Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tis the Season for a Holiday Party

Good friends step in when they know you need help.  And my dear friends Sally and Jamie of The Style Lobby noticed that Zoe's blog was, well, not very bloggy lately.  When they asked if I'd like for them to do a guest post for me, I think I said "Yes" before they even finished the question!  Jamie styled some of Zoe's favorite holiday pieces and Sally applied her excellent photography skills.  I may turn over Zoe's blog to them full time! :)  Read on:

It’s nearly that time of year again. I love the excitement of upcoming holiday parties, but I’m usually longing for a night at home by the fire place by mid-December. Part of the stress comes from uncertainty over what to wear, so it helps if I have a few pieces in my wardrobe to make at least that part easy.

A few years ago, I had a friend who was invited to the White House Christmas Party. She was looking for something to wear, but any of the more formal dresses I could loan her were sleeveless, and she needed something with sleeves for the party.  (Knowing Mrs. Obama’s penchant for baring her buff arms, I wonder if that restriction went out with the previous administration.)  This Renee Arnez dress would fit the bill perfectly—completely covered up but still alluring and beautiful. Better than that, it was on the sale rack! (I’m not entirely sure it will still be on the sale rack, I’m thinking I might need to own this one!)  Even though it’s a fairly simple black dress, I feel like the drape of this piece is the true statement, so a small, sparkly pair of John Wind earrings was really the only accessory it needed.

Sadly, I don’t have an event requiring a floor length gown, so even though I might need this beautiful sale rack find in my closet, it’s not going to meet my holiday party needs.  I tend to choose something more versatile when I’m holiday party shopping.  While it’s totally appropriate for the office, this red Trina Turk dress has enough presence to be a standout after hours, too.  A golden Alexandra Satine clutch takes it from professional to party, and a bracelet, also from Trina Turk, and a pair of ADMK earrings add just enough sparkle.

While the red dress is a versatile party piece for someone who works in a corporate environment, I usually choose to go with separates that I can use in my (not so corporate) everyday life.  These black rosette jeans from Red Engine are a staple piece with a little added flair, and I am in love with this aubergine blouse from Rebecca Taylor.  I have a feeling that I’d have to put this one on a schedule so that I didn’t wear it all the time!  Throwing on this furry blazer from Velvet makes the outfit extra special. Finished off with some more ADMK earrings and a deep lip gloss from Haughty, I’m ready to head to the party.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Namesake

As long time readers of this blog know, the store was named Zoe in honor of the daughter that I never had.  The Zoe Girl motif (designed to my specifications by the talented Lisa Henderling with the guidance of my wonderful friend and graphic designer Cori Canady) reflects my vision of what I believe my "grown-up" Zoe would look like.  I have been privileged to meet a number of Zoes in the time I have owned the store (even a dog named Zoe during the Doggie Trick or Treat in Old Town yesterday).  But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she would inspire a piece of jewelry!

Enter talented NYC based jewelry designer Katie Bartels.  As we talked about various ways to work together over the summer, we arrived at the idea of Katie creating a signature piece that would be sold only at Zoe.  When I asked her to describe her design process and inspiration, she shared this with me:

"I was incredibly excited when Susan approached me to design and hand make a piece exclusively for Zoe Boutique! The Zoe woman is sophisticated, elegant, stylish, and classic so I knew freshwater pearls had to be a part of the piece I designed. I am a big fan of "Zoe pink" and thought it should be incorporated into the piece for a fun pop of color. I sketched a few different design ideas and was very drawn to the idea of mixing pearls and ribbon for a preppy look. I worked with Susan to get the color of the ribbon just right and we finalized the design when she visited my studio in New York City over the summer. It was important to both of us that the necklace complement the clothing Susan carefully selects for the boutique and I think we definitely achieved that goal. It was such an honor to create this design!"

So, I confess to being slightly biased....but I do think it is gorgeous!

