Friday, April 27, 2012

Denim Day

I found out about Denim Day earlier this month when Cindy of Diva Designer Consignment posted information about it on the Listserv that we use for the Old Town Boutique District.  Cindy told us that the City of Alexandria had approved the wearing of denim that day for their employees as part of the initiative coming from the Department of Community and Human Services.  Since I am always passionate about drawing attention to women's issues and supporting local initiatives, I contacted the City to learn more.

I was delighted when I received contact back from the City and they offered to not only allow me to display items from the Messages of Hope initiative (more on this in a moment) but also to hand out information related to changing attitudes about sexual assault and protecting oneself from assault.  The representative dropped off the items on Saturday, April 21st so I was ready to go!

First, a little history.  In 1999 the Italian High Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans at the time of the assault.  The justices stated that the victim must have helped her attacker remove her jeans, from which they inferred consent.  People all around the world were outraged. Wearing jeans on this anniversary (April 25th) became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual violence.  

As part of the initiative, The Messages of Hope display was created for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) and is dedicated to survivors of sexual assault.  The jeans that are part of this display are decorated by survivors and supports in the prevention of Sexual Assault to bring messages of HOPE:

- HOPE that every survivor will feel supported
- HOPE that every person will get involved and have the strength and courage to speak out when witnessing acts of violence
- HOPE and faith that the community will come together to prevent sexual assaults
- HOPE that there will be a culture change around sexual violence

Here is a picture of one of the items I had on display:

I had one of the decorated denim items hanging on the door and the other on the front of the first rack as you walk into the store.

The information that the City provided for handout was really interesting.  The handout on "Keep Yourself Safe" was especially educational.  Although some was common sense, there were several suggestions that I had not considered previously.  

I also offered 10% off the store's primary jean label - Red Engine Jeans - in observance of the day.  And of course I was wearing jeans!  The day got quite a bit of press in Los Angeles and throughout California.  And there were formal Denim Day observances in all 50 states and a number of countries around the world!

Having learned about this event this year, I look forward to making it even bigger next year!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Edison High Fashion Show - The Experience

With the Edison High School Fashion Show scheduled for Friday, April 20th at 7 pm, my plan had been to go directly from Zoe to the show.  Closing at the normal time (6 pm) would leave me plenty of time to get there.  Good for Zoe (but bad for my plans) I had shoppers in the store after 6!  When they finished up, I closed quickly and headed for the school.

The instructor had told me to let the young women at the ticket booth know that I was one of the store owners/managers.  They directed me into the large lecture hall where the fashion show would be held.  The mother of the show manager saw me and then directed me to the VIP Lounge.  Let me note right now that this is probably the only time that I will ever be in a VIP Lounge of any sort.  (The closest I ever come is when I'm traveling with my brother on football related trips).  The students had soda and refreshments set up for the owners/managers prior to the show.  

When we were summoned to the show, we were given front row seating (right next to the runway).  Another first (and probably only)!  Each chair had a program and a gift bag (containing a bottled water and a coupon for a discount on a prom tuxedo).  Like all fashion shows, this one had a delayed start but the mistresses of ceremony were enthusiastic and quickly got things kicked off.

The theme of the show was Then.Now.Next so each "scene" was from a different era in fashion.  The program outlined which stores were represented and the students modeling in that scene.  The runway music was also appropriate to the era.  Each scene had both male and female models.  I knew what to expect from the young ladies but I was very impressed with how nice the young men looked in their fashions.  

The show started with the 1920s and then moved on to the 1950s.  During a brief intermission, a young woman who was also a student sang two songs for the audience.  Of course, I was eager for the 1970s scene to see Zoe's fashions on the runway!  Following the 70s, the students did a scene for the 2000s and then the "Next" portion included young brothers and sisters of the students wearing dressy ensembles.  The theory being that the young ones were the future of fashion.

The students had sold raffle tickets and they also did a drawing for three gift baskets.  As a finale, a group of Edison High graduates performed two rap songs, finishing up just shortly after 8 pm.

The instructor returned the clothing to me on Saturday morning prior to noon and said that everyone had a great time.  She has promised to send me photos of the students as soon as they are available.  Armed only with my iPhone camera, my photos were not blog caliber!  

It was fun to see the students put on an event like this (and to be a VIP for the evening!)

Next up:  Denim Day

Monday, April 23, 2012

Edison High Fashion Show - The Fitting

A few weeks ago, I received a call at the store from a young student at Edison High School in Alexandria, Virginia.  She asked if Zoe would be willing to participate in the Fashion Marketing class Annual Fashion Show.  Curious but unsure of the requirements and the details behind the request, I asked the student to send me information on the show.  Once I had read the detailed request from the class instructor, I agreed that Zoe would participate.

I was very excited about the opportunity, one reason being that if we had a little Zoe of our own (or Alexander, as our son would be named) he or she would be attending Edison if they went to public school.  It always feels good to be part of something in your community.

The instructor asked if the students could come to Zoe for their fitting on Monday, April 16th at 3 pm.  This was perfect since the store is typically closed on Mondays and I did not have anything personally scheduled for that time.  I arrived at the store in plenty of time, partially to make sure that the air conditioning was working properly on such a warm day!

The young women arrived in groups of two and three.  One young woman was brought by her mother (and accompanied by her 4 young siblings!)  At the height of the fitting, there were 7 teenage girls, 4 young children, a mother, the instructor, and me in the store.  Organized (almost) chaos!  Zoe's two dressing rooms and even the bathroom were busy for try-ons!

The show's theme was Then.Now.Next.  Each "scene" of the show would depict a particular decade in Fashion and Zoe would cover the 70s.  With so much of fashion being influenced by 60s and 70s looks these days, it was not difficult to find outfits that worked for the students.  We were also fortunate to be well-stocked for Spring so we had a variety of different items in different sizes.  The young women were polite and well-behaved (although they all want to wear things VERY short!)
The Yoana Baraschi Neo Baroque 70s Tunic was one of the items selected for the show

The fashion show is completely planned and carried out by the students, with oversight from the instructor.  The "scene director" made sure to note the different outfits selected by the students and I put all of those aside for pick up by the instructor later in the week (in time for the show on April 20th).  They also asked for my logo and information to include in their program.

After the students left, I was focused on the task of getting the store back in order!  Each girl had tried on multiple outfits and I had to make sure to get everything back on the right hanger and in the right place again.  I left to the store to go on to other meetings that evening, wondering what Friday night would be like.

Next:  Edison High Fashion Show - The Experience

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Zoe's First Birthday

The week leading up to Zoe's First Birthday celebration was actually a pretty emotional one.  I used it as a time of reflection (hence the three previous posts) but also a time to feel happy about having made it for a year!  There isn't much in life I do halfway - I'm either all in or all out.  And I've definitely been "all in" with Zoe.

I was somewhat anxious about the timing of the birthday - it fell during the local school systems' Spring Breaks, Easter Weekend, and the start of Passover.  But, I'm a big believer in doing things on the day they are supposed to happen so I forged ahead.

In an earlier post, I spoke about the planning for the event.  But now that the day was here, what happened?

Well, we actually have to start with the previous evening.  After I closed the store on Thursday, I hung up Zoe's First Birthday Banner.  I loved the bright pink!  Believe me when I tell you that you could see it FAR down the street!

It is too bad the window panes blocked the cute "1" candle but you could see it better from other angles.

Jim was traveling so I knew I was on my own for the icky stuff that I don't like doing (such as coolers and ice).  I got up early on Friday morning (Birthday Day!) and stopped by Safeway on my way to the store for ice.  I got the cooler set up and started chilling the Trader Joe's Sparkling Lemonade.  I rearranged the front table to prepare for the birthday displays.  And before I knew it, the first delivery arrived!

