire to start a family stronger. Her husband Stephen, who had worked with the nonprofit International Justice Mission, took a job at Walmart corporate, and the Carters landed in Northwest Arkansas from Washington, D.C., in 2013. Ultimately, Carter rediscovered the substance of her previous work through Fayetteville’s Beautiful Lives Boutique, a nonprofit supported by New Heights Church.

Now, she’s director of the boutique’s soon-to-open Bentonville location, helping expand its mission of offering retail resale for women in an upscale setting with 100 percent of profits donated to local and international groups that help women, children and the underprivileged.

Carter’s new career is mirroring her old one, and she plans to share her story of social justice and empowerment at the 21st-annual Northwest Arkansas Women’s Business Conference in Rogers.

 “It was a natural fit for me to move into this role,” she says.

 Carter is one of several local business leaders who will complement keynote speakers Fawn Gerber, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author, and Pegine, a former Bronx gang member and nationally recognized motivational speaker. The conference will run Tuesday, Sept. 17, from the John Q. Hammons Center with roughly 1,500 expected. Produced by the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce, the WBC has grown into a tour de force on the region’s business calendar. Arkansas Money & Politics is a media sponsor.

 WBC organizer Jenn Cozens believes the conference is the premier event of its kind in the region.

 “The most accomplished business women in the region attend the conference each year to grow professionally and personally,” she says. “They enjoy dynamic programming and make lasting connections with other women.”

 For Carter, the conference is an opportunity to spread the word about the mission of Beautiful Lives, founded in 2016 by Melody Taylor. All proceeds from the store support nonprofit organizations such as IJM, which fights slavery and other forms of injustice and operates a chapter at the University of Arkansas; YoungLives, a ministry of YoungLife that mentors teen moms; Go Near Ministry, which works to mobilize resources for widows, orphans, prisoners and the poor in Kenya; and Ladies of Grace, a ministry providing spiritual and practical mentoring to women in jail.

 Resale stores are nothing new, but Beautiful Lives has a secret sauce that sets it apart — the power of the experience. Applied to the inventory and space in which it’s displayed, a little presentation magic transforms the shopping experience.

MELISSA CARTER – “That’s what keeps people loyal to the brand,” Carter says. “Not only is it about the mission, but it’s a great shopping experience as well.”

 “What makes it so successful is that the inventory is really well curated,” Carter says. “We set up the store to feel like you’re in a high-end boutique, and the quality of the clothing we have is so high that it appeals to all income levels. There’s been so much excitement around our mission.”

 Taylor says the simple concept is a winner. During the 2019 fiscal year, Beautiful Lives gave more than $17,000 to charitable organizations, provided roughly $5,000 worth of clothes to local individuals in need and donated 34,000 pounds of clothes — all clothing and accessories not chosen for display in store — to Potter’s House, a local nonprofit thrift store.

 “Our nonprofit, thrift-boutique model provides quality clothing for women in a lovely setting and is proven to benefit women who shop with us as well as the nonprofit organizations that we support,” she says. “We’re excited to extend our reach to even more women in Northwest Arkansas.” 

 The Bentonville boutique is scheduled to open in November, following a planned Siloam Springs opening in late September. Carter’s store will be located at 1327 S. Main St. (Main Street Crossing) in Bentonville and include 7,000 square feet of retail space in addition to a local art display and a coffee bar. 

 Carter notes the sustainability element to Beautiful Lives – “We’re mindful of our environmental impact, and shopping second-hand is a great opportunity to reduce one’s impact” – and credits effective inventory-processing and curating with the boutique’s success.

 “That’s what keeps people loyal to the brand,” Carter says. “Not only is it about the mission, but it’s a great shopping experience as well.” 

2019 Northwest Arkansas Women’s Business Conference
Tuesday, Sept. 17
John Q. Hammons Center, Rogers
Keynote speakers Fawn Germer and Pegine; breakout speakers Melissa Carter, Ronetta Francis, Grace Judson, Melody Morgan, Jamie Smith, Lindsay Young
More info: 479-273-2841

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