Katie is coming to Zoe for an exclusive Washington DC area trunk show on November 16th.  Stop by to meet this talented artist (and just all around fantastic young lady!)  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Spring Market - Three Years Later

Before starting this blog post, I went back to read the summary of my very first Market visit 3 years ago.  Prior to opening Zoe, I made the trip to Atlanta in the Fall of 2010 for my first buying experience.  If you'd like to relive that experience with me, that blog post is here.

So it seemed fitting that three years later, I found myself back in Atlanta again, this time buying for Spring 2014.  Other obligations had kept me from going to NYC in September as usual so I got to enjoy the familiar and more relaxed confines of the AmericasMart.

Because I am what my husband refers to as an "Intense Traveler", I was on a 6 am flight to Atlanta and at Market just as it opened at 9 am.  Having registered with a couple of clicks for a Fast Badge online, I had my buyer's badge in no time flat and was off to my first appointment.

No more breaking Market up into two days like that first trip.  I was all about making the most of my time there with the hopes of heading to see family in Athens on Saturday morning rather than coming back to Market.  Thanks to Tara organizing all of my appointments for me, I had a great schedule with all of the brands I wanted to visit (and a little time to look at other potential lines).  In total, I saw 13 lines that day!

Some surprises - Beth Bowley has ceased producing a line.  We will receive her Holiday shipment but that will be it.  She has been a customer favorite and we are sad to lose her.  And Cynthia Steffe is no longer designing for Cluny.  We have loved her unique takes on traditional designs and were an early buyer of the line.

As I have mentioned before, being in Atlanta allows you to have more time with your reps and to visit as friends.  I loved my time with Maye of Alice & Trixie and Amy Matto, Natasha of Chan Luu, and Noelle of Rebecca Taylor.  They are absolutely some of my favorites and know me and the store so well that they start editing the collections before I say a word.  We've worked together for long enough that they know my buying style and the style of my Zoe customers.

I was so enamored with the jacket from the Lily Aldridge for Velvet Collection that I threatened to take it with me right then!  The reps agreed that it looked great with my redwood colored jeans from Red Engine and my silk blouse from 81 Poppies.

It was surprising to see how many of the trends carried over from Fall to Spring.  Lots of leather and leather accents remain.  Black and White and darker colors were prevalent in the lines (I complained to a couple of brands - where are my Spring colors??)  Peplum is still very in as well.  Seeing a lot less of the High Low trend that seems to be wearing out its welcome.

Lots of Black and White

Velvet finally brought some color to the mix (as did Trina Turk)

Rebecca Taylor always has great dresses

After a VERY long day (I think I finished up at around 6:30), I checked into my hotel for the night and went to get something to eat and relax for a bit.  I've stayed in my hotel (the Marriott Marquis) twice with Jim so he asked me to take a picture for him showing him the location of my room.  Of course, I had to oblige.

Even after three years and countless market and buying trips, the process of shopping for my customers remains one of the most fun and most stressful aspects of owning a store.  Atlanta will always hold a special place in my heart because she was first.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Zoe's Fall Windows

In my continued mea culpa regarding my poor blog posting, I realized that I had interviewed Tara on the topic of this blog when I was in the store following the District Sample Sale, oh....about a month ago.  It is high time I got around to giving you the details around these beautiful windows!

The origin:  Our lovely Alexandra is studying for the SAT and, during quiet times in the store, she and Tara review vocabulary words.  (Who knew that working at Zoe was so educational?)  One of the words was "defoliate" and Tara challenged Alexandra to use it in a sentence.  As they discussed the word in detail, all Tara could think of was falling leaves.  And an idea for a window display was born!

The two of them had also ventured to Georgetown one evening to see the movie "Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorfs" and had been wowed by the window displays and how each one told a story.  Even more inspired, Tara began searching for the templates to help her carry out her vision.

