I was told I should meet Desiree. That she was a person to dive deep with.
The crisp mid-century modern design was a good and welcome surprise when I walked in the boutique. I had no expectations and not even a vague idea of what I’d find. The dresses were drool-worthy. I am not much of a consumerist but suddenly I wanted every piece in the shop to make it to my closet.
I checked with myself. How do I feel around her? What does her energy tell me?
Solid. Kind. Motherly. Protection that wrapped around me even though I had never met the woman. Trust. I could trust her immediately.
Desiree was kind enough to open up and answer my questions. I have quickly become a fan and developed mad respect and affection for this woman. We are lucky to have her in our community. She is very familiar with the struggle that many women have finding trust in other women. She knows about transitions and overcoming self-doubt like a champion. Her life experience has taken her through twist and turns to the point that she has developed steeled resolution and belief in herself. She knows what it is like to navigate those delicate cultural lines and the disconnect that happens when we don’t have ancestral belonging.
She is bold and decisive.
She is also an open book who believes in women and empowering those who might be looking for a tribe.
I sat down with her at her store, Rock Rose Boutique, and we dove right in.
When I came into the store I was shocked in a good way - it was so crisp and beautiful. It’s a place for a mom and her kids. Normally space for kids are not the greatest. But here you are saying “I am welcoming you and your children. It’s okay, you can touch. Wear lipstick, feel good, meet your friends for coffee and bring your kids."
So far the moms that come here bring children who are super awesome and respectful. It makes me not understand why moms with children have to be relegated to the corner, or a germy kids room.
What was your inspiration for opening a vintage inspired boutique with very bold and fun pieces?
As far as the style goes, I wanted to do something different and I felt like this style spoke to me for a long time. Going out to buy things for myself was very difficult. I know I love it. I don’t know if anybody else will. But I just kind of took the chance and hoped for the best.
And I wanted to offer a place for women to feel safe. To come and breastfeed and feel comfortable. Not be embarrassed.
Breastfeeding is always relegated to bathrooms or under stuffy covers. It sends this message that there is no room for you, that you’re not welcome here. It does not feel good. It makes it an oversized challenge to get out of the house with a nursing infant. And if you choose to nurse in public with no covers, there is a lot of backlash.
Yes I know what that’s like. I breastfed my daughter. Once I was sitting in the car and an old guy walked by and gave me dirty looks and I thought “I don’t know how much more away from the public I can be! I am inside my own car!”
And my daughter hated the covers.
So I wanted a place where women could feel comfortable and welcome to bring their children and breastfeed without shame.
I was breastfeeding here in the store, because my baby would come to work with me. So I would be standing here with baby in arm, nipple out, and waving to people “Hey come on in!” And people never said anything negative to me! Especially the younger women. They just never made me feel bad for it. And I am all about breastfeeding in public. I don’t get why people would be against it. That’s what it’s there for! No need to oversexualize it.
How did being a veteran influence this decision? How long were you in the service?
I was in the Marine Corps for four years. A little over. And I got out and I had no girlfriends, I wasn’t very feminine, I was just a big walking ball of angry, cursing, woman. And I mainly hung out with other vets; with men.
It was kind of a personal conquest to get out and meet other women that were not veterans. And I think that having a store for women really helps with that. It helps with the transition. It’s a constant transition. I spent five years in and certain beliefs, certain attitudes, get pounded in and it takes a long time to transition.
On reconciling being a soldier and embodying femininity:
I think at that age I was still trying to find myself. I WANTED to fit in with the guys! I wanted to be a girl but I wanted to fit in with the guys. And it doesn’t take away from that I would wear dresses on the weekends. But at the same time you are in uniform, of some sort, from four in the morning to six or seven o’clock at night. Okay, so that gives you a two or three hour window at the end of the day to be feminine, to wear heels, to wear dresses and stuff, and I just didn’t see the point. I didn’t see the point in getting my hair done, and wearing makeup, buying dresses and wearing heels and stuff. Yeah, I didn’t see the point.
And, y’know, I lost myself for four years.
When did you start making the transition? At what point did you start realizing “this is the style I like.” I mean, it’s a commitment. You have to commit to the look. The hair, the makeup, it’s a commitment.
