Going Places

A love of fashion, travel and empowering others has created a mission-driven business with a sense of style

Tanya Carnahan has always been worldly.

The daughter of globetrotting missionaries, Tanya was born in Morocco and lived in six countries by the time she was a teenager.

Eventually, things settled down and Tanya started a family of her own in the outskirts of Seattle.

Life was good. Then — inexplicably — her family, including her newborn son, started getting sick. Tanya and her husband were coughing, wheezing, and even experiencing bouts of memory loss. The baby suffered from much of the same, but also sudden nosebleeds.

Something wasn’t right. An investigation showed their house was infested with mold. The family pediatrician suggested a drier climate would help the baby’s health, casually suggesting someplace like Phoenix or Boise.

Boise? Tanya was intrigued. “Even after just a few days of visiting, we were all feeling better. Especially the baby,” she says.

StyleSpyGirl Shopping Tours founder Tanya Carnahan

Within weeks, the family had moved. Tanya fell in love with Boise, but missed the some of the big city amenities.

“I really missed Nordstrom,” Tanya says. “I loved all the beautiful things. It was definitely my comfort zone.”

To help adapt to her new surroundings, Tanya decided to go back to the comfort of fashion, launching StyleSpyGirl, a blog that covers the best of Boise fashion. “My goal is to always be positive.”

The blog was a hit, quickly opening new opportunities. First she was asked to cover fashion trends for KTVB and the Idaho Statesman, then she took on a role as a personal shopper.

“In Hollywood, a personal shopper gets handed a credit card and buys everything,” she explains. “In Boise, it means you help with closet re-dos and take people shopping.”

Business was good. More importantly, it allowed her to get back to living the values that were instilled in her as a child.

“My whole life I’ve had a heart for helping women,” Tanya says. “In so much of the world, women bear the brunt of poverty, crime and war. Even in rich countries, it’s women that are constantly compared to magazine models and a level of perfection that is completely unattainable. We’re so hard on ourselves.”

She wanted to do something about it. And she felt she was, by being a positive force in women’s lives — helping them look and feel better.

But she suspected she could do more. And then it hit her: “I had an epiphany. I realized that as a fashion journalist, I needed to be on the forefront of what’s happening in the greater fashion world, translating what I saw for the Boise audience. That means going to fashion weeks in different cities. But I also realized I didn’t want to go by myself.”

The solution? StyleSpyGirl Shopping Tours, guided fashion tours for women to far-flung industry events, mega-malls and even small, out-of-the-way, under-the-radar destinations. “I had the audience. I saw the need. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I can do that.’”

StyleSpyGirl handles all the details: transportation, VIP tickets to special events, and even a photographer to document the whole experience. “Everybody wants to look great on Facebook and Instagram,” she says. “It’s a very social experience and we want others who can’t come along with us to be able to follow along.”

It’s a different experience than the fashion world is accustomed to.

“Fashion bloggers go to fashion weeks with their photographers, but it’s very solitary and it’s very focused on the blogger,” she says. “We’re focused on all the women, not just me.”

Tanya expects the tours (a trip to Las Vegas is up next) will be a regular event for some women and a once-in-a-lifetime trip for others.

“The amazing thing is to see the friendships that develop,” Tanya says. “Shopping is a point of connection, but the relationships go much deeper. We even had experienced business women mentoring younger women on the trip. The group experience is really enriching. It was great to see.”

It’s all fun. But it’s not easy. Tanya has had to teach herself everything.

“There’s the travel agent model and the tour guide model and the personal shopper model, but I’m the first to do all three. The biggest challenge is not having anyone else’s footprints to follow in.”

The most important part of her work, according to Tanya, is her focus on the positive and the beauty inside of every woman.

StyleSpyGirl Shopping Tours founder Tanya Carnahan with customer

“When I’m shopping with a woman I’m teaching her not to focus on her flaws or try to hide her flaws,” she says. “When you’re dressing for your attributes it makes you so much happier.”

Photography by the magnanimous Mike Kerby of c308 Marketing.