Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photography Fun with Sally

It is not unusual for me to be asked if I have any promotional photos of me and the store, especially when I am working with print and online media.  I am ashamed to say that I really didn't have much of anything with the exception of some outside shots of the signs/windows.  I was tired of sharing the same shots over and over again that really didn't provide any of the personality of me and the store.  The closest that I've had recently is the picture used for The Scout Guide. (which I loved!)

For several years, I've been following my friend Sally's photography blog - Sally Brewer Photography. I've seen the amazing pictures she has taken of strangers (to me) and mutual friends and seen her skill at photographing even the most fussy baby or rambunctious children.  Each photo looks fun, genuine, and real.  I had secretly wanted photos of me and Jim but always felt that I didn't look good, was too tired, didn't have time.

Sally uses the beauty of Old Town Alexandria as the backdrop for many of her photos and she always stops in to say "Hi" to me if she has a few moments before or after a session!  When I finally felt "it was time" to get the promotional photos done, there was no doubt in my mind as to who to call!

We agreed that a Monday evening in July was a great time to do the shoot - partially since I have the day off on Mondays (to give me time to look nice!) and to take advantage of the evening light at this time of year.  We got started promptly at 6 pm with some interior shots at Zoe.  (Everything I'm wearing with the exception of the shoes is from the store).

While I was initially a bit shy, Sally makes it easy to warm up and have fun with the camera.  No shot feels posed (you know the feeling - tilt your head at some bizarre angle with your chin up).  We laughed and talked as we went about the shoot and soon found ourselves outside in the blocks around Zoe.

As she took photos, Sally explained why each background she chose was great for pictures.  If you've never been to the area around my store (or, if you have and haven't really looked at the gorgeous bricks, charming doorways, and enticing staircases) then I highly recommend just taking a stroll around to enjoy.

Just as we were finishing up with my portion of the shoot, Jim arrived and we took a few more shots with the two of us in my "Owner of Zoe" outfit.  A quick change for me to a more fun Rebecca Taylor dress and we were off on our couples photo shoot.

The pictures are all so good that I am struggling to choose what to purchase!  I would guess that between the two shoots, Sally probably captured images on 6 memory cards!  Thank goodness for her expert editing to select the best of the best.  She took an event that could have been stressful and mundane and made it the highlight of my week!  And now when someone asks, I'll have the perfect image(s) to provide to them.

It can be hard sometimes to realize how very intertwined the store and business are with my own persona.  Putting myself "out there" doesn't come natural to me although I'm learning to be more comfortable with it all the time.  So it is important that the pictures are a natural reflection.  I could not have asked for a more perfect experience.

Sally had shared this picture of me on her Business Facebook page so I am going to share it with you here.  We were talking and laughing and I felt she caught the joy that I feel when I think about and talk about Zoe.

I'm wearing a Yoana Baraschi Blazer and Skirt, a Katie Bartels necklace, and a Chan Luu Wrap Bracelet and Cami.

Next up:  I Get Some Exercise (and tour DC and suburban VA)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Christmas In July - Year 2

It is just amazing to me that I'm now experiencing certain events for the second time in Zoe's young life!  The Christmas in July event last year was one of the first organized group events that we had participated in after opening the store.

With each event I participate in, I learn so much about what to do (and what not to do).  One plus this year was that the event was focused on one day only (July 21st).  It can be hard to keep up the momentum for 3 days in a row like last year!

I realized that people really didn't see/care about the Christmas tree I had put up last year.  It was a lot of work and effort to do it (well, it was a lot of work and effort on Janice and Karen's part, since they put it up while I went to pick up my Mom at the airport).  So I decided to nix that this year.  I also felt that my sale strategy wasn't appealing enough last year - 20% off full priced items just wasn't a real draw during a transitional point in seasons.  And, I didn't have any additional events in store.  I relied on the overall event and my sale to draw people in.

This year, I asked NY based fashion designer Kathlin Argiro to host a trunk show and create fashion drawings for customers in the store.  Kathlin grew up in Alexandria and her wrap dresses have been a real hit with my customers.  I also carry her unique Dressong as well as samples of her formalwear for special order.  I also planned a "Black Friday in July" type event - on the Christmas in July day only, I would offer 10% off one item, 20% off two items, and so one up to 50% off five items!

Prior to event, Kathlin and I contacted our media and blogging connections to get the word out locally about her appearance at the store and the sale.  We were thrilled with all of the press (print and online) we received before and after the event!

The afternoon prior to the event, I redressed the mannequins with all of Kathlin's clothing (wrap dresses, formalwear, Dressong) and set up a whole rack of her items.  I also placed one of the sweater cubes in the area of the rack as a desk.

