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Vivien and Fernanda Bohme, two sisters from Rio de Janeiro, first opened a temporary Bohme Boutique in Fashion Place Mall for the holidays in 2007. They were aiming to sell clothing around the idea of "sexy modesty" aimed at Mormon women. "When we opened our shop, everybody but Mormons came, a Playboy bunny came, all sorts of dancers," Vivien Bohme said. "Of course, LDS people would come, but it wasn't enough."

They had the sexy part down, but the rest of the concept wasn't working. That's when the Bohme sisters noticed when they displayed denim, "it would fly out of the store," so they adjusted their strategy to focus on sexy modest denims and tees.

The next fall, they opened a store in Orem's University Mall, but ran into financial problems while remodeling the space. Due to bad real-estate investments, Vivien filed for bankruptcy. Fernanda told her sister: "Start praying. We need a credit card. This was in 2008, and people weren't giving out $20,000 credit cards."

The prayers must have worked, because the sisters received $20,000 from American Express, leading to the opening of their store on Sept. 1, 2008. At the opening, they didn't even have a dime in the till to make change.

"We were the most underfunded, in-debt boutique to open," said Vivien, who discovered during the fall that she was pregnant with her fifth child.

"I remember all my competitors driving Mercedes, and we were sticking an 8-foot ladder into a Honda Accord with all the wood and lumber. We were in the dead end of the mall," said Vivien, recalling how they used the same shirt over and over for wall displays, because that's all they had. "Within three months, we were No. 1 in sales per square foot in that mall."

They ended the year with $250,000 in revenue and decided to expand to pay off Vivien's bad investments. "Even though I was so far in debt, and hadn't mastered the concept, I had to grow."

In June 2009, they opened another store at Salt Lake City's The Gateway, in a tucked-away, long-vacant spot behind the escalator. The sisters remodeled the space themselves, as they didn't have funds to hire a construction crew. Vivien stopped work one night to go to the hospital to deliver her baby.

While she was in the hospital, Fernanda opened the store, without the funds to hire employees. ("I get out of the hospital with my husband and baby, we go by UPS to get a computer, and I go straight to the store and set it up.") "We're self-funded," Vivien explained. "Bootstrap is our middle name."

In 2010, the sisters hired help with the business side, opened offices and a warehouse, to end the year with five stores. Last year, the chain opened a store in Sandy's South Towne Center, as well as stores in Colorado, South Dakota, Nevada, Arizona and two in Idaho. The company plans to open 28 more stores by 2014.

About that recession? "We haven't felt it," Vivien said. "Here's why: We don't pretend to shove fashion down people's throats. We watch everything that Utah women wear, then we go out and try to get the look for less. If we buy something that's cute, but won't get a girl noticed, we won't buy it."

She's tired of hearing that Utah women aren't fashionable. "Utah has a fashion scene of its own. It's not that we're behind. We're different, I feel," she said. "We're more conservative, like the Midwest, with a flair."; —

Bohme Boutique goes bright for spring