Barbara Graves: Never Out of Fashion

From early childhood it was clear Barbara Graves was going to be an industrious woman. In true entrepreneur fashion, she started her first business at age nine selling handmade, woven potholders door-to-door. “I had a lot of fun doing it, and I also sold them all,” she said. “I was a child who saved my money and then set it aside because I wanted things. We were a family of six and of modest resources, so if I wanted something, I saved for it.” The sales bug had bitten her.

Fast-forward roughly 16 years to 1973, and Graves opened the doors to Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions, a 1,200-square-foot store on the lower level of the Colony West Shopping Center. By 1975, when she was only 25, her business had expanded to two locations, she was pregnant with her second son, Robb, and she was going through a divorce. “To say the first three years were difficult would be an understatement,” said Graves.

But she made it. Now, almost four decades later, Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions — prominently located in Breckenridge Village — is a one-stop shop for lingerie and pajamas, loungewear, swimwear (year-round) and dresses. The boutique also carries a complete line of mastectomy products, overseen by trained, certified fitters. Graves said they opened the mastectomy department during the first year of business in response to a friend who had undergone a breast surgery and could not find breast forms.

Graves is proud that BGIF is among one of the original sponsors of the Susan G. Komen Arkansas Race for the Cure. She currently serves on the executive committee of Baptist Health Systems and the Centennial Bank board, and she’s chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Giving back to the community that has given me so much has been a genuine pleasure,” she said.

One of the most “fun” things BGIF is involved in, says Graves, is the annual Passion for Fashion benefiting Arkansas Repertory Theatre. This is the fifth year of the event, and as a longtime supporter of The Rep, you can bet Graves and her boutique are on board. “The Rep has always been close to my heart, and being able to combine fashion with our passion has been rewarding—to us personally, and to them financially,” she said. “Nicole Capri [associate artist and director of education at The Rep] always does an awesome job weaving entertainment around the fashion segments. The models are gorgeous, and the audience is always a fashion show unto itself.”

Passion for Fashion will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 14. Tickets are $75 per person and include champagne, wine and a cocktail buffet by Cajun’s Wharf, Capers and Copper Grill. A Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions style show—featuring sleepwear, loungewear, swimwear and sundresses—will follow, along with entertainment by “Mr. Happy.”


Family? Met my second husband, Barry McDaniel, on a blind date arranged by his cousin, Gary. At the time, Barry lived in Sandusky, Ohio. We had a very short long-distance romance and were married on Petit Jean Mountain in August 1977. I moved my two sons [Sean and Robb], the dog and cat to Sandusky and spent the next two years commuting to oversee my business. In 1979, we moved back to Arkansas. Our first grandson was born in January, and our second is due in July. It has been a blessing to keep baby Elias every Wednesday while his mother, Lori, has been going to school to receive her master’s degree. Family is very special to me, and I am proud that both sons and their families live in Little Rock. Barry is a retired financial advisor from Morgan Stanley. He’s an avid collector of old radios, goes by the name “Mr. Wonderful,” and has a great eye for vintage jewelry.

Speaking of vintage, we hear you collect Bakelite jewelry? Barry and I love art deco. He collects old radios, and would find fabulous Bakelite pieces. Like all women, I’ve always liked pretty jewelry, and I really like vintage. I have Bakelite pins, as well as bracelets, a few necklaces and earrings. I also have a fabulous purse with a Bakelite handle. I joke now that I’m a vintage who likes to wear vintage! I like pins because I wear jackets so much, and they’re nice with pins on them. The one in the photo is a ’50s pin with cherries, and when I wear it I think, ‘Life is a bowl of cherries.’

Advice for up-and-coming professional women? Choose carefully, especially if you’re a working mother. It’s ok to say “no.” Most of my nonprofit work began when my children were both in school. Just because it is light outside doesn’t mean dawn is imminent. Things will go wrong, and always when you least expect or want it to. My first years of business were devoted to the business and to my family. Community commitments came later.
Passion for Fashion
When: 6:30 p.m., Monday, June 14
Where: The Rep, 601 Main St.
Tickets: $75 per person
Info: Bethany Hilkert, 378-0445, Ext. 203, or

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