When Kathlin arrived on Saturday morning, she was pleased with the set-up and made a few modifications prior to opening.  We were anxious at first since the rain seemed to be keeping customers away!  Just as we were preparing to film a video of ways to tie the wrap dress as a tunic, customers started flowing in and kept us hopping for the next 4 hours!

During the quieter time we had in the morning, we both began peppering social media with pictures and video!  I love this picture of me with Kathlin (she is wearing one of her wrap dresses, I am wearing the Dressong as a top).

Alexandra, the young lady who works with me at Zoe on weekends, took a video of Kathlin creating a fashion sketch!

Zoe's customers were genuinely excited to meet Kathlin and were thrilled to be fitted/styled by her in her creations!  The wrap dresses and Dressongs flew off the shelves!  And we did have one customer purchase 4 items and take advantage of 40% off her order - even cooler?  She lives and works in Tunisia and visits Zoe whenever she is in the US.  She was flying off to Tunisia that evening!

Many friends and customers stopped in to visit Zoe and meet Kathlin!  It was a delightfully busy day!  The music on the patio outside was much quieter and more appropriate than the previous year, which added to a more enjoyable atmosphere overall!

We finally had the opportunity to film the wrap dress to tunic videos just before Kathlin had to leave for the day.  I'm so glad to have these to share with customers who purchase the wrap dress!

Front tie option
Back tie option

Christmas in July this year turned out to be a great day for Zoe!  

Next up:  Photography Fun with Sally

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pop-up Shop

Have you ever been to a Pop-up shop?  You may have and just not realized it!  Any store that opens in a spot temporarily (such as the calendar stores or the Halloween costume stores) qualifies as a pop-up shop.  Even the fireworks trailers in your local supermarket parking lot could probably count as a pop-up shop!

The nice thing about a pop-up shop is that it exists in a spot for a short and (typically) defined amount of time.  It can allow a seller to focus on selling a particular set of items, test a new market, or introduce a brand to a new set of consumers.  I could say that Zoe has done pop-up shops a few times - at the Country Day School market last Fall, at the Warehouse Sale in February, and at the Normandy Hotel in May!

Earlier this month, a representative from the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (BID) stopped in to see me at the store and tell me more about the focus on retail development in the area.  This was especially interesting to me because a company that I once worked for was very actively involved in founding and initially providing leadership to the BID when it was founded in 1997!  I remember hearing about the strategies at a department meeting that year and thinking it was a great idea!

Having been a "lunchtime shopper" in this area, I know how many people are out and about during the week day!

On Monday, I'm going to meet the Retail Marketing Manager at lunchtime to walk the district and talk about potential opportunities for Zoe.  While I'm still working hard to introduce the store to the Northern Virginia locals (I still frequently get the "Are you new?" question!), the possibilities available for a short term pop-up shop are intriguing!  I'll be sure to update you on my meeting!

Next up:  Christmas in July - Year Two

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summertime Window Decorations

In the over two years that I've been keeping this blog, I've found certain posts that are viewed over and over again.  The ones dealing with my window decorations (created by my amazing friends at Semper Stylish) are some of the most popular!  And with good reason!

For those of you who have viewed these window design posts previously, you know that I share a general vision with Janice and Karen but completely defer the creative process to them.  They are constantly on the lookout for inexpensive items that can be used in Zoe's windows (and can be reused in different scenarios!)  They never disappoint.

With summer arriving and 4th of July eminent, I had asked them to come up with a red, white, and blue theme that could also carry the windows late into the season.  They arrived at the store early one morning to set up the new window display.

The finished product - red and blue pinwheels with sparkly streamers, white globes, and clear balls with red, white, and blue confetti!

What might not be evident from this picture is all of the incredible detail and effort that goes into the window decorations.

Each pinwheel has tissue paper on one side and a unique antique button on the other side.

White paper globes were a find at Goodwill!

Each of the clear glass balls (yes, glass - we broke a couple hanging them up!) is filled with folded or shredded tissue paper.

I cannot begin to do justice to the process for making all of these beautiful decorations so I'll have you read the "how to" on the Semper Stylish website.  I can't wait to see what will be next!

Next up:  Pop Up Shop?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Derecho? What is That?

Friday evening, June 29th, started like any other.  But as I caught up on my emails and social media that evening, I noticed a disturbing trend.  First, a weather expert (because I am obsessed with all things weather as a business owner) that I follow on Twitter noted that strong storms would hit Northern Virginia at around 10:30.  We're no stranger to strong thunderstorms in this area and the most I thought about it at the time was how long it might keep me awake.

As I perused Facebook, I started reading the statuses of friends from my hometown in West Virginia, commenting on the winds and loss of power they had just experienced that evening.  I remarked to Jim "I think we have a bad storm coming."  Still, how bad could it really be?