I dove deep into the whole style about a year ago. But I played around with it since I got out. From day one I knew i would have to transition. I knew that who I was as a Marine was not going to fly in the civilian world. And I knew that I had to make friends. So I went to my veterans office, that was step one for me. And it really took me maybe six months to a year because I was really nervous.
Well I didn’t deploy and there’s a lot of stigma for veterans who didn’t serve in a combat zone. Like they’re not really veterans.There’s a huge backlash against female veterans. Oh you’re not really a veteran because you didn’t do this this and that. Especially in infantry. A lot of the guys that were there were mainly infantry. So I was really nervous.
But one day I went and really fit in with everyone there. I made a lot of friends but it wasn’t enough for me. So I started out looking for other female friends. I thought I can’t be the only female veteran here in CBC- Columbia Basin College- and either they were hiding under rocks or I don’t know where they were at but I couldn’t find any.
Going to church helped a lot.
This is how it came about wanting to open a boutique. My friend and I would go shopping and she’s skinnier than I am, so I couldn’t find anything in my size and I thought “This is BS!”
I remember going all around the Tri-Cities and having to go to one place to eat, one place for coffee, one place to shop. It’s a lot. Especially with kids...in and out of cars, car seats, diapers, breastfeeding, it’s a lot!
I see a lot of items here that are very sexy, though not revealing. What type of woman are you thinking of when you’re curating the looks that you’re bringing to the store?
I think about the woman that’s going to wear the dress. Like the zombie shirt - the neckline is a little plunging but not too much. It’s for someone that wants a fun night out at the bar. Probably not for your day job as a teacher.
I think about the sweet carousel skirt, you can wear that almost anywhere.
I don’t think of an age but of an attitude and what they want to portray when they are wearing that. I am thinking of the Yakima woman. Not the Seattle or Portland women; that’s a whole different type of person. I am thinking of a woman from Yakima.
I want it to be walking the line between conservative but exciting, adventurous, fun, and sexy, without jumping off the deep end. That’s why you see stuff in the store that’s revealing without being too revealing. It’s an invitation. It’s an introduction. As the store goes one I am hoping to go deeper into the pin up aesthetic. But right now we’re still in the wading pool.
I think it’s more personality revealing than skin revealing.
What hurdles have you cleared from going from an idea to actually making it happen?
Other than basic logistics and capital? Fear is a huge one. I think fear was my biggest hurdle. Fear of success, fear of failure. Are people going to like this? Are people going to like ME?
It’s funny how fear drives you but also it stops you.
This whole thing was self funded; my credit card is maxed out. I didn’t get a loan by a bank.
I want to go back to the point where you mentioned that it’s hard to find other women take you under their wing and have a desire to mentor you. Does it have to be someone experienced in the same type of business?
I don’t think it’s necessary to have it be a boutique owner. I just think that it would’ve been helpful to have any woman who has opened a business ever, and you know, that is able to say this are going to be the hardest things, don’t forget to get your accounting together and this, this and that.
The lady at Pet Pantry, before I opened, was super helpful. She would come and check in on me. She’d stop by at two am when my husband and I would be working and she’d bring us food. I think she’s the closest that I would ever think of as a mentor. But I was looking for a professional that could sit down with me and help me through the process.
There’s only so much preparation you can do.
Has Yakima hindered or helped, in terms of culture, laws, politics, etc. in getting your business off the ground? How has Yakima treated you?
So far great!
It’s been pretty smooth and a very decent process. I haven’t really had any problems. Every time I have a question I call the city and they are very helpful.
The women of Yakima seem very hungry from an option. It’s just the day to day operations that are the hardest to figure out.
You are so mature and move forward with so much personality and aplomb being so young. Normally it takes women many more years to arrive at this point of self-confidence.
I think I was really lucky to be raised around very strong women. My parents both died when I was 8.
OH MY GOODNESS!
So I had my brothers and my sisters to raise me. And ...I had a really weird childhood.
You know, I was around a lot of adults. Huge age gaps between my siblings and I. We never had sitters or daycare. Whatever they were doing I would be there. At a very young age I had to learn to be around adults. And I had to be okay with whatever the adults were doing around us. I had to learn to struggle to get what you want.
