COLUMBIA, S.C. (courtesy columbiasc.edu) — As an 18-year-old girl, with intentions to move back down South for college after a recent relocation to Fairfield, OH, Lori Allen had a special feeling that Columbia College was for her. You know her as Lori Allen: bridal couture expert with over 40 years of experience and star of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta. However, long before she was a famed fashion icon and television personality, Lori Allen was an aspiring college student chasing her life-long dream of owning her own business. When touring colleges – and she toured many – Columbia College stood out to her because of the smaller class sizes, faculty that was more involved with the campus community, and the ingenuity of the women she met while visiting. During her years at Columbia College, Lori loved her time living and making memories with women who are still in her life today, women who have supported her throughout her journey, and women whose friendships have remained constant throughout the years. Lori attended Columbia College, and she never looked back.
For as long as she can remember, Lori has had a dream of owning her own business, and Columbia College offered her the opportunity to acquire a quality Business education and the added benefit of enrolling in a few Fashion Merchandising courses at the neighboring campus, the University of South Carolina. This allowed her to hone her focus during her time in undergrad. Just two weeks after her graduation from Columbia College, Lori had the knowledge and the confidence, with the help and support of her parents, to start her first bridal boutique and modern-day bridal empire. Lori opened the doors to Bridals by Lori, and she never looked back.
With 25 bridal gowns and a 1,000 square foot space, Lori would make history, but it would not come easily. During this time in her life Lori says she was, “Letting it (the business) bake like a cake in the oven….a slow-baking cake!” Lori says that she did not make money for quite a while, pouring every penny she made back into the business. Eventually, she remembers allowing herself to take home $100 per week as a “salary.” In just over 40 years in business, Bridals by Lori has outfitted over 450,000 brides, and Lori still contends that her favorite part of her job is the feeling she gets when she helps a bride find the dress of her dreams. Lori says that when a bride finds her perfect dress, everything changes: she stands differently, color rushes to her face, and many well up with tears of relief, tears of happiness, and tears of gratitude. That special feeling for brides is not unlike the feeling she experienced many years ago, searching for a college home. Like her brides, Lori immediately knew Columbia College was right for her. Lori held on to that special feeling, and she never looked back.
As a recently named Forbes “50 Over 50” Influential Woman, Lori wants to encourage current students that have a similar dream of starting a business to have an end goal, for that end goal will soon become a passion. She advises to gain as much knowledge as possible – Columbia College can help – and prepare to make informed decisions that will allow for success. After setting a goal to achieve and adequately preparing, be willing to start small and put in the hours of hard work. While working hard, stay focused and never give up. When one has a passion, there is never a day spent working. After all, look at Lori Allen. She attended Columbia College, and she never looked back.