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How an Entrepreneur-Turned-Pole Dancing Instructor Shops

Colleen, 35, co-owns a graphic design company in addition to running an annual pole dancing conference.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email alanna@racked.com.

This week, we spoke with Colleen, 35, who lives in DC and has a unique career path that we’ll let her explain.


What’s your job?

I have a couple of jobs! I’m an entrepreneur, and there's always a lot going on. I’m a co-owner in a graphic design company, so I've been doing that for almost 18 years. And a few years ago I purchased an event for pole dancing and the pole fitness community. It’s an annual conference, we get about 750 people every year. On the side I teach pole dancing, contortion — and I'm a competitive pole dancer. So a lot of jobs.

How did you get into that?

Totally randomly! I had a friend who was like, “I saw this class and do you want to try it?” And she was actually okay and I really sucked, and we just kept going. It was like that thing we did together and she got bored and I didn’t. That was kind of that!

What’s your annual salary and other sources of income?

I make $96,000 a year from my graphic design business. For the teaching and competing... I don’t think I even break $10,000. It’s not particularly lucrative. For the event, we’re working on making it profitable.

How much do you spend on rent/housing?

I own my house, and the mortgage is $2,800 a month.

How much closet space do you have?

It’s actually not that much! We live in a row house and our house is only 1,400 square feet, so it’s pretty small. Everything just folds up really nice. It’s really eclectic. There are things from high school and some new things. I'm constantly going through the closet because we have so little space.

Where does the bulk of your money go?

Travel. My husband and I do a lot of international travel. And then most of it goes into all of my businesses, just trying to reinvest. We have a pretty good slush fund — if you want to call it that — in terms of what we spend on. We just booked a trip for the end of the year to Nepal. It should be very fun.

How much do you put toward your savings each month, if at all?

I do put quite a lot of money away. Over the past few years, the graphic design industry has really changed. We do a lot of work with federal government contractors, and that business has completely changed. So I'm trying to put away between $1,500 and $2,000 a month.

How do you buy clothes for two very different jobs?

Carefully! Because I'm in creative industries, I'm always looking to pick up interesting pieces. I don’t have a go-to store. Especially if we’re traveling, I'm always trying to see what’s the cool thing from here — jewelry, shoes, whatever. For my “day job” my style is kind of Mad Men-era sexy secretary, so it’s body-conscious stuff but still on the conservative side because we do work with a lot of contractors. And for pole dancing, I mostly shop at retailers in the community to support them, and it’s just completely ridiculous colorful leggings and prints and just all that stuff.

Was it easy to buy clothes when you started with pole dancing, or would you just wear regular workout clothes?

I really had no idea what to wear! The more you progress, the more you realize you need a lot of skin-cut clothes. I would just buy stuff from Target. And it wasn’t cute — now there's more cute stuff — but it was just very utilitarian, whatever sports bra you could find. And you just want to be in your sports bra and shorts most of the time until you advance. So it almost is like a fashion show in every class where people are like, “This is my cute top, cute whatever.” I really wanted to wear stuff that was cute, but I wasn’t going to have a boob accidentally pop out.

Do you shop online or in person? Or a mix of both?

It’s definitely a mix. The more pole dancing I do, the more I become less of a standard size. So I have really big shoulders for most women, and I have a really tiny waist. So it’s harder and harder to buy dresses. For my day job, I pretty much always have to buy in person because I’m not sure how things are going to fit. Basically if it doesn’t have spandex in it, then it’s not going to fit! For pole dancing, I know my size for most of the retailers, so I can more easily buy those online.

For your day job, where do you normally shop?

Little bit of everywhere. I get staples from places like Banana Republic. I really like the dresses at BCBG, they have a lot of really cute stuff. There's this smaller retailer called Betty Page. They have all of the Mad Men-era vintage look, but new fabrics.

For pole dancing, what stores or homegrown designers do you buy from in the community?

We do have some specific to the pole dancing community. So the biggest company is called Bad Kitty. All the fabric is moisture-wicking, which is really important — I sweat a lot in class. The styles are really cute. So they're probably the biggest small retailer. Then we have even smaller ones — Artista, Grava. My husband is actually a seamstress! A seamster? He makes all my costumes for competition things. So it’s a mix — if I see something that I really want or want it differently, I’ll ask him to make it.

Photo: Betty Page

How does your approach to shopping compare to your parents’ or family’s approach to shopping? Do you think you spend more or less?

I definitely think the idea of the curated image has become more important, particularly with social media. I think my parents were much more utilitarian. Maybe they thought about what to wear for that once-a-year family wedding. But otherwise, they didn’t necessarily care how they looked from day to day. Whereas now I really think about how the way I look is going to be read, in terms of social media and business.

Where did your family shop when you were younger?

My parents divorced, and when my mom and I left my dad there was no money. So we were hardcore thrift store shoppers. I think once I could afford regular stores and malls, that really helped me appreciate thrift stores because you could get unique stuff. You're not wearing the same thing. I had an experience in high school where I was so excited — we went to the mall once so I could get a dress to prom, and there's another girl wearing my dress. And I was like, “Well, this sucks. I should have just gone to a thrift store and gotten something really unique.”

What is the thing you find missing from the shopping experience or feel left out of?

The idea of a completely disposable wardrobe is frustrating to me on so many levels. You go to a place like Forever 21 — that’s the low end of the high street — and you're buying stuff for $5 because it’s only going to last a month. Having done a lot of traveling, we’ve seen where the clothes wind up. I just think there could be better emphasis on quality and craftsmanship, and then people would pay more for things that could last a few years as opposed to everything being disposable. I still have clothes from high school that I wear because things were made better back then.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.