When ULAH opens its first women’s store concept this fall, it’s expected to be just the first retail extension of the popular upscale men’s boutique — and a sign the brand is fine-tuning its niche after a major e-commerce shift.
“We already have a huge customer base — and a lot of them are women, which is great,” said Joey Mendez, co-owner of ULAH and the forthcoming LUNA by ULAH. “From the beginning, they’ve been telling us ‘You guys need to add women’s clothes,’ but we were adamant about not interrupting the men’s space that we’d created. Then the opportunity came to do it in a separate space.”
LUNA is set to open two doors down from ULAH in the Woodside Village live/work center at 47th and Rainbow. At 1,300 square feet, the space — a former Eat Fit Go location — is smaller than ULAH, but still offers plenty of room for an approachable, on-trend mix of ready-to-wear women’s apparel, accessories, gifts and home accents, said Buck Wimberly, co-owner of ULAH.
“The look and feel will be similar, but a little softer with more feminine touches and the name Luna playing into the astrological theme, and the moon’s meaning as a representation of creativity and feminine energy,” he said.
Envisioned as a complement to ULAH, LUNA’s look is inspired by the moody colors of the desert landscape at dusk — an environment the engaged couple hopes brings out the best energies of the people who shop with them.
“And although at ULAH, we sell ‘men’s’ clothing, and at LUNA, we’ll sell ‘women’s’ clothing, both businesses will be inclusive and we want any gender to feel comfortable shopping at either of our stores,” Mendez emphasized.
“We can’t change that the whole industry breaks categories into men’s and women’s fashion; but we’re going to do what we can to be inclusive,” Wimberly added.
“We wanted to give guys their own space to shop that was comfortable, welcoming, had a full range of products for every aspect of their life — from active wear to denim and casual to dressy,” said Joey Mendez. “And then also be a gift spot for accessories, fragrances, candles and locally made products, home accents and interior design as a service.”
“We’re not wanting to be too super, high-end designer, but also not too trendy in fast fashion.”
“And then we also wanted to make sure we had a range of local to regional, and national to international brands that can all sit together,” Buck Wimberly added. “We didn’t just want to be a local Kansas City product store, but definitely wanted to have it in the mix.”
The ULAH team sees opportunities ahead to expand the brand — which also includes the Wimberly-led ULAH Interiors + Design — beyond the obvious.
“We fantasize all the time … ULAH Records … we love music,” Mendez said, laughing. “ULAH Nightclub could be fun, even though I’m kind of past those days.”
Wimberly struck a more serious tone, but reinforced the idea of bringing the ULAH concept of approachable, but upscale experiences to life in new ways.
“Rather than opening multiple new men’s stores or another women’s store in the near future, I see us continuing to diversify our brand extensions into other categories — not just duplicating what we’ve already created,” he said, noting the expansion into women’s goods was the first example. “Kansas City’s big, but it’s not that big, so if we decided to open more stores, we’d probably pick other locations.”
“Similar markets to Kansas City,” Mendez added. “Cities that are growing and that have a void in retail — but we wouldn’t open in places like New York or LA.”
ULAH first debuted Oct. 20, 2016, in the Woodside shop. Since then, the product offerings have shifted and been refined to match consumer tastes, changing seasons, and product mixes, but the idea behind the store remains, Wimberly said.
“When we were creating our concept, we felt like retail had trained guys to hate shopping,” he explained. “Meaning, in most places where men could shop, you might feel intimidated or like it was pretentious or like you might have to be part of some kind of clique. We wanted to tear all of that down and make it feel like you were shopping with friends.
“We want you to feel like you can come in and people are here to help you — that you’re not on your own. In the beginning, we’d have guys come in and say, ‘Well, I don’t have my wife with me; I don’t have my girlfriend with me.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, we’re here for you.’”
Redesigned for online
The strong customer support at the foundation of LUNA’s anticipated launch also helped keep ULAH afloat throughout the pandemic, Mendez and Wimberly said. When they shifted to online order fulfillment after COVID-19 forced the storefront to temporarily close in spring 2020, e-commerce customers kept them going.
“It was really frustrating because January, February, March were great months, and we were seeing an increase, hitting our goals. We thought, ‘This could be our year,’” Wimberly said, adding that the pandemic knocked the wind out of the duo. “We were just like, ‘Man, is this going to be the thing that ends us finally? After surviving all the other things we’ve survived through the years?’”
A new emphasis on e-commerce and social media marketing — credited largely to Joanie Meyer, a former graphic design intern from Johnson County Community College who rose through the ranks to become ULAH’s marketing and creative manager — helped the store make it to the other side, Mendez said.
Now the brand is operating even stronger than in early 2020, Wimberly said, acknowledging the rare positives of the pandemic.
“It really accelerated a behavioral change that we had hoped would happen organically over time — forcing people to use our e-commerce site more than ever before,” he said. “And now we’re seeing the benefits.”
Click here to shop ULAH online.
Life together, spaces apart
In March, Mendez and Wimberly physically relocated ULAH Interiors + Design to a new space within the Woodside center after years of co-locating the two businesses within the ULAH storefront. Wimberly had been operating the design firm from a stock room while Mendez orchestrated ULAH from a mezzanine above.
“It was time,” Mendez said. “Both businesses and our teams were growing, and we were just overcrowded.”
The move gave the couple some much-needed space apart, they admitted, noting gratitude that they now don’t always feel like co-workers.
“For the first time in like four years, I can actually text him and just ask like ‘How’s your day going?’ Because when we’re in the same space, living and working, there’s no separation or room for that,” Mendez said.
“As a business owner, you can’t really avoid taking work home,” Wimberly added. “We have to just unplug; we try not to work on Sundays, but it’s all still a process. … Maybe someday we have Saturdays and Sundays off — or maybe just every other Saturday off; I can see that day coming.”
Identifying and developing additional leadership within the company is key to getting more time to themselves — and growing the brand, they said.
Bringing in Elise Alexander as a partner to help run LUNA is a component of that strategy, they said. A longtime residential client of ULAH Interiors + Design, she was among the women clamoring for ULAH to expand into women’s fashion, Mendez said, noting she brings a fresh point of view.
And the timing is perfect, he added, as shoppers return in-person, seeking fashion tips and new outfits for going out in a post-pandemic world.
“I think people thought super casual might be this new norm, but customers are hungry to be styled and stylish — to wear things that are a little more fun and dressy,” he said, emphasizing ULAH and LUNA’s unique ability to step in. “Casual is probably here to stay, but I don’t think that means it has to be plain.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation works to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.