It Takes Two at Elmari Boutique

Image source: Contributed

Rebecca Jamieson Dwyer meets the mother-daughter duo behind Elmari Boutique – an iconic local fashion retailer celebrating 20 years of fostering joy, confidence and connection through clothing.

If you ever find yourself in the fitting room at Elmari Boutique’s Mooloolaba, Cotton Tree or Coolum Beach stores, don’t be surprised if the other customers start complimenting your outfit, sharing style stories or offering you impromptu fashion advice.

The brand, started by founder Elmari ‘El’ Putter 20 years ago, is beloved by a tribe of women who want to feel stylish, comfortable, and most importantly, like themselves at every age – resulting in a sense of community and camaraderie that brings El and her daughter Cher Harck immense joy.

“A real highlight is watching our lovely customers having fun giving each other advice, even when they’ve only just met in the store moments before,” Cher said. “Watching women complement and support each other is a part of the job we just love – nothing beats women cheering each other on.”

El opened her first boutique at Mooloolaba Wharf in 2003, offering casual, comfortable, beautiful clothing for women over 40 at a competitive price point. Originally from South Africa, she tailored her range to the Australian lifestyle, with plenty of natural fibres such as cotton and linen, and shapes and silhouettes that were flattering to real bodies.

“The Australian lifestyle is so relaxed, and natural fibres breathe better and are more comfortable on our skin,” El said.

That first store was an experiment to see if there was the demand for her concept – she could never have imagined that, 20 years later, she’d have three thriving locations and her daughter working by her side.

Cher helped out in the shop during high school before studying accountancy at university, travelling the world and working in a corporate role in London.

After returning back to Australia with her family a few years ago, she surprised herself by falling in love with Elmari Boutique while working on the shop floor over the Christmas period.

“I used to work ridiculously long hours sitting down at my corporate job, but I eventually realised that wasn’t what I wanted; I was truly passionate about something else,” she said. “Now I’m working just as hard, if not harder. But I’m having a lot more fun!”

The pair’s mutual love and respect for one another is clear to see, and it seems that working together has only brought them closer, as well as helping them see each other in a new light.

“Cher has really taken the business from strength to strength,” enthused El. “She’s so motivated. I can only admire how good she is at reading people and working with them. The energy she radiates is both inspiring and a pure joy to be around; she’s fun for all of us to work alongside.”

And Cher is similarly appreciative of her mum: “Working with El has been totally enlightening and really quite spectacular,” she said. “I always admired her for trusting her gut, her tenacity and her willingness to take risks, but I really had no idea!

“To actually come on this journey and see it firsthand has been amazing. I’ve loved seeing how she’s built this beautiful community and I’m getting more of an insight into her true skills.”

Part of Elmari Boutique’s success is the genuine passion El and Cher have for helping their customers feel confident in their clothing.

“The reason we’re in this business is the love we have for serving our community – for helping ladies find their best beautiful selves again,” said Cher.

They’ve become famous for the time and effort they put into providing styling advice, inviting customers to set aside
a morning or afternoon to come in for a ‘play’, where they can try on garments in various shapes, styles and colours, guided by the expert team, until they find the pieces that light them up in the way only a fabulous outfit can.

“We look at the customer, consider their personality, and take guidance from them about what they feel comfortable in. This isn’t about looking like something out of a fashion magazine – it’s about looking and feeling your best and having your personality shine through,” Cher explained.

“That’s why our customers continue to come back and trust us to dress them for special occasions, such as being mother of the bride – because we put in the time to truly understand them.”

Like any business, Elmari Boutique has had its challenges, such as in 2022 when the ceiling in their Coolum Beach store caved in due to a heavy rain event right at the start of the Christmas trading period. A huge amount of stock was ruined and the shop was closed for three-and-a-half weeks for repairs during the busiest time of the year.

But rather than focusing on the negatives, El and Cher chose to build something beautiful from the rubble, holding a fundraising drive for local charity SunnyKids, which was wholeheartedly supported by shoppers.

“As soon as our doors opened, the response was just amazing,” remembers El. “So many people came in to donate money and buy discounted damaged stock, and customers were calling their friends to come down and support the cause.”

While El and Cher bring their own different skills and backgrounds to the table (and shop counter), they’re similar where it matters: their outlook on life and business, as well as their personal approach to fashion, which is embodied through their own label, Bella Carina.

“We’ve both got real bodies and we want to look good,” Cher says.

“We’re on the go and we live on the Sunshine Coast so our label specialises in elevated casualwear in beautiful Italian linen, because that’s what we wear every day.”

The duo also has a highly unusual skill that comes in handy during busy days on the shop floor and long buying trips.

“Neither of us need to eat or drink anything for a really long time – we can keep going for 12 hours with just a cup of coffee to power us through, and then we crash when we get home!” laughs Cher. 

El may have been in business for two decades now, but the future’s looking extra bright with Cher on board.

“Cher doesn’t get bogged down by challenges. Every day, she reminds me to celebrate the small wins,” El says of her daughter.

And Cher knows that it’s thanks to El’s unique superpower that the business has grown to where it is today.

“El has this amazing ability to preempt our customers’ needs – that’s her magic,” Cher says.

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