She found the templates for the beautiful fall leaves online and began printing and coloring leaves in her spare time  (coloring them at one of her boyfriend's football games, she was asked if she was a teacher!)  For the trees (shown below) she resourcefully used cardboard from the boxes containing clothes that are delivered to Zoe.  (We are all about recycling, reusing, and repurposing at Zoe!)  The corrugated cardboard was perfect for creating a bark-like effect when she added a darker brown market to it.

Like Janice and Karen, she doesn't tell me exactly what she is planning but assures me that I will like it (and I always do!)  If you haven't already, make sure to stop by to let her know how much you love her windows!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Grown-Up Surprise

Oh, hey blog...long time no see!  I've been just a "little" busy lately but that doesn't mean that I don't think of you (and feel guilty) every day.

In thinking about this blog post I realized that, as a grown up, I don't have very many good surprises.  Bad surprises, yes.  They seem to pop up with regularity.  But no honest-to-goodness, I wasn't expecting that, how fantastic! surprises.  They are few and far between.  Until now.

There seem to be a plethora of sample boxes out there.  Birchbox.  Barkbox.  Julep.  Nature Box.  The list goes on and on.  But did any of them apply to me?  One day in August, I was reading blog entries from a great site called DC Ladies.  One of the writers mentioned the PopSugar Must Have Box and I was intrigued.  This looked like it had possibility!

I didn't want to go in too deeply without knowing if I would like it, so I signed up for a 3 month subscription.  They initially told me I wouldn't receive my first box until October but they had some subscriptions lapse in September so I was able to receive that box as my first of three.  And I was hooked.  Finally, I had something that would surprise (and delight) me!!

Jim has even gotten in on the excitement of seeing what has arrived for the month.  He informed me last week when I called home to say I was on my way that my October box had arrived and wondered out loud what was in it.  Here is how it looks when it arrives in the mail.

The anticipation was killing me...but I always open it slowly (to make the surprise even better)!

The pink pamphlet provides details on each item in the box.  And what an awesome box it was!  Imagine my delight when I saw the Jane Tran bobby pins like we carry at Zoe (love some hair jewelry!)

Each box normally has some kind of food, some cosmetics, a book (I know, like I need more books), and other fashionable things.  I was doubly excited when I found that they had included the SAME HAIRBRUSH that we featured on Alexandria Stylebook from Bellacara!  Talk about being on trend - the ladies of Stylebook know what we are talking about! (Make sure to sign up for our email list here!)

We all need a little (good) surprise in our lives from time to time!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

District Sample Sale - The Recap

On Monday, I posted about Zoe's invitation to the District Sample Sale.  Today I give you a recap of the event!

If you remember my planning for the Old Town Alexandria Warehouse Sale, you know that I always have a checklist.  This event was no different.  And it was slightly more challenging because I was unfamiliar with the event, the venue, and the logistics.  So the checklist was a must!!

When Tara arrived at Zoe yesterday, items were already being staged next to the front door.  And although I've been grumpy about the designation of several parking spaces in front of Zoe as "Loading Zoe" from 6 am - 11 am, I took full advantage of the Loading Zone yesterday morning to get our Honda Pilot fully packed up with clothing, racks, and other support items!

Janice arrived at 12:30 to take care of Zoe in our absence and Tara and I set out for DC at around 1:20 pm.  The email that we had received over the weekend indicated that we were to unload at the service entrance at 2 pm and we did not want to be late.  As we approached the venue, Tara said "What if you have to keep driving around and we just unload incrementally?"  I laughed and said "I don't want to explain that usage of gasoline to Jim!"  Oh, how little did we know how accurate her words were!

(Note - Jim has often said things similar to what Tara said and then they end up coming true.  Ask him sometime about what he said one night when we arrived in Atlanta en route from New Orleans to Alexandria) and he commented on the fact he had never stayed in the Westin next to the runway.  Guess where we ended up staying that night because our connecting flight had already departed?  Yes.  Nothing else need be said).

