Stepping into the Rat on Bull is like stepping into a breath of fresh air for a fashion student. The shop is beautifully curated, exuding excitement and the promise of something new from every direction. This locally-owned boutique is a favorite of mine here in Savannah, so I sat down with one of the co-owners, Stephen White, to pick his brain about graduating from SCAD, becoming an entrepreneur and operating a business.
The Rat opened in July of 2018, co-founded by Stephen White, Courtney Broaden and Tony Thomas. Courtney and Stephen are both graduates of SCAD’s Graduate programs, while Tony is an Army veteran. These backgrounds are a central focus of the Rat, having a huge impact on the way they operate their business.
The origin story of the Rat begins with Stephen. Originally an architect, he felt pigeonholed in the industry and began searching for a graduate program teaching Design Management. Lucky for us, SCAD was his choice. After graduation, he accepted a position within L’Oreal, working for Kiehl’s. However, White is an entrepreneur at heart and a corporate environment just wasn’t enough. After White moved back to Savannah, the Rat on Bull was born. It features a gorgeous interior designed by Courtney, an ever-changing sign outside the shop curated by Stephen and a wide selection of products ranging anywhere from beauty and grooming products to funky loafers designed by a pair of ex-lawyers.
One of White’s favorite parts about the Rat is their love and support for locally made and small-batch products. Each product found within the Rat— from their skincare products to accessories like bow ties made of feathers, or even their men’s t-shirts— is made in the United States. This is a must for any product sold in the Rat, which prides itself on following a set of strict guidelines for their product quality and quantity.
Because Savannah is what White calls an “experimental market” the owners have had room to play around with their products and ideas. For many tourists, they find a piece of Savannah within the Rat that’s more than just one of those Savannah, Georgia shirts. And for locals, the Rat is a new chance to display art and showcase local talent in a more casual environment. It’s also given Stephen, Courtney and Tony a chance to showcase their vision and even start an exciting new venture, product development, under the Rat label. Their new in-house candle line will soon be followed by custom stationery, a design line and even custom jackets hand-painted by a local artist. The Rat has given the three a chance to “have their own voice.”
When asked about the entrepreneurial side of the Rat, Stephen can’t stress enough how important it is to not give up. Many students graduate with all these crazy, beautiful, exciting ideas in their minds and sketchbooks, but never bring it to fruition. To that, Stephen smiles and shakes his head. “Do it! Go for it! But do it smart.” He advises soon-to-be-graduating students interested in an entrepreneurial career to do their research. Don’t just focus on the design side— the business side is vital to the success of any startup. And last, but not at all least, “Know you’re going to fail. Better ideas always come out of failure.”
Something I’ve always been curious about is how small businesses mark their successes and failures. Laughing, Steven admits, “Allowing me to do the accounting has been our biggest failure.” In all seriousness, the Rat’s biggest failures, in Steven’s words, have come from a lack of involvement. In the small business community, being at the forefront of events is vital to the promotion of any business. When asked what the “key to success” of the Rat has been, Stephen smiles and says, “I think our key successes have been all about community.”
Savannah is one of those places where a person can visit and instantly feel welcome like you’re a part of something greater that’s going on within the city and within the inhabitants. Maybe it’s a mix of the Southern hospitality and Spanish moss or those gorgeous old cobblestone streets and good food. Whatever it is, it’s become the home for the Rat on Bull. And we are so glad it’s here.