I feel very lucky to get to learn those lessons at a very young age.
Twenty-seven was my cut off age. I felt like if I didn’t accomplish all I wanted by twenty-seven I was a failure. I saw my sisters be successful by twenty-seven so that really influenced me.
To me it was like...the perfect age.
So when I got to twenty-seven it was like THIS IS IT! I MADE IT!
Were you raised in the Hispanic culture?
No! I actually know very little Spanish. My environment was not full of Hispanic people. I dated a man with a fully Spanish speaking family and they would speak Spanish to me.
It always felt like a culture that I looked at from the outside.
My brothers and sisters didn’t raise me to be Hispanic.
Even now there are things that I wish I had been able to experience growing up. That I only got know from an arm’s length. Especially living with my ex and his family. They were very into their culture. And there were some things that I felt so jealous when I knew I wouldn’t get to experience.
Y’know, during the 50’s the zootsuiters gave way to the pachucos and then chicanos.
From the outside in you look at the style and think “Well... do I have a right to take part or is that too weird? If I like the style as a Hispanic woman that doesn’t even speak Spanish can I take part in it?”
It’s a weird struggle.
Even still now at twenty-eight I wish to teach my daughters more about their heritage and how do you do that when you didn’t grow up in it. I think a lot of it will have to be research. I took every class in college that could help me grasp at my background. Not having my parents there. I needed to draw from wherever I could.
And I didn’t want to be stereotypical either. I felt embarrassed sometimes to do anything that was stereotypical because I couldn’t speak Spanish. So I was very careful to not fall into stereotypes.
Well I like a lot of things that are stereotypical! I like cooking for people, and when I get mad my hands automatically go on my hips, and I am loud. I am very much a stereotype of a latina.
And for a while I rebelled against it.
Until I realized that this is who I am, and this is what I like.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, looking from the outside in, there’s no way I can do those things and not feel like it’s inappropriate. Like it’s borrowed. Because I don’t speak the language and I didn’t grow up eating the foods.
It’s weird to talk about this out loud.
Not knowing Spanish or not being brought up in the culture though, doesn’t bar you from discrimination. I still get followed around in stores.
So it’s this weird limbo of getting discriminated against and being talked down to without having anyone to back you up.
I was never Hispanic enough for the Hispanics.
How do you make room for other important things besides the business?
I have a six year old that is living with her dad this year. And a little baby here. And of course my husband. My church. And what little friends I have freckled in Yakima.
Everyday it’s a struggle to find a balance. Not everyday I can give my husband the attention he deserves, and sometimes he has to tell me you need to come home now.
But we have an unspoken rule that when I am home we don’t talk about work. And we don’t get on our phones until baby has gone to sleep for the night. It really helps our communication. Just our natural happiness, the aura in the house, our sex life. Everything improved.
The first few months, October to December, was stressful but I think I got really lucky with my husband who is 100% behind me. He understands what it takes to raise a business. Before I started I sat him down and said “for the first few months I will be working like 80 hours a week. I will eat, sleep, and poop the store. If this is too much for you then say it now.” And he was all for it.
And he said “if it fails then it fails and we’ll deal with it.”
He thinks it’s great for our daughters to see me working hard. He sees the value of going after my dreams. It makes my daughter very proud.
I close early on Thursdays and I am closed on Sunday so we can go to church both days. So the balance has been pretty okay so far.
I had a lot of fun doing a photoshoot with Desiree for a new project she is rolling out. Her boutique will have studio space for people wanting to take high-end professional pictures in mid-century modern fashion. They can do it alone or with friends.
The clothes were phenomenal!
Real quality and perfect fit.
To be able to curate such a perfect collection she imports from England and several different countries is impressive. It is a painstaking process with attention to detail. She takes it in stride with joy and discipline.
During this time I got to know her even better. It is evident that she is overflowing with compassion and understanding for people. She is an open book with a heart to serve her community.
Rock Rose Boutique is located at 5641 Summitview Avenue in Yakima
Karelys Beltran is a Sinaloa native and Denizen co-founder who is passionate about self-education, personal development, and bringing people together.