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Alumna ditches architecture job to open Short North boutique VAMP Official

Shirk poses for a photo while celebrating the opening of her store, VAMP Official. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Shirk

Ellen Shirk didn’t think she would own her own clothing store in Columbus just two years after graduating from Ohio State, especially without a degree in fashion merchandising. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

During their senior year, Shirk and three friends began exploring the idea of opening an online clothing boutique. Upon graduation, Shirk independently launched VAMP Official. The next year, she chased her passion, followed her heart and quit her day job to open a brick-and-mortar location at 997 N High St.

“I had a few close friends in my sorority. We were all really obsessed with shopping and shopping online at stores from Australia and Europe,” Shirk said. “And then we started following [those] stores and got super interested in how to start an online store.”

Shirk and her friends took an independent study course in the fashion and retail studies program, during which they learned what it takes to own and operate an online store.

The brand they had in mind was trendy for a clientele of young professionals, and they wanted to stick to an affordable price point, Shirk said.

The faculty advisers for the independent study were Wendy Goldstein, senior lecturer in the fashion and retail studies program, and Alexandra Suer, lecturer in the fashion and retail studies program. Shirk now considers these women her mentors.

Clothing pieces for sale on display in Shirk’s store, VAMP Official in the Short North. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Shirk

Goldstein said Shirk is extremely motivated, the kind of student who wastes no time in pursuing ideas. For example, Goldstein said if you asked Shirk to do research on which bank she should open a checking account with, “in a week she would’ve come back having contacted four or six banks and having made a decision and opened an account.”

Sunglasses for sale on display in Shirk’s store, VAMP Official in the Short North. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Shirk

As Shirk’s friends were enrolling in graduate school, she created the store a couple weeks after graduating, along with starting a full-time job at an architecture firm. She then started participating in the Sunlight and Moonlight markets downtown, which feature pop-up shops and a variety of vendors.

After about a year of having the online store and participating in pop-up shops, Shirk started looking around for a possible storefront.

“I would drive through [Short North] –– because I lived downtown –– on my way home and I basically would look for little spaces with paper on the windows and I ended up finding this one kind of out of nowhere because it wasn’t listed,” Shirk said.

The owner of the retail location Shirk had her eye on only wanted to lease for a year because of future renovations, which was perfect for Shirk, who was wary about the risks of signing a longer lease as a new business.

She quit her job and signed the lease the next day.

Shirk opened the current location of VAMP Official on July 15. “It’s still crazy to me. It feels like it’s a dream,” Shirk said.

Though she’s following her passion, Shirk said owning a business is more work than she imagined.

Goldstein said the whole experience was a reality check for Shirk, but “she’s grown to the next step and she’s really starting to work on her business more than in her business.”

Shirk said as a young woman, she’s not always taken seriously as a businessperson, but Goldstein believes Shirk handles any challenge she faces well.

“She just hits everything head-on. When there’s something to learn or something new that needs to happen, she’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to figure it out,’” Goldstein said.

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