The delightful Emily and Tamara from Alexandria Cake Pop Company brought the beautiful displays of cake pops for Zoe's birthday.  They are always so happy and full of energy - it is infectious!  And, as I've mentioned on this blog before, their cake pops are DELICIOUS and beautiful.  Here is a picture of the ones they made for Zoe as well as a link to their blog post on Zoe's Birthday.

The cake pops were so popular that I had to save one for myself to make sure I got one!

While they were visiting with me, I got a call from The Enchanted Florist - could they bring down my deliveries?  Of course!  Within moments, I had the beautiful tabletop arrangement (a birthday gift from my mother) and a complimentary arrangement from my friend Michelle in NC (who could not come for the festivities).  How beautiful!

Zoe's Entry Table with the tabletop arrangement.  This was the morning of Day Two.  You can see the cake pops were disappearing rapidly!

Michelle had called The Enchanted Florist to ask if she could buy my main arrangement.  When they told her that it had already been purchased, they suggested she get a complimentary arrangement for the cash wrap!  It was so beautiful!

So much excitement to start the day and more to come!  I positioned the box of "Gift with Purchase" items next to the cash desk.  After lots of thought (and brainstorming with Intern Anna), I decided on BPA free water bottles.  So many of my customers learn about the store when they pass by during their exercise on the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail (which goes by the store on Union Street).  Plus, the beautiful Zoe Girl always has a water bottle in hand!  Why not feature her on one?

She was definitely a hit with customers!  

Before I knew it, Zoe's Aunts (Janice and Karen) arrived to celebrate her birthday.  They brought the pretty card pictured with Michelle's arrangement above!  We had such fun shopping together and another neighbor of theirs and her husband joined in the fun!  The afternoon flew by and Zoe's true First Birthday was complete!

Saturday kicked off another busy day with visits by so many of Zoe's friends!  Many of you who read the blog stopped in to see me and made the day even more special!  (And just think, you didn't have to endure any Chuckie Cheese pizza).  When the doors closed on Saturday, I spent about 40 minutes getting everything set up back in normal (non-birthday) state.  I would be closed on Sunday (for Easter) and on Monday and didn't want to leave the store in perpetual birthday mode during those two days.  

All I can say is "Wow".  I could not have asked for a nicer birthday for Zoe!  Thank you.

Next up:  Edison High School Fashion Marketing Visits Zoe

Monday, April 16, 2012

What I've Learned

This could be the longest blog post in history...or could occupy blog posts for the remainder of the week.  In the interest of keeping it somewhat brief, I've edited it down to some of the ones that have been drilled into my brain.  As with the two previous topics, no particular order is involved.

1) It is possible to get stuck in a dress.  It is not at all funny until after it is over.  IT friends, this is one of those disaster recovery scenarios I should have planned for.

2) Always be very cautious as to whom you allow to use the store's bathroom.

3) Don't order dresses with ruffles at the bustline.  They only look good on 0.0000001% of women.  They will be hard to sell.

4) In a similar vein, consider sizing when ordering sleeveless dresses.  What might look great in one size won't work in other sizes.

5) Speaking of sleeveless, make sure you order dresses with sleeves.  Women want them.  And they will make it very clear to you.  Not everyone has triceps of steel.

6) Try on everything that comes into the store.  That way, you know how the sizing runs and if there are any anomalies to the try on process.  This can include everything from unhooking the underlying cami to warning the customer about the zipper to different ways to wear the dress.  It makes a HUGE difference.  (Plus, all that trying on is fun!)

7) Don't order pants that are see-through.  Enough said.

8) Claritin is your friend.  Especially if you keep the store's door open in the Spring and Fall pollen seasons.

9) Unless it is a fire, a flood, or a robbery, nothing you do is so important that it can't wait until the next day.

10)  Don't be afraid to say "No".  Everyone wants to sell you something.  You don't want or need all of it.  And you can do it in a way that is polite.

11) Do your best not to take the unkind remarks about you, the store, or the clothing personally.  Often, the issue isn't about any of those things.  Be as kind and compassionate to those people as you are to those who are kind to you.

