During the Great Recession, which occurred from late 2007 into 2009, most people were concerned about their investments, their mortgages, and whether they could trust their banks with their money. What most people were not doing was opening a new business. However, most people don’t have the faith, family values, and work ethic of sisters Emily Vaux Burden and Anna Pepper Vaux Hewett, owners and partners of Gigi’s Boutique in Old Town Bluffton.
Both are natives of Bluffton, and both graduated from Hilton Head Island High School and from College of Charleston, where Emily studied business economics and Anna Pepper studied communications.
In 2007, Emily was married, working in the mortgage industry, and living in Colorado, while Anna Pepper had just graduated from college and was back in Bluffton. The sisters felt there was a need in their once small town, so they decided to open a boutique that would cater to women in the Lowcountry.
In 2007, within a few months after Anna Pepper graduated, the sisters took their business plan to the bank, secured a loan, signed a lease, went to market, and bought all the inventory they would need to open the store. Then the recession hit hard.
“Even though it was literally the worst time ever to open a women’s boutique, we had to go through with it at that point,” Anna Pepper said. “We had already signed the lease and spent the money, so we did what we were taught to do—like we always did; we leaned into our faith in God to see us through.”
Emily and Anna Pepper fully believe that they are doing what God has called them to do. “We survived a recession and thrived,” Emily said. “Then we survived a pandemic and are still thriving. Because we are following His will for our lives, God has anointed and blessed our store.”
The sisters also relied on each other’s strengths. Emily, still in Colorado when the boutique opened, was pregnant with her first child and gave birth in August of 2008, the same month they opened Gigi’s. With her background in finance, she took on the role of managing the money. Anna Pepper, with her background in communications, and because she was local, took the role of managing and marketing the store’s day to day operations.
“We would meet intermittently at the Las Vegas market or the Atlanta market to restock inventory, and we would have frequent phone calls,” Anna Pepper said. “I called Emily ‘Charlie,’ like in ‘Charlie’s Angels’ because I never actually saw her. She was just this voice checking in on the phone.”
After Emily’s second child was born in March of 2010, she and her husband moved back to Bluffton. Anna Pepper, who had just married, was still functioning as the hands-on partner/manager who was at the store daily, running things. In the fall of 2011, Anna Pepper got pregnant with twins and was put on bedrest, so Emily stepped up to be at the boutique more. Then she got pregnant again, too. The girls laughed when recalling the futon they installed at Gigi’s so they could take turns resting between customers.
Soon, the recession died down and business in Old Town Bluffton picked up. The boutique became so busy, the sisters’ staff grew from just the two of them and one salesgirl to where they are now: nine employees, with four or five sales staff in the store at any given time.
“We have amazing girls who work with us, and most of them have been with us for a long time,” Anna Pepper said. “We try to treat them the way we would like to be treated, which I feel is a big reason for their longevity at Gigi’s. We respect them and are so thankful for them. Having a solid group of employees definitely contributes to the store’s success, and we couldn’t do it without them.”
At Gigi’s, Emily and Anna Pepper operate with the mission to inspire every woman, no matter her age, to look and feel her best, by offering personalized service and attention to detail. “When we first opened, we wanted to be a store where we could shop with our mom,” Emily said. “At the time, we were in our 20s and our mom was in her 50s. We still use that formula today. Our customers’ ages range from 13-85 and everything in between.”
Currently, Emily and Anna Pepper still shop for themselves and their mom at Gigi’s, but now their daughters also shop (and work) there—three generations of women, and it is the same with their customers. Every woman in your family can find something at Gigi’s. You can also schedule private shopping events for yourself and your friends for personal styling with your favorite salesgirls.
Gigi’s fashion includes all price ranges. You can get a top for $35 or a dress for $495, with the average price point being around $120. No matter what you’re looking for, you can find it—even pretty underwear. And the best-selling, best-fitting jeans line at Gigi’s is priced under $100.
“We grew up going shopping together with our siblings and our mom, and it’s fun to see other families come in to shop together—moms and daughters, grandparents with granddaughters,” Anna Pepper said. “Family is so important to us, and I think people feel that when they shop at Gigi’s. The atmosphere is warm and comfortable, like being with family.”
In fact, the boutique is named for Emily and Anna Pepper’s grandmother, Gigi, who was known for the standard she set in fashion and who even owned a boutique in Beaufort. The sisters learned a lot about fashion from Gigi, who was her own person with her own individual Lowcountry style—the very theme of their store.
The sisters have achieved a work-life balance together and understand the advantages of working with family. “Anna Pepper and I really do complement each other,” Emily said. “We treat each other with respect, kindness, and love. Her strengths are my weakness and vice versa. We live two miles apart; we each have four children; and we come from a family of four children. We function as a family and extended family.”
Anna Pepper added, “We are both hard workers and will jump in for each other whenever it is needed. If one of my children is sick, Emily will drop what she is doing and step in for me, and I do the same for her. And even when we have disagreements, most times we must look within ourselves, put aside pride, and take a step back. Again, this is where faith comes in and is what enables us to treat each other so well.”
Because their families come first, their store is closed on Sundays so that they and their employees can enjoy a day of rest with their families. For that same reason, Gigi’s closes at 5 p.m. each afternoon so that everyone can be home for dinner and evenings with their loved ones.
The Gigi’s equation of faith, family, and a strong work ethic is a successful formula. Keeping their priorities in order is the cornerstone of every decision Emily and Anna Pepper make for themselves and the boutique.
To experience the excellence for yourself, visit the sisters at Gigi’s, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 40 Calhoun St. in Old Town Bluffton, or shop online at gigisbluffton.com.