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A Conversation with Katie Bulger

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Katie Bulger’s got an eye for fashion. The 27-year-old proprietor of SUGAR— a former customer, she bought the Lawrenceville store in February — stocks the shop with unique and mostly locally created women’s fashions. She’s also an optician at Eyetique, and eyeglasses are her favorite accessory.

What kinds of things do you keep in stock?
It’s all emerging, independent designers. Everything is handmade, there’s a lot of products that are organic. It’s artistic rather than trendy. You can get a dress that’s a little more one-of-a-kind. It’s a little bit more exclusive.

I feature a lot of local designers — Kelly Lane, Icarus Landing, Jensson, Rare Plum, Leti. It’s a lower volume so I don’t have a huge inventory. I don’t buy a lot of any one piece — I’ll buy three sizes and two colors. It keeps it exclusive. You can buy here and know that you’re probably the only one who has it.

It seems like the city, and Lawrenceville in particular, are seeing a lot more fashion.
It’s definitely a new taking-off — Pittsburgh’s never really been considered fashionable, ever. I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s definitely changing; the boutiques are taking off. There’s a lot of young women opening up boutiques and we’re all friendly.

How’d you get to be so stylish?
I’ve loved clothes since I was a baby! I would change my clothes five times a day. I had jelly shoes to match everything. I’d try to wear my mom’s clothes to kindergarten.

I’ve always been into clothing — it’s my art. I love dresses but I don’t know that I consider myself super-girly. I know how to change a tire and I have a ton of clothes.

What crimes of fashion do you see most often?
I think the biggest crime is not being confident with who you are. Confidence really makes your outfit. It’s about being comfortable and knowing your body. I like seeing color and experimentation. I like something that doesn’t match at all. I don’t know if it’s a crime, but people are too casual. I see people look at a dress and say, “I don’t know where I’d wear that.” People are too reliant on their jeans. There’s something about getting yourself dressed up, embracing being feminine.

You raise money for charities through the shop. How does that work?
Sugar has its own separate entity called fashionCURES. It’s basically like a holding house for funds from events and promotions. A portion of the proceeds from a Kelly Lane trunk show went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

My goal is to get it to be an actual nonprofit where small businesses, boutiques and designers contribute. I feel that if you’re a successful business owner, there’s nothing better than giving back to society. It’s also great to help raise awareness of the LLS or cystic fibrosis. My mother has lymphoma, and it’s one of those cancers there’s really not a cure for and they don’t know much about it. I work with things that are appealing to me or that I believe in.

As someone who appreciates fashion, are you ever envious of people who can design and make it themselves?
I’d love to be able to do it, but that’s not the way my brain functions. It’s not what I love to do. I’m not envious of it. I do a much better job at promoting others’ fine work. You’ve got to embrace what you do best. I’m more of a businessperson than a fashion person.

Have you always worn glasses?
I’ve had glasses since I was 6. I used to wear contacts all the time. I hated my glasses. I wouldn’t wear them. Then I realized I needed them to drive. Even though eyewear is just a pair of glasses, it’s the first thing you see, so I accessorize with my glasses. I haven’t worn [contacts] in over a year. The last time I wore them, I was golfing and I wanted to wear my new sunglasses.

What’s your favorite city for finding fashion?
Pittsburgh!

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