Debra Carrington showcases emerging fashion designers and local artists and has also added same-sex wedding attire to the store’s bridal collection.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRACY NGUYEN
Every year, as the days grow long and the nights wax warm and heavy, coastal hamlets and resort enclaves beckon to concrete-weary city folk in search of a summer reprieve. For some, it’s the historic lighthouses and cobblestone streets in Nantucket. Others find a few months of bliss in the Hamptons’ tony social scene or downing frozen bananas on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. For more than a century, these “summer colonies” have become the backdrop for a season of sandy picnics, inspiring vistas, cool sea breezes, and sophisticated shopping and dining.
Everything Debra Carrington loves.
The owner and founder of Summer Colony Living, a beautifully curated boutique featuring everything from apparel and accessories to homewares and art, has always been drawn to the casual luxury of these resort retreats, despite her Midwest upbringing. Originally from Gary, Indiana, Carrington grew up far from the cast of summer colony characters most of us know by name — but Miller Beach, a 5-mile stretch of preserved, sandy dunes that hugs Lake Michigan’s idyllic shoreline, was practically in her backyard.
“I still have my home there,” she says. “I’m a nature girl at heart. I love beaches and mountains and all things resort. That’s what draws me to northwest Indiana, and that’s what draws me to the desert.” Here, she says, it feels like summer all year long — and resort living comes easy, with posh properties sprinkled from one end of the valley to the other.
“At that time, there were a lot of ethnic shows on television featuring Black and minority actors, but they didn’t have the merchandise programs to go along with that,” she explains. To help fill this void, she started a company that focused on licensed merchandise deals for studios, corporate brands, and celebrities.
As much as Carrington enjoyed managing diversity-based licensing programs for major companies like Paramount Pictures and Sony, she really wanted to launch a lifestyle brand of her own — more specifically, a platform for the brands that people don’t know about. After all, as a consumer, she herself always shied away from big names, gravitating instead toward smaller boutiques and shops. “I’m inspired by emerging designers,” she explains, “and at Summer Colony Living, we’re focused on diverse, emerging creatives from around the world,” from London to New York, South Africa to South Korea, Kenya to Brazil, Detroit to Atlanta.
What began as a small pop-up in 2017 and has since expanded to two locations: a 3,500-square-foot space on El Paseo and another in The Gardens. Strategically, she started with fashion (“because everybody wears clothes”), but the ultimate goal has always been to create an all-encompassing lifestyle brand around resort living.
“We moved into custom bridal gowns a couple years ago,” she says, “and it’s been a great complement.” It’s also opened new ways to invest in the LGBTQ community. As a Black female entrepreneur, Carrington values diversity and inclusion as much as she does quality when it comes to growing her business and plans on introducing same-sex wedding attire into Summer Colony Living’s bridal collection in addition to partnering with the National Gay Wedding Association.
“Whether they are looking for something for their home or they’re getting married, even from a fashion perspective, we have a great way of taking people outside their norm and showing them things that they wouldn’t necessarily think about.”
Sort of like beach towns in the Midwest.
“I want to be the Coachella Valley brand that people come to for things that are unique and different.”