The storm hit our home shortly after 10:30 with wind like I've never heard before, despite having experienced Tropical Storms in Williamsburg and in Northern Virginia.  Our power went out within a minute of the storm starting.  The lightening was intense.  We kept asking ourselves "Where is the rain?"

Once the storm had passed, I immediately began to think about Zoe.  Would there be power?  Would there be phones/internet service?  Would there be damage?  My mind was racing with contingency plans.  I slept fitfully and got up early to try to find some breakfast and get ready for work.

As we drove to Zoe that morning, we did pass through several dark traffic light and by downed trees.  I was so relieved when I got to the store and found that we had power (that was big worry #1 crossed off my list).  But I found that I did not have internet connectivity and my alarm system was on the fritz.  I got the alarm stopped from random beeping and went to work on the internet situation - no internet, no automated credit card processing.

I sent a quick email to my landlord (via my phone) to ask if he had been notified by Comcast about an outage.  After trying to get through to their customer service line several times via phone (and having no success) I took to Twitter.  I tweeted to the ComcastCares account about service status in Alexandria.  Within a minute, I connected with a rep and sent him a DM with my phone number.  He confirmed that we did have service in my area and that a check of the router and modem would probably reveal an internal problem.  After reboots, I was back in business!  While I had the ability to manually process cards the old fashioned way, I was glad to have things back to normal.

With this out of the way, I did a check of the inside and outside of the space.  I did find a water leak at the window that faces Union Street.  I took a picture of the water pooled on the window sill to send to my landlord and then cleaned it up.  Fortunately, no clothing or wood was damaged by the water that had gotten into the space.

Shortly after I opened, I met a couple visiting from Houston who had come to town for a wedding.  The wedding location had no power and no plumbing!  They told me that the bride was scrambling to find a new venue for the wedding that afternoon!  Later that morning, I met another couple attending the same wedding who confirmed that the bride had found a hotel in Old Town to accommodate her.  Even though I didn't know her, I was so pleased to hear of the happy ending!

The storm created so much damage, loss of life, loss of power, and severe impacts on businesses.  I was  so thankful that the effects at Zoe were so minor.

Next up:  Summertime Window Decorations

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Planning for FNO Alexandria

I was so excited to learn that Alexandria was going to be an official participant in Fashions Night Out (FNO) this year!  If you remember my blog post from last September, I had a Fall Open House on the night of Fashions Night Out last year.  Yes, that was the night we got 100 inches of rain (slight exaggeration).  Needless to say, I was so grateful for the friends who did come out to shop, eat cupcakes and drink champagne with me!  (And even more happy that none of them came to any harm on their trips home!)

But, as with anything, if you can be part of a bigger event rather than going it alone, the likelihood of success is much greater.  The fact that the City and the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association is fully behind the effort is fantastic!  They (along with a strong Host Committee) have already created a website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed as well as provided a marketing plan.

But what to plan for Zoe's participation?  I learned a great deal from last year's experience (as much what NOT to do as what TO do!) and had also spent time studying what some of my designers and other stores had done in past years.  Yet I was continuing to experience that lack of creative spark - that aha moment that gave me the perfect idea.  And time was ticking on submitting our plans for the media work that is to begin soon.  It was time for a creative boost!

Through Meagan, the designer of ADMK Jewelry, I had met Jenn Barton, who heads up The Medestrian LLC.   Her organization focuses on fashion marketing and events and I contacted her to see if she could help me brainstorm the perfect idea!  When Jenn met me at the store on a recent Monday morning, she had done her homework.  She had perused this blog and has been a regular follower of Zoe's social media updates and email blasts.  She already had a good feel for the store's focus and personality which made our brainstorming session even easier!

Not only did Jenn help me come up with great ideas for the event but she also helped to reinvigorate my creative juices!  Her upbeat, positive personality was just what I needed!  So mark the evening of September 6th on your calendars!  Zoe will be treating you to Prosecco and Cake Pops, some fabulous giveaways, a look at all the Fall fashions, gift bags, and photos from Sally Brewer Photography!  I can't wait!

Next up:  A Derecho?  What is That?

Monday, July 9, 2012

The High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Part III)

My blogging conscience (better known as my husband) has been asking me when I'm going to update the blog!  Serves me right for choosing a topic that is almost too big to cover in this venue!

I've thought a lot over the past couple of weeks about my approach to fashion and it's origins.  And I've tried to think about how that approach might be different if I were in my early 20s today.  (I don't have an answer to that one!)