So, as you can imagine, there was no parking in the service area in the alley behind the venue.  And the police and others were just waiting to tow and ticket vehicles.  So what did we do?  Tara got out and found our space and then each time I circled the block, pulled more out of the Pilot.  I think I circled that block about 15 times as she ran up and down two flights of stairs (the service elevator was slow and crowded).  Finally, when there was very little left, I parked in the 24 hour parking garage close by and carried my card table down K Street.  (We've already established in this blog that I really have no shame).

(Second Note:  Jim called this a "learning experience".  I called it a "cluster".  He was just glad he wasn't there.)

Tara already had our rack set up when I reached our space (in the Sphinx Club in DC).  We then determined the ideal configuration for the space and went to work.  We finished in plenty of time and took a few deep breaths before I went to the ladies room to change into my "uniform" for the night (ankle boots, black tights, Rebecca Taylor leather skirt, black turtleneck, and Chan Luu scarf).

We were happy to see and visit with fellow Old Town Alexandrians Periwinkle, Bishop Boutique and Hysteria.  And then the madness began - the VIPs began entering the event at 5:30!

One of the best things about the event?  The opportunity to meet a friend from Twitter/Instagram (you may know her as @DCCeline) as well as her friends (shout out to @kcesledd) and the winner of her VIP giveaway (@EmilyKateDC).

In addition to Tara, former Zoe employee Julie joined us to help at the event.  I could not have been successful without the two of them managing our "dressing room", keeping our racks from complete chaos and calling our purchases so I could ring them up. Not to mention their role in the tear-down process!  They are the BEST!

Check out our dressing room behind us - we set up the Chinese Screen when the organizers moved the Step and Repeat Wall from this space!

It was a great opportunity to introduce Zoe to new customers - so many people asked "Where is your store?"  We hope that many of them will venture out to Old Town Alexandria soon!

When the event ended at 9 pm, I started to bring the Pilot back up to the loading area (hoping that I wouldn't have to repeat the multiple drive around the blog scenario again)!  I had parked on P4 of the parking building and I suddenly discovered as I was driving out that there was a direct entrance to the venue on P2.  Guess who parked and ran inside to share the news!!  This made the loading of the Pilot much easier!  Tara and I had already decided we would not unload on Tuesday night - we saved that fun for this morning.  At least we had less to unload that we had taken with us!

We enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the 2013 District Sample Sale!  If you shopped it, what did you buy? And what was your favorite part?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tara's First Year

In celebration of her 1 year anniversary at Zoe, I asked Tara to write a Guest Post for the Blog today!

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already.  I guess it is true what they say - time flies when you are having fun.  I first started working at Zoe on this day Sept. 24, one year ago.  I had an idea of what it would be like since I have worked in retail for 12 years already.  But what I have done over the past year with Susan and Zoe, was not one of those ideas.

I will never forget my first day “on the job” was a buying trip in New York City.  Susan took me on a train ride from Union Station (at 5am, lets just say I’m not a morning person), arriving in NYC sometime around 8am.  We went to several showrooms where I had the chance to look at designer lines that were all showing a season ahead.  I felt like VIP getting to see what was coming out for spring when it had just turned fall.  I also felt like a tourist, since I had to photograph and Instagram my entire experience.  I thought I had finally arrived when we went to the Chan Luu showroom, which happens to be in the Penthouse of their building.  This was obviously my first time in any penthouse.  I was like a kid in a candy store with all of those beautiful bracelets, clothing, and scarves!

NOTE:  Susan won't let me go to Velvet by myself.  I would spend the entire season's worth of money there!

After having the showroom experience, it came to no surprise that I would get to meet actual designers.  While at the store, I have had the privilege to meet Meagan Kurtz of ADMK Jewelry, Katie Bartels of Katie Bartels Jewelry, Kathlin Argiro, and Michelle Edwards of Haughty Cosmetics.  I never dreamed of being able to actually meet designers in the flesh (you something you just imagine would happen one day).  To my surprise I was also able to help Kathlin Argiro with a custom wedding gown for one of our customers.  Watching her create this amazing piece of artwork with a sash was incredible.  I was also able to design and create a display for ADMK Jewelry for their Atlanta Market show.

