Fashion for golfers and more

Girls Got Swing, Ohio

Irene Dooley was inspired to open her store, Girls Got Swing, when she had difficulty finding fashionable golf clothes in Northeast Ohio. Her shop provides high-quality, chic looks for not only golfers but also women who live active lifestyles. Dooley was kind enough to answer some questions for us about opening Girls Got Swing, being an entreprenuer and engaging with customers. See her answers below:


What made you decide to open your shop?

I took up golfing at the age of 45, and loved the game, but I didn't feel comfortable in the boxy, boyish-looking golf apparel available locally. When my husband and I traveled, I found stylish outfits and accessories at out-of-town golf resorts, so I knew they existed, but not in and around Cleveland.

It was clear that women's golf products were under-represented in this market, and I wanted to change that. Stop into a pro shop and you'll notice that the majority of space is dedicated to men's apparel, with a relatively small display of women's merchandise. That just didn't make sense, considering over six million golfers in the U.S. are women. After doing quite a bit of research on trends in women's golf, I decided to personally invest in creating a boutique for women golfers who, like me, were looking for clothing and accessories that were not only flattering and comfortable, but also fashionable.

When I first thought about opening Girls Got Swing, I imagined a shop somewhat smaller than the 1,700 square feet that we currently occupy at Beachcliff Market Square. But, at the time, there were quite a few empty storefronts available following the recession, so it gave me the opportunity to offer a wider variety of brands and products than I had originally planned. Before making the leap, though, I remember spending months visiting small, owner-operated businesses. It didn't matter what type of shop - whether it was a florist, a bakery, a hardware store. I simply wanted to get a sense of how they felt about running their own businesses, and about the ups and downs they experienced. At the same time, I'd make a purchase from each local business to support them. All the business owners were gracious in sharing their points of view, and it helped to hear their stories.

I believe that everything we do in life prepares us for what comes next. The first 20 years of my career, in the advertising industry, helped me quite a bit in making the transition into the world of retail. As a television commercial producer, working with props, wardrobe, set designers, budget allocation, and logistics, gave me a foundation that helped me to visualize and carry out the idea. But, ultimately, it took a team of family, friends, and hired professionals to help pull it all together. Building the space, sewing curtains for the dressing rooms, pressing/steaming/pricing and displaying the apparel, setting up the cash system...the list was long. Every venture requires the ability to seek out, and accept, the help of people who support your vision.


How do you decide what to carry in your store?

Every buying decision I make is part process and part instinct. It's important to constantly research the fashion trends, colors, fabrics and styles that shape each season. But, it's equally important to get to know and listen to every customer. Women will tell you what they like, and their dislikes, when it comes to apparel and accessories. It's my job to search for designs to accommodate a fairly diverse customer base. I tend to look for unique features that are eye-catching, yet functional. For example, we carry long sleeve pull-overs with mesh inserts running along the length of the arm to allow for airflow. It's a great look, but also serves a purpose. In warmer months, we carry tops that are made of a cooling fabric that responds to body heat. And we carry a full line of pants, capris, shorts and skorts (a combined skirt and short) with built in body shapers. They're extremely flattering on all body types, yet they're non-binding.

The brands I choose are of the highest quality, and the wrinkle-resistant, SPF 30+, moisture-wicking fabrics are excellent for vacationing. Many of our customers are nongolfers who love to travel and lead an active lifestyle. Even the outerwear that I bring in will have a fashion twist, such as an asymmetrical front zip, or a cuff that forms a peak beyond the wrist. Each unique feature is a determining factor in the buying process. I not only buy interesting pieces that I would personally wear, but also pieces that may not work for my body type, but that I would admire on someone else. This is important, because we carry sizes 0 to 22+. My goal is to provide flattering options for women of all shapes and sizes to wear on and off the course.


What advice do you give your customers in terms of finding the best golf clothing?

I always encourage our customers to try on the items they're interested in purchasing, even if they're familiar with a particular brand. Sizes vary between brands, and there are slight variances within a brand, depending on the design and the type of fabric.

I might suggest a pop of color, depending on a customer's skin tone, or that she try on a top with princess seams that flatter her shape. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing a customer's face light up when she tries on a new outfit, looks at herself in the mirror and genuinely loves what she sees in her own reflection. At that moment, I know that the time and energy spent searching for unique pieces is so worth it. It's a great feeling.

When working with customers who are new to the game of golf, I recommend they invest in a few essential pieces that meet the golf course dress code requirements, such as a specific length for shorts/skorts and the requisite collar or sleeve. Comfort is essential, not just from the standpoint of fit, but the feeling that the color, style, and/or pattern suits a customer's personality. Looking good boosts confidence, and women are inspired by apparel and accessories that let them express their individuality.


What advice would you give to someone starting a fashion-related/clothing/retail business in Cleveland?

Your first investment should be in spending time researching your concept. It's important to learn about your competitors, including similar online businesses. Ask yourself how you could differentiate yourself, and establish a brand identity that's uniquely yours. Research sales figures and trends in your product category through trade associations. Explore potential locations for your business, and find out the spending patterns of the residents in each area. And, talk to existing business owners to gain insight regarding their experiences. The time you spend in advance, will save you money in the long run.

Join local and national trade associations compatible with your product category. They offer a great deal of information, guidance and referrals specifically for startup businesses. They also offer annual conferences with excellent networking opportunities. And, when it comes to listening to advice, trust your instincts.


Learn more about Girls Got Swing at

Girls Got Swing is a member of The Keep It Local Project. The Keep It Local Project connects local people to local businesses in the Greater Cleveland area that drive our economy. To learn more, visit

Tuesday, April 10, 2018