By Emily Williams
After a successful two years operating Nations Boutique on Cahaba Valley Road, owner Lisa Ann Muir-Taylor of North Shelby County heard fate’s call to expand.
Marrying equal parts retail, mission and female empowerment, Nations Boutique opened a second location this summer in the heart of Homewood, on 18th Street.
Muir-Taylor’s vision for the company is spelled on a clean, white wall in lit neon blue script: Do Beautiful.
“We believe it’s what you do in your clothes that makes you beautiful,” said Muir-Taylor. “Not the clothes, but the woman in the clothes.”
Near the fitting rooms of the Homewood shop, one wall is filled with images of Muir-Taylor and her three daughters; she also has one son. Each scene depicts a member of the family surrounded by smiling women and children they encountered on a mission trip they took to the Dominican Republic.
“I love this because it conjures up the joy that we feel when we serve others,” she said.
The photos were taken when Muir-Taylor and her family took some of her dresses to the Dominican Republic in partnership with the non-profit organization Until They Know. Her store, then an online shop, has always supported a non-profit organization.
“Before a customer leaves, I always let them know that they are supporting a ministry,” Muir-Taylor said. “Every season that looks different.”
Last season, she supported King’s Home. Due to disruptions prepping the new Homewood location, the stores will continue to raise funds for King’s Home in addition to Sozo Children.
“I’m not saying I’m writing them a big check, but hopefully as we grow we will be able to write bigger and bigger checks,” she said.
The seeds of Nations Boutique were sewn long before Muir-Taylor started the first phase of the company, the Nations Outfitters online store, in 2010.
At age 27, while she was at a Rolling Stones concert, someone handed her a slip of paper. When she unfolded it she read the words: “He will never leave you or forsake you.”
Muir-Taylor had not grown up in a religious household, nor was she religious when she read the piece of paper, but it resonated with her, nonetheless.
“I didn’t become a Christian that night, obviously, but I believe that’s how God’s word works. … When you see it and you are exposed to it, it does something to you,” she said. “It certainly did something to me.”
In 2008, Muir-Taylor was a mother of four and had developed a deep relationship with God through Christianity.
She was listening to Rick Burgess of the Rick and Bubba Show perform the eulogy at the funeral of his late son, Bronner.
“He said that 93 percent of Christians never share their faith,” she said. “I was just very convicted by that.”
Muir-Taylor wanted to share her faith with others through some form of community service, thinking she would choose something in her wheelhouse as a former nurse.
Instead, she had a budding vision of putting scripture inside of clothing inspired by that slip of paper she was handed at a Rolling Stones concert.
“The problem was, I knew nothing about clothes,” she said. “And I mean I really knew zilch about clothes. I just wore them.”
Though she was unsure how to move forward with the idea, it kept creeping up at random moments in her life.
She took the leap after finding an unread copy of “Don’t Waste Your Life,” by John Piper, sitting in her closet.
“I open it up to a random page,” she said. “and smack in the middle of the page that I opened it up to, it read (something to the effect of), ‘and what about the clothing industry, nothing points them to their personhood in Christ.’”
In her first operation, Muir-Taylor operated an online store out of her home for four years. She oversaw the design and manufacturing of the clothes and could claim at least one customer in 39 of the 50 states. She also conducted speaking engagements to further spread her mission.
“After four years, I was completely burnt out spiritually, emotionally, physically,” she said. “My children were suffering. My marriage was suffering. So, I had to make the really, really hard decision to put it down.”
During a two-year sabbatical, as Muir-Taylor called it, she experienced uncanny moments that led her back to Nations.
“For example, I would be at a volleyball tournament in Atlanta with one of my daughters, and a lady would walk up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you that Nations Outfitters lady?’” she said.
She tried to fill the void with other methods of service, such as helping with a children’s ministry at her church, but it didn’t work.
“When I finally decided to start (to) pick it back up, I said, ‘It’s not going to be in my home anymore. I’m not going to manufacture clothes anymore,’” she said.
Muir Taylor began purchasing her clothing at market, eventually settling on including the scripture in each piece via iron-on fabric labels.
She also rented a space next to a Shell gas station on Cahaba Valley Road to be the center of operations for online sales, never expecting that it would turn into a retail shop.
“Women who were pumping their gas would see the signage: ‘It’s what you do in your clothes that makes you beautiful.’ And I think that resonates with people,” she said. It also drew shoppers inside.
“Our culture is always telling us we have to look beautiful, be perfect – teeth perfect, skin perfect, hair perfect – and it is just too much.”
The boutique quickly took shape as Muir-Taylor sold her fashions, spread her slogan and supported organizations such as Haiti’s Sa Voix, or “her voice,” and, locally, Vapor Ministries, The Red Barn and WellHouse.
Unlike Nations Outfitters, Nations Boutique brought with it personal relationships with customers.
“I’ve really gotten to know my customers in a new way. We’ve spent time together, prayed together,” she said.
It has also helped her knowledge of the fashion industry grow. When customers walk in, she said, she notices their stature and their clothing and is confident in showing them things in the store she believes will complement their look.
“One of my favorite things to do is have a mother and daughter walk in, especially young girls,” she said.
“I’ve learned to respect (fashion),” she said. “I’m still kind of a casual dresser, but I feel like I’ve gotten more of an eye.
“I know fashion is important to women,” she added. “Fashion builds them up, makes them feel confident, makes them feel like they can do something. I’m learning as I go what that looks like to each of us.”
An empty-nester now, Muir-Taylor said she wasn’t completely sure about the second location, but the pieces seemed to fall into place yet again.
She said that when she first walked the property, in January, “I knew this was where I was supposed to be.” Two years earlier, while shopping for a first location, she had briefly considered the space next door, which now is occupied by Cookie Fix.
Muir-Taylor said she has the ability to reach an entirely different customer from the new location, spreading her vision of beauty and service even further in the community.
Throughout the store, reminders of her mission statement are included to showcase that it is not just about the clothes.
Nations Boutique is at 2856-B 18th St. S in Homewood and #100 7360 Cahaba Valley Road in Birmingham. For more information, visit nationsboutique.com.