Tara and Meagan of ADMK Jewelry

Like I said, I have worked in retail for 12 years, so getting new items in every week is normally a walk in the park for me.  Receiving merchandise at Zoe is all so different.  It’s always like opening presents on Christmas.  I have even nicknamed our UPS delivery driver Freddie Claus.  I get so excited opening boxes and knowing that I actually had a hand in picking what our customers would one day have in their closets.

Our Favorite UPS Driver EVER - Freddie

Through out this entire year, I have been attending school for a degree in Fashion Merchandising.  For this degree, my final grade hinged solely on my ability to cultivate a business plan and website for my own store.  I don’t think I could have asked for a better mentor.  With Susan already experiencing the good and bad of the industry, I was able to have first hand experiences as a small business owner, and in some cases learn more from her than in class.

With all these great experiences, trips, events, and designer meet and greets, I can’t wait to see where year two with Zoe takes me!  Who knows, maybe we will end up front row at New York Fashion week sitting next to Anna Wintour.  With Susan and Zoe Boutique, anything is possible!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Invite

Isn't it always exciting to get an invitation?  Especially to an event you'd love to be part of?  Zoe got to experience that feeling when we got an invitation to be part of the District Sample Sale!

So what is the District Sample Sale?  It is the season's most fashionable charitable event!  100% of the Sample Sale's profits are donated to their chosen charity (this year is N Street Village) and their legacy charities!  In fact, since 2006, over $290,000 have been donated to charitable causes!

Planned for Tuesday, September 24th at The Sphinx Club at 1315 K Street, NW in the District, VIP shoppers may enter at 5:30 pm while the venue opens to all shoppers at 6:30 pm.  The ticket price includes cocktails and hors d'√≥uevers. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in a silent auction and a raffle and VIP Ticket holders also get a goodie bag!

It was an honor for Zoe to be invited to this prestigious event!  Much like the famed Old Town Boutique Warehouse Sale, stores offer end of season items at amazing discounts and even offer some in-season items at reduced prices!  If you don't have your ticket yet, you should definitely make sure you get them before time runs out - click here to purchase tickets and learn more about the event!

I'll be sure to give you a full rundown on the event later this week.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 2, 2013


I have been known to be challenged to actually take a real day off.  But what if working during your day off is fun?  What if it involves shopping?  Is it really work?  I'll let you decide!

On Saturday, I decided to take a day to enjoy myself.  We won't talk about how late I slept or how many cups of coffee I drank when I got up.  A planned trip to the grocery store turned into a reconnaissance mission - visit some stores that I admired to learn a bit more about how they do things (and to see how I was treated as an average customer).

As a side note, I have to say I love the way some of Zoe's customers are dressed when they shop in my store.  I wish I could look like that when I am shopping.  But I don't.  Not ever.  Saturday's grocery store ensemble was a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals.  So that is how I went into these locally owned boutiques in another part of the DMV area.  And I was treated wonderfully.  As I would hope I would be!

There were several things I wanted to observe (in addition to my treatment as a customer).  I wanted to learn about their return policies.  I wanted to look at brands that I might be missing.  I wanted to observe store layouts.  I wanted to observe dressing rooms.  I wanted to observe sales.  And I wanted to observe traffic.  (And I wanted to shop!)

I had a really enjoyable afternoon (and I did eventually make it to the grocery store).  Some key take aways from the trip:

1) Return Policy - I changed Zoe's return policy today.  After almost 2-1/2 years, it was time.  I brought it more in line with similar boutiques.

2) Brands - I found two new brands that I want to pursue further for Zoe's customers.  Both of which I bought for myself and will wear for a while to see what I think.  (No worries - these boutiques are quite far enough away from the store so as to not be cannibalizing on the brands).

3) Store Layouts - I got some ideas on things I might change to make things more efficient.

4) Dressing Rooms - While I am still very partial to a door on the dressing room - I got two completely different perspectives on the use of mirrors, which I need to consider at Zoe.

