The Courageous and Confident Club store is expanding

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ASBURY PARK – Marlene Swenson, owner of the Courageous and Confident Club on Cookman Avenue, has a reason why she named her women’s clothing store that name. She believes that women should believe in themselves and express their confidence through their own fashion sense.

“In today’s society, I think women shouldn’t be afraid to come forward,” Swenson said. “We have to challenge tradition and what is expected of us as individuals. I’m all about female empowerment.

Swenson grew up in the middle-class suburbs and never dreamed of being an entrepreneur.

“I’m from North Edison and went to John P. Stevens High School as a teenager,” Swenson said. “I was an average student, but I was always a hard worker, because I worked as soon as I had my papers.

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“My first job was at a shoe store and I worked on commission,” she said. “I remember my friends were making a lot less money than me at that time and I felt like that was the start of my entrepreneurial spirit and my first experience with something that made me happy.

“I really enjoyed earning extra money, so I didn’t mind putting shoes on and taking them off other people’s feet,” Swenson said. “Somewhere inside I had this touch of independence, but it hadn’t appeared yet. I never had a problem going to work and doing my tasks because I had the motivation and I knew what was expected of me, so I did it. It just came naturally to me.”

Swenson majored in computer science at Rutgers University. Swenson admits it wasn’t entirely her decision to choose this major, as her parents told her it held promise in the job market.

“Your parents try to show you the right way when you’re younger,” Swenson said. “My parents brought me into this workspace and after graduating from Rutgers I got a job in this field, but I hated it. I didn’t really enjoy it and I didn’t have to loved everything. There was nothing that intrigued me and I’m not the kind of person you can keep behind a desk. It was too regimented for me.

“I ended up quitting that job after just eight months,” Swenson said. “I then got into off-site bartending and catering and really enjoyed that. It was really tough at times, but I really enjoyed interacting with people and got to travel a lot.

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A chance encounter

Although Swenson was happy and doing something she loved, a chance encounter with a client would change her fate and the future of her career.

“Our catering department hosted an event for a major pharmaceutical company at the time,” Swenson said. “The company itself was merging with a second company, so the name was also changing. My staff and I served lunch to those present at the meeting and I was there to oversee everything.

“One of the attendees at the event had a brother-in-law who was having surgery at the time and he asked me to keep his cell phone on because the reception in the main room was poor,” Swenson said. “My job was to let him know when the call finally came in regarding the outcome of his brother-in-law’s surgery. I did and the gentleman approached me after the event ended and told me the reason for the merge. He told me he was going to be the vice president for medical education. He basically wanted to offer me a job, but unfortunately I had no experience in this field, but he assured me that he would train me.

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Although Swenson knew nothing of the job offered to her, her instincts and work ethic kicked in and she jumped at the chance to pursue this new career path.

“I’ve worked with metabolism-focused drugs,” Swenson said. “Specifically, I was dealing with things like diabetes and weight loss. At one point, our company was introducing a new diabetes drug, so I was traveling around the world and publicizing these medicines and how they could help those in need.

“I worked at this job for 15 years and at that time I had just gotten engaged to my husband,” Swenson said. “On September 11, 2001, my husband was working at the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. Fortunately, he got out of the tower before it collapsed. Everything was put into perspective for me after that and I decided I wanted to be home more. I really enjoyed my life and my husband’s life even more after this happened, so I decided to spend more time being with him.

Swenson stopped traveling and took a break from his work schedule. She devoted more time to her husband and family. Swenson hit another fork in the road, however, when she began to experience physical pain in her back.

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“I was drying my hair one day and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my lower back, which started to radiate down my leg,” Swenson said. “Honestly, I felt like I was going to pass out from the pain. I saw an orthopedic surgeon and found out I needed back surgery because of my sciatic nerve. By Afterwards, my employer wouldn’t allow me to come back due to a liability issue related to a potential workplace injury, so I ended up quitting and was home for a while.

“I had worked all my life and now I was incapacitated,” Swenson said. “Although I suffered emotionally and physically for some time, I refused to give up and began a healing process which coincided with starting my own business. I couldn’t wear any denim because that I had nerve damage in my right leg. It was around this time that I started wearing very soft leggings because they eased the pain. After being so happy with the feel of these clothes, I decided to start selling them professionally.

“I had a lot more freedom”

In 2016, Swenson started as an online-only business and initially purchased its product through a wholesaler, who dictated the style and color of the item as well as the selling price. After doing this for four years, Swenson opened his own boutique in the Shoppes at the Arcade in Asbury Park in 2020, Courageous and Confident Club.

“I absolutely loved it,” Swenson said. “I could now choose the type of clothes I wanted to order, as well as the style and color of those clothes. I had a lot more freedom in my work and everything suited my own style and sense of fashion. I could feel the entrepreneurial spirit and hard work ethic as a youngster taking shape. I had officially established myself as a successful business owner.

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Swenson’s business serves as a women’s boutique that sells all designer women’s clothing and accessories.

“Everything here in the store is new and trendy,” Swenson said. “There’s usually a color for every season and everything is geared towards women. The clothes have their own touch and feel and are so authentic that people who walk into the store to touch them can’t even believe the quality.

Swenson is looking to continue to grow the business as she has been through a lot in her life and career to get to where she is thus far.

“I’m very confident in this business and the direction it’s taking,” Swenson said. “Maybe one day we’ll be in our own shop just off Cookman Avenue.”

Brave and Confident Club

Owner: Marlene Swenson

Location: 658 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park

Call: 732-236-4159

Website: www.courageousandconfidentclub.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily