By Keysha Drexel
Almost 10 years ago, Carolyn Kelley had had enough of pulling weeds and mowing grass in her yard, so she decided to find someone to do it for her so she would have more time to sew.
That decision led Kelley to open The White Room Bridal Salon, a business that lets her work side by side with her daughter, Cathy Kelley, every day.
When she made the fateful decision to hire out her yard work, Carolyn was doing alterations on wedding gowns at a local shop.
“I was standing out under a tree talking to the guy who was doing the yard work, and he asked me what I did for a living and we struck up a conversation,” she said. “He asked me what I would do when I got older and I couldn’t sew, and I realized it was something I had never really thought about in detail.”
The conversation with the landscaper got Carolyn to thinking about being her own boss.
“The guy told me I should open my own business so that if I couldn’t sew anymore, I could sell it and retire,” she said.
And a decade later, Carolyn said retirement is nowhere in her immediate line of sight.
“The first 10 years have just flown by, so here I am at almost 70 working harder than ever before,” she said. “And I love every minute of it.”
Carolyn first opened the shop in Helena and five years later moved the business to its current location in Cahaba Heights.
Cathy said at the time the business opened, she had a full-time job at BellSouth.
Cathy said she would leave her job at BellSouth and come to the shop and do all the computer work and close out the books for the day.
“She and I would be up until 2 o’clock in the morning,” Cathy said. “She’d be sewing as fast as she could while I kept everything in order.”
From the beginning, the mother-daughter duo made a wonderful team, they said, because they shared the same principles.
“I knew nothing about business or running a business when we started this, but I believe in treating people the way you want to be treated, and my customers have picked up on that,” Carolyn said.
Cathy said the Golden Rule to treat others as you want to be treated is something her mother instilled in her at very young age and a philosophy she thinks has served her well in life and in business.
“I have such respect for this woman, for my mother, and seeing the relationships she builds with each and every customer and every designer inspires me and makes me want to work even harder,” Cathy said.
Carolyn said a strong work ethic is something she and her daughter share and that has been a key to the success of the business.
“Cathy and I are the same person in two bodies. Cathy takes after me. She has an incredible work ethic,” Carolyn said. “Every employer she’s ever had has felt blessed to have her, and I feel the same way.”
The mother and daughter not only work together every day but also live together.
But while the mother and daughter are alike in many ways, they are different in one striking way, Cathy said.
“I don’t sew,” Cathy said. “I just never was interested in learning it at the level that mom does it.”
Carolyn said she’s been sewing since she was a child growing up in the Memphis area. It is a skill she learned from her mother.
“My mother made all of my clothes, and growing up, I had clothes that no one else had,” she said. “I’ve always loved the challenge of taking fabric and thread and scissors and creating something beautiful and new.”
Carolyn continued to make her own clothes and clothes for friends and at 19, she started working in a ladies’ alterations shop.
“The sewing I did growing up and the alteration work I did for so long gave me a wonderful foundation for the work I do now,” Carolyn said. “I learned so much about how to put things together the right way by taking everything apart for alterations.”
Carolyn said she also worked in a couture wedding shop in Memphis for about 10 years. She has taken classes at the Royal School of Needlework in London and classes on French smocking and embroidery techniques.
“I have to avail myself of every chance I have to learn,” Carolyn said. “Unless you push yourself, you’ll never get better, and you always want to be looking forward and getting better.”
Cathy has her own role in making sure each bride who visits The White Room walks out with the perfectly fitted wedding dress of her dreams.
Cathy, who serves as the shop’s manager, creates custom veils to complete the dresses her mom makes.
“She had me cutting lace like crazy,” Cathy said. “Since I was cutting the lace for the veils, I started making them, and I also do some of the design work. With both of our talents, we make a great team.”
The team gets some moral support from Biscuit, Cathy’s dog. Biscuit greets every customer with a toy in his mouth, ready to play, Cathy said.
“It’s such a fun place to come to work every day and not just because I get to work with my mom,” Cathy said. “We take our job of being a part of what is the most important day in our customer’s life very seriously, and we feel so blessed to have a role in that happiness.”
For more information, visit www.thewhiteroombirmingham.com or call 970-6767.