5) Sales - The stores I visited were all having unique versions of Labor Day weekend sales.  Definitely some good ideas for the future.

6) Traffic -  You always want to get a feel for independent store traffic, even if it is on a holiday weekend.  I observed traffic while I was there and got the feedback I needed. I came away with a few purchases.  (Lines not available at Zoe, of course)!

See, working CAN be fun!  Not a bad Labor Day weekend at all.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tee It Up

College Football season kicked off tonight and I could not be more excited!  Probably my favorite sport, it combines optimism, hard work, joy, passion, and an all around good time.  But what does this have to do with fashion?

You won't find much in the way of University of Georgia fashions in the DC area.  When it comes to football, we are mostly an NFL town.  Virginia Tech, UVA, and Maryland battle it out for college prominence but with no major concentration in the Alexandria area.  I may occasionally see something for Zoe and think "Oh, I'll bet a Maryland grad would love that."  But we don't get a lot of requests for school color clothing.

A boutique in a college town, however, must do their buying with the local University in mind!  Two of my favorite boutiques, Duo in Charlottesville and Sonia Says in Athens, GA make sure to have plenty of school color merchandise on hand, especially in the Fall.  As I scrolled through my Facebook News Feed yesterday, I saw this adorable Bulldog scarf at Sonia Says.

I immediately asked in the comments if they took phone orders and they confirmed that they did and would ship to me!  When I called today, they quickly processed my order over the phone with the promise to send it out tomorrow!  I will be fashionably adorned in time for next weekend's game.

Like Sonia Says, Zoe does phone orders too!  We even did one in response to our trunk show this past weekend!  It is not at all unusual for a customer to ask us to take pictures to send them them and then decide to place an order.  And of course, it is very easy to see our new arrivals (and sale items) on our Facebook Store (and purchase from there also!)

I hope your team wins this weekend (unless you are playing UGA, of course!)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Double Standard

I've heard it all my life - "No white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day."  After doing a little research, I ran across this explanation for the oft-repeated fashion rule from the blog
"[The rule] comes from a time when “summer” was still a verb and the elite class would leave the city at the start of the season, vacation wardrobe in tow, and return only post-Labor day to the drab suits of the urban working class.  By the mid-20th century, the “no white after Labor Day” rule had become a hard and fast way to draw class lines and educate the “nouveau riche” on the prevailing etiquette of the time."
I'll confess - I have a double standard when it comes to the "wearing white" rule!  You can find me wearing it as early as possible in the Springtime (I may have even been known to wear it in early April!)  Yet these last few weeks of August have found me squeezing in every opportunity to wear white slacks and white jeans.  It is as if I'm preparing to say good-bye to a dear friend!  
I'm apparently not alone.  The blog goes on to show a graphic (from that indicates the "wearing white" habits of their fashionable readers.  The results may surprise you.
How do you approach wearing white?  A rule follower?  Or a rule breaker?  (or like me, a rule "bender"?)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

College Fashion

Yesterday, my Twitter Feed and Facebook News Feed were full of college move-in pictures.  It brought me back to that day many years ago (notice I'm not saying HOW many years ago) that I moved into my dorm room in Barrett Hall at The College of William and Mary.  The next several days were a whirlwind - getting to know your roommate and hall mates, registering for classes, finding your way around, deciding if you wanted to rush a sorority.  And, of course, deciding what you wanted to wear to your first official day of classes as a college student!

Of course, we all felt quite grown up (or we pretended to be, anyway).  A few weeks into our tenure, as a group of us were walking back to the dorm from the dining hall, some upperclassmen fell in with us and started talking to us.  "You're Freshman, aren't you?", they said.  "Uh, yes," we replied.  "How could you tell?"  Laughing, they said to us "Well, first off, you all carry purses.  No one carries purses beyond the first month of their freshman year.  And you actually look as if you care about what you are wearing.  You'll be in sweatpants and sweatshirts within a couple months."

