Leilani Smith makes prom dreams come true

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Missouri Life magazine.

For dozens of young women in the Sikeston area, the prom experience begins in Leilani Smith’s garage.

The Sikeston High School senior operates Leilani’s Dream Dresses, a business she created to meet a need she first noticed when she was in the sixth grade. Leilani was inspired by a friend who couldn’t afford a dress for the junior high dance.

“She just felt so bad about herself, felt so sad, felt ugly,” Leilani says. “But it wasn’t her fault, and she couldn’t afford a dress because she was only thirteen or fourteen.”

Leilani went into business at age twelve and describes Leilani’s Dream Dresses as a “dress rental business for girls to get a prom dress at an affordable price. They give me $100 and when they return the dress to me, I will give them back $20.”

Leilani Smith takes over her family’s garage every spring and transforms it into Leilani’s Dream Dresses, a prom dress boutique. Leilani manages all aspects of her business, but her mother and grandmother help out by setting appointments and making temporary alterations to the dresses. Photo—Nicole Logan

The seasonal business runs from the first week of March through the end of May and is based in a garage-turned-boutique that Leilani decorates with a new theme each year. In 2022, the theme is love and loving yourself.

“There are red hearts everywhere!” she says.

There are currently about two hundred dresses, ranging in size from 00 to 24, in her inventory. Leilani purchases most of the dresses brand new but also receives donations of once-worn dresses. Leilani’s customers come from Sikeston and nearby towns in Missouri and Illinois. That means there are a lot of proms to juggle, but she is careful that her customers never face an embarrassing situation.

“I keep a calendar with all their prom dates, and we never let girls from the same school rent the same dress, because I do have duplicates in different sizes.”

She markets her business through Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat and sends flyers to area schools.

“It helps that I’m in high school now and can see the girls who need the help, who want to go to prom but can’t necessarily afford it,” she says. “I can help them.”

Her giving spirit and entrepreneurial bent isn’t lost on her teachers at Sikeston High. One of them, marketing teacher Ryan Lindsey, appreciates how Leilani built a business that intertwines with her personal values.

“She enters the classroom, smiles, and offers some sort of positive affirmation every single day,” he says. “This sort of personality and ability to command a room is extremely rare. Her entrepreneurial mindset has created a successful business that solves a problem and is representative of her personality in all aspects of its mission and goals.”

Although the business could be personally lucrative for Leilani, she chooses to give to her community instead.

“I donate most of the money I get,” she says. “I always have to buy new dresses, but the rest goes to the Bulldog Pantry in Sikeston, which gives food, clothing, and personal items to the children in our community.”

That generosity extends to her customers and if a student can’t afford the $100 prom dress rental, she will rent them a dress for free.

After high school, Leilani is heading to Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau to study nursing, but she plans to keep Leilani’s Dream Dresses going.

“That’s only thirty minutes away,” she says. “So I will still do my business in spring here in Sikeston.”

Leilani’s life will change as she transitions from high school to college, but her mission for Leilani’s Dream Dresses is locked in: “I want all girls to feel they are beautiful and can go to prom at an affordable price.” Keep up with Leilani’s boutique business at Facebook.com/drmgrls19