Notable Native: Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler


Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler

By Natalie Craig

From working in public office to creating a dress made completely out of McDonald’s gift cards, Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler has done it all. 

During her 15-year career in the public relations field, she worked for Vice President Al Gore, Sears and Kmart, and she studied administration and justice during her undergraduate years at Virginia Commonwealth University. She also earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University. However, while managing the public relations operations of McDonald’s, Armstrong-Fowler had an idea for the brand that would unexpectedly establish her fashion career. After going on to launch clothing lines for celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and Adam Levine, she said she wanted to create a brand of her own. 

Armstrong-Fowler first opened Haute & Co. Bridal Boutique, 750 N. Franklin St., in 2013 to offer plus-size women luxury bridal gowns, something the industry lacks.

She will also be teaching presentation skills and fashion public relations at Columbia in the fall, which is the first time the college has offered the classes.

The Chronicle spoke with Armstrong-Fowler about being an entrepreneur, her transition from politics to fashion and Chicago’s emerging fashion scene.

THE CHRONICLE: How did you get your start in fashion and bridal wear?

SHANNELLE ARMSTRONG-FOWLER: I started in fashion in 2007 because at that time, even though I enjoyed fashion on a personal level, I was in public relations. It wasn’t until I was working for McDonald’s Corporation and I was launching a new product, which was an “Arch Card.” I contacted Jay McCarroll of “Project Runway” to create an Arch Card dress that we would unveil in New York City to get a little more attention around the Arch Card itself. I really needed to think out of the box to bring it to life, and that’s what I did. The results were so great. Everything happens for a reason [and] I get a call from Sears Holdings and they offered me a position. I talked to them, they made me an offer and I came on board.

What are some of the obstacles you have faced as an entrepreneur?

The biggest obstacle as an entrepreneur in Chicago, especially in bridal, it was really [having] patience because you want to hit the ground running. But when you are in the business and you want to build a brand, slow and steady wins the race. It is really focusing on your target, product, operations, service, delivery and the bride. Those are things I really had to focus on … There are going to be times where it is going to be incredibly difficult for you. There are going to be people in your circle that are not really going to be as supportive to your vision as you would like. It is important to surround yourself with people who share your enthusiasm.

Do you think Chicago is a good place for entrepreneurs and those interested in fashion to get their start?

It is a great place for entrepreneurs, absolutely. I think that we are getting our fashion footing. What I mean by that is that New York, to a lot of people, will always be the mecca for fashion. Every industry has the ability to change, everything that was water yesterday can be steam today. I believe Chicago is getting its footing because it has great schools like Columbia College [and] the school  of The Art Institute and it has a number of opportunities. People don’t realize the number of brands that are up and around Chicagoland. There is an enormous amount of white space in Chicago, and we need people who are passionate, like myself, who are going to fill that white space with good people, great talent, great products and great thinking.