12) Don't be afraid to "put yourself out there".  One reason people shop in a boutique is because it is personal.  They want to know you - who you are and what you like.

13) There is no real science to the shopping process with the exception of seasonality and weather.  And the fact that women who shop at Zoe love the color blue.

14) Amtrak is the most delightful way to travel.  Even though I'm working, I love my train trips!

15) Men buying gifts for their wives are so lovely.  They really care and want to do just the right thing. Reassure him that if she doesn't like it, she can come in and you'll help her find something she likes.  9 times out of 10, he'll have hit a home run!  It is then always fun to meet the wife later and hear her brag about what a great job her husband did on picking out the gift!

On a serious note:

16) When you own a business and devote significant time to it, you find out who your true friends are.  I've really been overwhelmed with the love from my friends in the almost 2 years I've been working on Zoe.  Your emails, your calls, your encouraging words at just the right times, your reading the blog, your stopping in to see me, and your flexibility to getting together with me are all a significant part of why I'm able to keep going.  You truly lift me up constantly.  I can only hope that I am able to give back to you the friendship levels you deserve.

17) Last (but actually first), I continue to learn to rely on God for all things.  I've talked about it in other blog posts but I've never been in a situation until now (the closest would be when my father was dying) that I was so completely powerless in not only the outcome but in what happens on a day to day basis.  I know God has transformed me through Zoe.  He put me here for a reason and I'll be here as long as He has need for me to fulfill my purpose here.  I pray each day that he will allow me to use the gifts He has given me to honor and glorify Him.  And that Zoe will be successful, but His definition of success, not mine.  You'd have to know me quite well to understand the transformation and deepening of my faith in the last year.

Next Up:  Zoe Turns One!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What I Love

Have you ever seen someone you love from a distance?  They don't see you looking at them but you can see them standing there or walking in your direction.  Your heart swells just a little bit and you feel so good that they are part of your life.  I feel that way about Zoe.

I park at a garage about a half block from Zoe.  Each morning as I walk down the street, I look at her windows and have that same "love" feeling.  And when I put my key into the locks, my heart jumps at imagining what the day will bring!

My loves:

1) I love my customers.  I have met some of the most lovely women (and nice men) over the course of the year.  They share parts of their lives with me and I feel so privileged.  I get to hear about their jobs, their grandchildren, their weddings, their fashion desires (and woes), their travels, and their joys and sadness.

2) I love being part of a community.  I not only have several neighborhood friends who stop in to visit me but my day is also brightened by my relationships with Parking Attendant Jared, Mailman Dave and UPS Driver Freddie.  And it is fascinating to follow the details of the political and social issues here in Alexandria.  Who would think in a big metropolitan area like this that you could find such a small town feel?  It almost makes me feel like I'm back in my hometown!

3) I love hearing how something a customer bought made them feel or the compliments they got when wearing it.  I'll admit, this is such a source of delight for me.  I've shared stories in past blog entries about the places Zoe's clothing has gone, the feedback I've gotten from customers wearing the item into the store, and even blog posts on items they've purchased!  This morning, I passed a customer on the street and we were wearing the same article of clothing from Zoe!  We greeted each other and laughed about how we matched!

4) I love the clothes.  Yes, I do love the clothes.  And I (mostly) resist turning the store into my closet.  As stressful as it can be to go to market and try to make the decisions on what to order (and what sizes and colors and styles my customers will like), I had never learned to love and appreciate everything that goes into the design and sourcing of a dress, a pair of denim, or a bracelet until now.

5) I love the creative people.  I've written about this a great deal but I can't write about my loves without mentioning all of the creative people who I get to meet and work with through owning Zoe.  From the designers themselves to my sign makers, to the artists that work down the street from me at The Torpedo Factory, to the talented illustrators and graphic designers, not to mention Zoe's Aunts (and window decorators extraordinaire Janice and Karen), I get my creative inspiration from all sources.

