How My $1,000-a-Month Shopping Habit Became a Business

By Kendra Porter with Sarah Lybrand

If you're looking for the next big idea to become your own boss...you might try examining both your strengths and your weaknesses. For one New York woman, she managed to turn an addiction to shopping into a full-fledged career.

Kendra Porter, an entrepreneur and image consultant from Westchester, N.Y., now gets to shop full time as part of her job. There was a time, however, when her relationship with shopping was a bit more complicated.

For her, it all started in college. Stress from a heavy courseload in engineering and pressure from her parents were taking its toll. Forget the 'Freshman 15' -- for Kendra, it was more like the 'Freshman 50'. To deal with her new body, whenever she'd get depressed, Kendra would go on shopping "sprees" -- splurging at a number of stores over the course of several days, spending sometimes a thousand dollars at a time. At the same time, Kendra was a poor college student. Guilty over how much she was spending, within a few weeks Kendra would return most of what she bought -- sometimes up to 90% of it. "Let's just say I became very good at keeping track of my receipts!" says Porter.

Besides the thrill of shopping, spending time at the mall had its purpose: finding clothes that fit had always been a legitimate challenge for Kendra, having grown up tall and with an athletic build. At 5'10, she still loves wearing heels, so finding pants long enough, and shoes large enough takes time. Back in college, she quickly came to understand how difficult it is for a plus-sized woman to find clothes that actually look good.

Looking back, Porter understands that the time and money she spent shopping were really just a lot of styling 'practice'. Kendra learned about different silhouettes, quality fabrics, and specifically, what styles worked best for her body. In fact, she says, "I bought investment pieces right after college that I'm STILL wearing ten years later!"


Watch: Should you save or splurge on your wardrobe?


How did Kendra go from shopaholic to savvy business woman? First, she says, she had to realize that she had something to offer others. Here's her advice on finding your dream job:

"THINK ABOUT THE PROCESS"

Back in college, Kendra didn't know that her knack for shopping was a skill, or that she could use it to pursue a career. Instead, she spent a decade working a variety of jobs in non-profit and higher education, and even spent some time abroad doing humanitarian work in Ghana. For Kendra, this experience forced her to re-evaluate her goals. She realized that what she really loved was finding solutions - solutions for her body, and solutions for other women.

"START SLOW"

Kendra eventually moved back to New York and started helping her friends shop, finding them killer deals all over town, and helping them to expand their style repertoires. The feedback was positive. "Kendra has really helped me think outside of the box," says Halima Leak, a client.

"BE REALISTIC & FLEXIBLE"

When Kendra was laid off for the second time in three years she decided she'd had enough. She'd always dreamed of opening a retail space, but when Kendra sat down and looked at the numbers, she discovered that the capital required to open a shop was beyond her means. She realized she could, however, use her talent for styling other plus-sized women, and go into business for herself as a personal shopper and stylist. She could still do what she loved -- but without all that overhead!

Watch: Can I afford it a new car?


"GET THE PROPER TRAINING"

Kendra signed up for a Style for Hire Workshop, a program by co-founder Stacy London of What Not to Wear. Learning under Stacey gave her the confidence to trust her instincts. Kendra didn't go to fashion school and doesn't have a fashion background -- but that didn't stop her from pursuing her passion.

"GO FOR IT!"

In the spring of 2011, Kendra opened Honor You, a personal image agency for full-figured women, (specializing in sizes 6 to 26). Honor You's mission is to help women understand what works for their own bodies, offering services in wardrobe assessment, closet reorganization, and personal shopping. Now Kendra gets to shop full time… but it's about bringing other people joy, not just her.

Kendra says, "I suppose you could say I turned my shopping 'problem' into a financial solution, and I think that's because if you truly love what you do -- and I love to shop -- then there's no sense hiding your true self. Just go for it!" Kendra took a weakness for shopping and turned it into her wheelhouse.

Watch: Turn your shopping addiction into cash


Have you found a passion, or reversed a bad habit? Tweet Farnoosh using @Farnoosh, hashtag #FinFit.

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