Houston resident says yes to online dress business

Rich Shrum

Erin Bywaters has wrestled cancer to the mat. Twice.

“I had thyroid cancer at age 18, then developed breast cancer before I was 31,” she said, matter-of-factly, Wednesday morning.

Her business also has survived a lethal disease – COVID-19.

Bywaters, 38, is the owner of Isn’t She Lovely Cache, an online boutique dress store she launched in March from her Houston home. The e-shop, on its Facebook page, pledges to have “a dress for every body type and every occasion.” Catering to cancer survivors is a primary focus of Isn’t She Lovely.

Her e-business (isntshelovelycache.com) is a successor to, and variation of, the bricks-and-mortar store Bywaters and a partner launched in Peters Township in March 2019. That Valley Brook Road location specialized in dresses for formal events. Think wedding, prom, homecoming.

Twelve months later, however, the coronavirus hit Pennsylvania, devastating the store, which Bywaters ultimately decided to close in the spring of 2021.

“No one was going to formal events” – and buying formal dresses – Bywaters said, referring to business shutdowns during the early stages of the viral invasion, and public reluctance to attend gatherings after that. Rental costs were hitting the owners as well.

That closure, however, eventually turned into a pause for Isn’t She Lovely – thanks to a serendipitous set of circumstances.

The bricks-and-mortar store was a second job for Bywaters, who had 15 years of corporate experience at Southpointe. Then eight months ago, just before Thanksgiving, she was among a group of employees who were laid off by their company.

“That was a hard blow for me and my family,” said Bywaters, who has an 8-year-old son, Cole. Yet she fended off that blow, using it as motivation to revive Isn’t She Lovely Cache as an online operation.

“I decided I wanted to do more than what I was doing in the corporate world, and I wanted to help people who are stricken with cancer,” she said. So Bywaters enrolled in online courses on how to build a boutique business online.

“I really saw a need for it, the way the world was moving to online shopping and such.”

The e-store opened four months ago, and Bywaters is pleased with how it has been received. “We’ve had a few hiccups along the road, but we’ve been more successful” than the Shops Along the Trail location.

She has a collection devoted to breast cancer survivors, which she said “allows them to choose a dress they will feel comfortable and confident in after cancer surgeries and reconstructive surgery.” Bywaters has named the dresses after breast cancer survivors and those who succumbed to the disease.

Isn’t She Lovely also donates to a charity, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. A customer does not have pay more than what she owes for a dress, but if she is willing, Bywaters gives her the option to round up to the next dollar or add an amount they choose.

At some point, and perhaps soon, customers may have the opportunity to say yes to more than the dress. Bywaters acknowledged that she plans to expand offerings to graphic T-shirts and other accessories. Oh, and if the opportunity is promising, she may return to bricks and mortar.

“That’s not off the table, but I will definitely stay online.

“Now that we’re online, it’s super exciting. We can reach so many more people, and not just in the local area but across the country.”