6) I love the ability to make decisions.  Now, they aren't always the right ones.  But, I get to make them and live with the outcome (good or bad).  It is a constant learning process (which I'll talk about in the next post).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What I Miss

I decided that if I am going to have "posts of shame" I might as well group them together and get it all out there at once.  Now that Zoe has been open for a full year, I've been reflecting on the impacts on my life.  This next series of posts is going to cover what I miss, what I love, and what I've learned in the past year.

But first to what I've missed.  When I was working with the counselor, we often discussed the potential trade-offs that we all encounter in life.  We may have X, Y, and Z but we've given up A, B, and C.  So I'm not one of those people who is here to tell you that you can have it all.

I love what I do now.  But there are also things that I miss.  Some of them you've seen me discuss over the past year and some may be new.  They are not in a particular order - just as they come to me as I write.

1) I miss my weekends.  Friday evening used to be my favorite time of the week.  Now, it is simply another evening to prepare for the next work day.  I am sometimes envious of all of the things that my husband, my friends and family are doing on Saturdays and Sundays.  I take one day off a week (Mondays) and it is usually spent trying to catch up on all of the personal things I can't get done during the week.

2) I miss my family.  It was not unusual for me to be on an airplane on a regular basis, visiting my mom and brother and his wife and children.  They are all so precious to me.  My mom is able to come up to visit and help in the store at times, which is a real blessing.  Due to my brother's job, we are often in a situation where FaceTime chats in the morning before I open the store are the closest things we get to a visit.  I was so delighted to spend New Years with them in Tampa - truly one of the best Christmas gifts I've ever been given.

3) I miss the money.  I was very fortunate to be well compensated in my line of work.  I tried to manage money thoughtfully and intelligently but I also didn't worry about a nice restaurant meal, a shopping trip, or a vacation to wherever I wanted to go.  Now, I think about it all the time.  I don't take a salary.    It's been hard sometimes not to have/do what I want.

4) I miss the collaboration.  In my previous line of work, I worked with others to bring projects to successful completion.  We planned, we strategized, we executed, and we celebrated.  I not only got to see work reach a finite end but I got to see people grow and develop throughout the process.  And I got to see the end result create a better environment for my customer or my company.  It could be both highly frustrating and highly rewarding at the same time.

5) I miss having people to talk to who are dealing with similar things.  I definitely operate in a different world today.  Before, I could discuss challenges and solutions with my peers, my team members, and my employees.  It can be lonely sometimes to not have people to talk to about decisions and outcomes.

6) I miss the beauty of a well-designed, well-built, and well-maintained office building.  When I went downtown recently for Intern Anna's final project, I parked in the garage of a new building.  As I rode the elevator up to the ground level, I sighed at the gorgeousness of the marble and modern lighting.  (Disclaimer - I spent most of my IT career working for Real Estate Investment Trusts so I have a particular fondness for office buildings)

2345 Crystal Drive in Crystal City - I can still pick out the window that was my office on Floor 10!

Lest you worry that I'm feeling sorry for myself, the next blog entry will deal with the things I love!

Monday, April 9, 2012

I Cheated

I think I've been dreading writing this entry out of pure shame.  But it is time to get it out there.  I cheated. But first, the back story.

I have always tried to buy clothing that I can keep/wear for a long time.  I have an Izod windbreaker that I still wear that I got in high school (which is 30 some years ago).  I also have a dark paisley rain jacket/coat that my parents bought for me 20 some years ago at the now defunct Kaufmann's department store in Charleston, WV.  I have always loved that jacket but my husband has not.  While it is rare that he comments on my clothing selections, he has more than once expressed his desire that I not wear it anymore.  When I recently told him that I was having a problem with the zip out lining in it, he once again expressed his opinion that it was time to get rid of it.

But what to get to replace it?  It needed to be attractive, functional, and inexpensive while still being something that would last for 20+ years.  Jim's level of dislike for the previous coat would have probably allowed me to buy a Burberry replacement but that was way out of the realm of financial possibility.  (A girl can dream).

