“This Wild Child’s Wildest Dreams – And the Risks I’ve Taken to Follow Them.”
Not too long after graduating Parsons and working in the fashion industry for several years, I decided to take a leap of faith: I cashed in my 401K, twenty grand, and put all of my money into starting my own business.
Taking things into my own hands was a dream come true, but it wasn’t by any means a smooth or easy ride. I began making textiles and pillows, designing, stitching, and running operations out of my loft on Grand Street in Soho. When I could finally afford to, I brought on another woman and, in my home, we worked side-by-side doing the sewing of every single one of the products in our orders. I developed great buyer relationships and landed a couple big accounts selling to Neiman Marcus and Barneys. I had just received that ever-memorable first big check. Being an entrepreneur was wonderful.
Then on September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers fell. Downtown New York was covered in smoggy clouds of debris and the malaise of unexpected vulnerability. It was a painful time.
Separately, the city’s industries were thrown off kilter, which offered its own set of confusions. The design fairs were cancelled and no trade people were coming to town; I was cutoff from my buyers.
Owning a store had never been a plan. But, walking back and forth so often from my place on Grand to my now-husband’s loft on Broadway, passing the “for rent” sign in the window of a former bike messenger service… it just felt too right. I couldn’t access my buyers, so I may as well sell direct to my consumers. I cashed that first big check and, reprising my earlier strategy, I went all in. On December 1, 2001, I moved in.
Back then, SoHo was a wild west for artists, creatives, and the retailers scattered between them. I never conceived of the possibility of having to ask anyone to do anything – I didn’t get permits, there was no formality. I didn’t even consider not doing whatever I needed to, or having to get permission for anything. I was able to make it completely my own.
This first storefront on Crosby, as the next step for my business, was an un-dreamt dream come beautifully true; I soon outgrew this space, thought, and moved just down the block. Eventually, I outgrew that space too, and moved my shop from that second tiny little spot to my current space at 27 Howard, again just down the street.
I was incredibly excited… And I was incredibly scared. With the required ten-year lease, I was signing on to a cumulative $3.3 million in rent cost alone. It’s worth saying again: I was INCREDIBLY scared.
The new store, which I’m still in today, is three times larger than the last footprint (with a way larger overhead to match) with a mezzanine level and full basement. I had taken out a studio space nearby to do my design and fabrication, but with this new space, I was able to bring all the operations under one roof. It was great for me, my staff, and for my customers and visitors.
Throughout the years, when people come by they have often expressed surprised at how different the space looks from the last time they were there. I’m constantly re-arranging and shifting the visual lexicon of the storefront. As I watched SoHo begin to change more and more quickly around me, I realized that opening up my space to other shops that had been out-priced from the neighborhood was one way to continue the dynamism of that visual lexicon.
Birdie and the Boy, a concept shop by Jessica Fish (a partner in the iconic Erica Tanov Shop on Elizabeth Street, which had lost its lease), was the first to come in and share my space as a “pop-up” shop-in-shop. (Now, this concept of “Guest Shops” has turned into a full business, in which I’m a partner. I’ll be sharing more about how I got officially involved in the retail-matchmaking platform Guesst in a future Design Talk, but in the meantime, click through to check it out!) With the always shifting merchandise and a rotating roster of designer brands to share my store with, people experienced – and still do experience –the shop as a discovery.
Like in the good old days, things are still wonderful. Being open to shifting my expectations of my space, my vision, my design and myself has proven invaluable. Through some major risks, a lot of creative problem solving, and a still-growing capacity for amenability, I’ve been able to follow my dreams.
Also like in the good old days, things can still be scary. I still consult my dad when I’m making big financial decisions about my company; I still have doubts and insecurities, and am still crutching on serendipity in things both business and personal. But exercising nimbleness in my decision-making, points of view, and responses to outcomes has gotten me here thus far. I’d say it’s fair to trust in that by now.
As told to Emily R. Pellerin
Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll address some of retail’s “deadliest sins” and the hopeful trends repenting for them.