As a child of parents born during the Great Depression, they instilled in me the value of good clothing that would last for years.  While my father might have different types of ties he wore to work (who can forget the sock tie era?), his suits were always well-made and classic.  My mother also had a timeless sense of style - I can remember her changing her hair with trends but never her wardrobe.  They had a strong belief in quality over quantity.  Clothing was meant to be purchased, worn, and maintained for years.  (Hence my keeping of the paisley rain coat that Jim didn't like FAR beyond it's normal lifecycle).

As a newly employed young woman out of college (in a time when everyone dressed up in a business environment), my parents made sure I had a base professional wardrobe to start but it was up to me to maintain and develop it.  I was ashamed at the time but am not ashamed to admit now that I kept notes on a calendar as to what I had worn so that I made sure not to wear any certain combinations too close together.

When I would add to my young career woman wardrobe, I was fortunate to find mid-priced, fashionable items at department stores such as Lord & Taylor and the now defunct Woodward & Lothrop and Hechts.  Each had unique, well-made offerings that could be managed on a not large budget.  Today, it seems that many department stores carry the same, poorly made items in large quantities at low prices.  The things that made them fit in that middle ground are gone.

At the time, a store like Ann Taylor was considered aspirational.  I longed for the day that I could afford to shop there with regularity.  Sales were few and far between and styles were sharp, flattering, and classic.  I looked but I couldn't buy.  I was thrilled when I could afford to shop Ann Taylor as my career progressed but found I was less and less satisfied with the offerings in recent years.  Where was the middle ground between the H&M's of the world and Neiman Marcus?

Now, that's not to say that I didn't sometimes spend money on things that I probably shouldn't have!  My partner in crime was my co-worker Cary (who reads this blog - hi dear!)  He, like me, was a new college graduate who wanted to dress well.  One of our days of shopping together resulted in him buying an $80 tie and with me buying a $70 headband (in my defense, it was suede and had beautiful embroidery on it!)  Not only did our co-workers give us grief when they heard about this, but we've given each other grief about it for years since!  I still have the headband (20+ years later) although I haven't worn it for a while.  Looking back, not really a moment to be proud of on a limited income!

With the demise of the department stores and stores such as Talbots and Ann Taylor fighting the battles against cheap fashion, the middle ground seems to be missing.  In our desire for fast fashion and the "deal", we've not only lost countless textile and garment related jobs but we've lost our sense of individuality.  One of my favorite statements from a Zoe customer was "I like shopping here because I know I won't see myself coming and going on the street."  Meaning that she knows that if she buys an item at Zoe, she can wear it and know she won't be wearing the same thing that 10 other people in her building are wearing.  We are all special and unique when it comes to what looks good and feels good on us.  Don't be afraid to embrace it!

Next up:  Fashions Night Out Alexandria!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Part II)

There is so much of interest to me on the subject of how our approach to fashion has changed over the years that I've had trouble figuring out how to not write about this topic for weeks on end!  It is one of those cases where too much information has brought me to a standstill! I'm going to try to keep this to 3 total blog posts as I have lots of other interesting things going on in Zoe's world to write about this month.

Although I have found myself wowed (not always in a good way) and agreeing with much of Cline's book, one area that I can't agree with is her argument that people will spend a tremendous amount of money on a restaurant meal or a nice car but can't fathom spending more than $40 on a dress.  All of us choose our priorities in life - for some people, it is good food.  For others, it is a nice car.  Others love travel.  And in today's economy, many people are prioritizing (as they should) their house payment.

I am aware every day that there is nothing at Zoe that anyone needs in order to survive.  The items here fall under the "want" category.  I would be horrified if I ever thought that someone spent money in the store when they were deeply in debt or were denying their children proper food, clothing, or care.  So please know that as I write about this subject, I am focused on our approach as a society to clothing and how it has changed over the years.  It is not a critique of anyone's shopping habits/preferences.

One of the statistics that Cline notes in her book is that we as Americans buy (on average) 64 pieces of clothing a year.  I find that shocking.  What are we buying?  And why?  In her research, Cline finds that the thrill of deal seems to drive much of our shopping, not need or quality.

Another disturbing statistic noted in her book was that only 2% of the clothing sold in the US is made here, down from an astonishing 50% as recently as 1990.  One of the first questions I ask prospective designers or showrooms is where the clothing is manufactured.  With statistics like that, it is no wonder that I have a challenge finding US made goods!

Cline also talks about the times in history when good clothing was valued - people bought well-made products and wore them until they wore out.  If they needed a repair to keep wearing the item, they did not hesitate to fix it themselves or take it to a seamstress (or in the case of shoes, a shoe repair/cobbler).  Today, many people will wear something a couple of times and will discard it (or pack it into a plastic tub).

Next up:  My history (and approach) to The High Cost of Cheap Fashion