In looking around for a replacement, I found what appeared to be the ideal.  The bad news?  It was at Bloomingdales at Tyson's Corner.  Did I a) brave the traffic disaster that is that side of the Beltway and b) set foot in a mall when I'd so much rather shop locally?  My mother had been asking me to check on an item that was only available at a store in that particular mall so I decided to make the trek.

One of the things I noticed immediately when I went into Bloomingdales was that no one acknowledged me.  Anywhere.  I walked the floor a few times looking for my item and finally walked up to a clerk to ask.  She was helpful and walked me to the appropriate department and helped me find the coat.  But when I paid cash for the coat, she didn't give me the correct change and I had to ask for the amount.  Not the customer service I would get if I shopped at any of the local stores in Alexandria.

Plus, as I walked around Bloomingdales, I'd see the different brands and think "Oh, that's available at this store, that's available at that store, that's available at Zoe!"

I walked out into the mall to look for the item for my mother.  I'll admit my head was swiveling this way and that, taking in all the stores and what they had to offer.  But then I reminded myself - these same things are available within walking distance of Zoe or at Zoe!  I had to walk in a couple stores (like Cusp) just to see how they had displayed items and what they were selling.

After I checked on the item for my mom, I beat a hasty retreat from the mall.  And, honestly, I felt bad for the rest of the day.  I had cheated on my mantra of shopping locally.  I'm going to try not to do it again.

But I would be remiss if I didn't show you my new jacket.  I do like it.  I should carry something like this at Zoe in the future (negating my need and others needs to go to malls!)

Next up:  The "What I" series

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Junior Friends Toast to Fashion - The Event Experience

In my blog post a couple of weeks ago, I had mentioned the preparations for the Junior Friends Toast to Fashion.  This was one of the events that I had been looking forward to since late last year and I wanted to make sure to blog about it!

The event took place at the Belle Haven Country Club which is a beautiful location just outside the Alexandria City Limits in Fairfax County.  I closed up the store right on time and headed to the event for the 6:30 start time.

I had struggled with what to wear - I wanted to be fashionable yet comfortable!  I chose a new Issa London dress that I am selling at Zoe (and had already bought one for myself).  I love the dress but it is one of those that looks like nothing on the hanger.  It can be tied in the front or the back to create two completely different looks.  I am trying to get a copy of the picture of me in front of the photo wall at the event wearing it (although if I do get the picture, you must ignore my huge hair - it was horribly humid that day).

The photo wall was a fun thing - the first time I had gotten to do something like that.  I have (embarrassingly) looked at enough celeb magazines to have perfected "the pose".  Probably not something that I should be proud of!

I was early enough to get one of their delightful goodie bags containing some lovely samples and coupons.  My favorite is the lavender filled eye mask - now if I can only find time to use it!  They also had light refreshments, a large television showing the NCAA Basketball Tournament games, and several local vendors set up around the venue.  They also had a couple of bars set up as well as an area containing raffle items.  Their strategy around the raffle items was a good one.  You could purchase raffle tickets and then put them in the bowl for the item(s) that you hoped to win.  So you weren't worried that you might win something that you might not use!

The models were mingling with the crowd when I arrived and I got to visit with both of Zoe's beautiful models.  They were already wearing their first outfit of the night so they were getting to introduce Zoe to others even before the show.

Once the show started, you got to see a variety of items on display - everything from clothes like Zoe's to men's clothing to children.   Sleepwear and exercise clothing was also included!  Pictures of Zoe's models (courtesy of Lara Mote Photography - the official show photographer) are below:

The Beth Bowley Poppy Fields Dress with Skinny Black Patent Belt

Issa London's Aquamarine Wrap Dress

Yoana Baraschi's Pink Date Dress

Yoana Baraschi's Apres Tennis Dress

In between the first and second parts of the show, the Junior Friends gave awards to members who had made contributions to the group above and beyond the norm.  This was very lovely and touching.

When the show was over, I did leave shortly after saying hello to a few people I hadn't yet spoken to during the event.  It has been a long day but Zoe could now say she had experienced her first fashion show!

Next Up:  I Cheated