Lisa Walker Sekundiak is Vice President/Owner of Max I. Walker, which was founded by her great-grandfather Max in 1917.
Over the past two decades, Lisa has served with many Omaha philanthropic organizations but now concentrates on the Max I. Walker Ultr
a Chic Boutique.
Q: How did the Ultra Chic Boutique start, and how did you get the idea?
LWS: It was born out of our company wanting to start a new “give-back” kind of campaign. We had done Coats for Kids years ago, but had kind of let that go because everyone else was doing it, too. So I wanted to do something that would be really effective and generous to give back to the community, but would also work within the design of our business. With the help of my advertising agency, Envoy, Inc., we shaped my ideas and came up with the Ultra Chic Boutique.
The first year, it was a very small undertaking… but it got bigger and bigger, and now we’re in our ninth year.
Q: How did you choose the Open Door Mission Lydia House as the recipient of the proceeds?
LWS: We did a focus group with high school girls in the Omaha area and we asked for their feedback. We had several ideas presented to us, and we thought that the Lydia House was a perfect match.
Q: What was the first year like?
LWS: The first year was a blast. Nerve-wracking, crazy and small. We only received 365 dresses from the public. We weren’t surprised; we knew it would take a while to get the word out. But the people were really sweet and generous. We had it in a small room, and we had the support of the fine radio stations that are still supporting us – 94.1 and 104.5 – and we had a blast… it was hysterical. I don’t even know how much money we made that year. It was a little, but we knew it was going to grow into a popular event because everyone was so moved by it.
We had girls get dresses that they thought they’d never get. We had the opportunity to reach out to so many people and educate them about the Lydia House and what the Mission is doing and, ultimately, what Max I. Walker was trying to do for the community.
Q: How has the event grown over the years?
LWS: Popularity and demand has grown. And the goodwill just seems to just roll over every year. We barely even have to ask for donated dresses; they just start coming after each event, and we hold them for the next year. It’s just gotten bigger and bigger by word of mouth and by its success. It’s reached way beyond Omaha, too. We’ve had people coming in from miles and miles away for the event.
Q: Considering the amount of dresses, this has to be a pretty big undertaking for Max I. Walker, what with the cleaning and repairing and everything, so what makes you want to keep the event going?
LWS: Well, the idea of giving back has always been in the Walker family blood. And this one just works so well, because it fits what we do as a business, and it gives back to the community in pure dollars. It just makes perfect sense. We’ve got it down to such a fine system now that, yes, it’s an undertaking for us financially, but it’s what we do, and we’re happy to do it.
Every cent that is made that day is given directly to the Lydia House; we don’t deduct any costs. And it’s an all-employee effort out of our 23 locations, including managers, counter staff, cleaners, pressers, drivers… everybody has a hand in it. They’re always happy when it comes around. Even though they don’t make anything other than the good feeling of giving back.
Q: Any favorite memories?
LWS: There are many. They multiply every year. Tears of happy parents that might be down on their luck and can’t provide a prom dress for their daughter. Because, as we know, prom is not an inexpensive event. Our culture has made it a $400-500 event over the years. So this helps them cover a cost that they may not be able to meet otherwise. So we see very grateful parents, very excitable girls that may not feel comfortable going to a big department store and not have the budget to do so. Those are the kinds of memories that stick out, because you can see it on their faces. The volunteers who help us see this. All the memories that come out every year are nothing but positive. The people from the Lydia House, too. They see that somebody cares. You know, they still have lives… They still go to events… They still get the chance to dress up. This just makes it so much easier for them.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about Ultra Chic Boutique 2016?
LWS: Well, hopefully we make more money. Each year we’ve improved on the amount by leaps and bounds. I hope we can get as many shoppers as we can there again to maximize our six-hour event. The more people we get in there to find the dress of their dreams, the better, because we’ll make more money for the Lydia House. They have so many programs they need funding for. They’re doing well, but they always need more. I mean, we were able to help them buy a brand-new van from the 2015 event proceeds to help with the shuttling of their residents to meetings and classes.
Q: What’s The Dress Flip all about?
LWS: The Dress Flip is a new component that I had thought about for a couple of years, but I didn’t really know if I should suggest it. The idea came from a woman who came through a few years ago who was obviously a grandma. And she told me she was going to buy three of the wedding dresses – we get all kinds: vintage, prom, sequins, pageant and wedding – because her granddaughter was getting married and couldn’t afford a wedding dress. This woman was a very good seamstress. She took three wedding dresses to take apart and remake as one unique, beautiful gown. And I was just like, “Wow – that is an awesome idea!” So I thought that we could do that and work with local designers and call it The Dress Flip and inspire them to create something new from the inventory we collect each year.
It was also a way to reach out to another group that might not know what we’re doing to inspire them to give back. So we did our first event last year with the support of the Fashion Institute Guild, Fashion Institute Midwest and Omaha Fashion Week – they’re wonderful people – and we had a great style show. These up and coming designers chose three dresses from our inventory a few weeks before the event. They were given the rules and off they went. A winner was chosen and received $500. It was a blast. It was really cool to see the transition.
Q: What would you tell someone who has never attended the Ultra Chic Boutique about the event?
LWS: Come early and bring cash! We did finally decide to raise the price of the dresses by five dollars from $25 to $30 a dress in order to bring in more money for the Lydia House – that was the only reason. We think it’s quite reasonable. They should expect to see a lot of people at the front door – but there’s room for everybody once the doors open. It’s a dash. We have loads of dressing rooms and dressing room attendants to help you. There’s a seamstress there to advise you if there’s a dress you love, but there’s something a little off. She’ll tell you how much it’ll cost to modify it, so you can make the right choice. There’ll be style shows. There’ll be vendors there with related items. And just a lot of good fellowship. Good vibes from a bunch of women at once. It’s at the Ramada Plaza, 72nd and Grover. Plenty of parking. Bring your patience and your fun, and come join us and support the Omaha Open Door Mission Lydia House!