How it started: Society Social — Charlotte’s grandmillennial design playground

How it started: Society Social — Charlotte’s grandmillennial design playground

Photo: Courtesy of Society Social

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How it started is a new series that takes a peek behind the curtain of Charlotte small businesses. It’s inspired by NPR’s How I Built This, a podcast hosted by Guy Raz.

Society Social was founded a decade ago by Roxy Owens. It started as an e-commerce site with a collection of 10 furniture pieces.

  • The furniture business continues to release carefully curate collections, made in-house and there’s a brick-and-mortar store inside Atherton Mill.

Why it matters: Owens and her beautiful store have been featured in the coveted pages of Domino, House Beautiful, Elle Decor and the like. She’s been called a pioneer in the grandmillennial home decor space by Forbes.

  • Between the lines: Owens is a force in the design space, and we’re lucky to have her flagship store in Charlotte.

What it is: Society Social is known for its modern take on traditional style. They continue to make one-of-a-kind furniture and the flagship store is a grand millennial design playground with its pink-and-white gingham floors, neon signage, light blue pagoda wall and chinoiserie motifs.

Flashback: Owens was born in the Philippines where her family started a furniture factory specializing in rattan and wicker in the 1980s.

  • She lived in the factory there until she was 2 years old, then her family moved to Catawba County, North Carolina to open a second factory.
  • She was going to High Point Market by kindergarten and worked in the factory as soon as she was able.

“I wasn’t trained but it’s in my blood,” Owens said.

roxy te owens in family factory

Roxy in her family’s factory as a child. Photo courtesy of Roxy Owens

Early career: Owens has a business degree from NC State and went to Parsons School of Design in New York for graduate school.

  • She started her career in fashion, interning for places like Women’s Wear Daily and Donna Karen and working Fashion Week.
  • Eventually she came back to Charlotte to work for Belk.

“In my mid-20s, I had been working for this big career in fashion but it wasn’t my own.”

At that time, Owens, who was newly married and living in Charlotte, noticed it was difficult to find fun, custom furniture at a reasonable price.

  • Curious about the furniture industry, she started working for her family part-time buying fabrics.

In August 2011, Owens started Society Social. She launched the company from her Uptown apartment using her own savings and to this day, still has never taken any outside money.

  • Society Social started as a Shopify website that cost $25 a month that featured a collection of 10 designs, including several bar carts, a hugely popular item at the time. The pieces were manufactured in her family’s factory.
  • She and her husband moved back to New York soon after, where she opened a small showroom in a shared space.

      At the time, e-commerce in the furniture industry was unusual but Society Social quickly became known for its rattan and wicker pieces and bright style.

      • Owens built a presence through the website and social media. The company’s growth has been a digitally based grassroots effort from the start.

      The store: Owens and her husband moved back to Charlotte to open Society Social’s flagship store at Atherton Mill in November 2019. The shop represents 75 vendors, selling coffee table books, hostess gifts, topiaries and other home goods.

      • It’s also a place to experience the furniture designs in person.

      society social charlotte

      Owning a business during COVID: Not even six months after opening, the flagship store shut down. Being digital-first is the only way the company survived the pandemic, Owens said.

      • “We wouldn’t have made it without the website,” she said. “We would not be ale to pay rent.”
      • Only 15% of the business comes from the store, Owens said.
      • She wouldn’t recommend anyone get into brick-and-mortar without establishing a digital footprint first.

      Most of Society Social’s customer base isn’t in Charlotte and comes from the web and design world.

      • At one point during the pandemic, Society Social’s Pinterest was getting 5 million views and they now have 200,000 Instagram followers between Society Social (the brand) and Society Social Charlotte (the store).

      society social charlotte pagoda fabric and chair wall

      Because people have spent more time at home during the pandemic, business is better than ever. But the last 18+ months have also been the most challenging, Owens said.

      • “My mental health is probably in the worst place it’s ever been.”

      Owens said enduring the pandemic, still, has felt like she’s treading water in the ocean with storms and waves rolling in.

      She has a team of nine on Society Social’s core team, which covers the shop and e-commerce operations, buying, marketing, product design and customer care, Owens said.

      Delivering paychecks, keeping people safe and caring for their mental health has been tough, while trying to keep customers happy, too.

      • “Its a lot of pressure to shoulder every single day,” Owens said. “I don’t think humans are supposed to survive a pandemic for 2o months.”
      society social team photo

      Society Social team. Photo: Joy Louise Photography, courtesy of Roxy Te Owens

      What’s next: Despite the challenges, Owens and her Society Social team have laid the groundwork for a few new things.

      • In 2022, expect new collections, peel-and-stick wallpaper, a hotel project and a new website.

      I asked Owens what it all means — to be still standing, innovating and making people’s homes a little brighter. She said:

      “It represents the American dream for an Asian American immigrant, woman entrepreneur, minority-owned and women-led team.”

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