Our bubble burst, we considered their words.  We WERE all carrying purses.  (I was carrying this one. And yes, I had multiple covers that could be interchanged).  And we weren't wearing sweats.  I'm not kidding, I think we all ditched our purses that very evening.

We were not your typical Southern Football School.  We didn't dress up for football games.  I once had a date to a UVA game where I dressed to the nines, including a hat.  But a W&M Football game found us in shorts and t-shirts.  What I see on the UGA campus when I attend games in Athens looks like a fashion show!  

I often wonder, how do Freshmen women (and college women in general) dress on campus?  And can you pick out a Freshman girl from the way she dresses?  And is it regional?  Do women dress differently in different parts of the country?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Can Smart Women Be Beautiful?

As a female technology professional, I am often asked my opinion on well-known women in the field.  This can vary from my thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" to the decisions made by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.  Recently, Mayer ignited a firestorm by posing for Vogue.  Here is her picture:

The woman who sparked heated conversations on her two-week maternity leave and her decision to end the "work at home" policy at Yahoo was at the center of controversy again.  Because she chose to pose for Vogue Magazine.

I'm not going to talk about my thoughts regarding being a female in a male-dominated field.  Ask me to coffee and I'll be happy to share at length my thoughts (and it may surprise you, but many of them are positive).  But as I read some of the commentary around this photo, I thought to myself "Would I do it?"

1)  Would I wear the shoes?  Yes
2)  Would I wear the dress? Yes
3)  Would I pose for Vogue if ever asked? Yes, in a heart beat (although I would be horribly nervous!)
4)  Is it wrong for a smart woman to love and care about fashion and style and want to embrace that side of herself? No

I am in the unique position of living in both worlds.  And some of the comments from this CNN article (here) frankly amazed me.    I make decisions and distinctions every day to keep my worlds separate.  But I don't every lose my sense of self in the process.  And if Vogue came calling, I would definitely answer the phone!

What are your thoughts?  Was this appropriate?  Or not?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Don't Own Yoga Pants

Well, until now.  I do own yoga pants...I think - I'm still questioning it.  But let me explain.

I've wanted to get back to some type of structured exercise for some time.  And I had heard a great deal about The Barre Code, located in the Del Ray area of Alexandria.  One Sunday afternoon, I stopped in and met the owner, Amy, and was impressed by her and the facilities.  So last Sunday night, I decided to take the plunge and buy a 10 lesson package, figuring I could determine in that amount of time if it was for me or not.

Determined to jump right in, I registered for my first class on Monday evening.  Womp Womp.  I was wait listed!  On Monday, thinking that it was a possibility that I might make it off the wait list, I grabbed the first few items I saw in my "exercise clothing" drawer and headed out the door.

A quick check of my email just after 5 pm revealed that I had made it off the wait list and into that evening class.  And it started at 6:30.  Time to jump in the car and take off like a mad woman for Alexandria!  I made it in time to change into the clothes I brought with me....and then I realized I had a problem.  The bottoms were ok - Nike tights that I used for other exercise classes and running.  But the tops.  Oh, the tops.  I had a pink sport bra and what turned out to be a red tank top that was actually a pajama top.  Made even worse that it was a Christmas pajama top with two reindeer kissing on it.  (And lets not talk about the fact that I had brought no shoes to change into - rather than going out into the parking lot in my high heels, I chose to put on socks).

Note 1:  Whenever I am with someone and we see someone who is wearing ill-fitting or unmatching exercise gear and the person I am with makes a derogatory comment, I always say "Well, at least he/she is trying!!"  When I looked at myself in the mirror in class that night, I just had to say "Well, at least you are trying!"  (And hope that my classmates were saying the same thing).

Note 2:  When I told both Tara and Alexandra about this, they were both ashamed of my fashion disaster.  I promised them it would not happen again.

Pressed for time, I did not get the chance to check any of the local stores for the appropriate exercise wear.  I found myself in a Lululemon.  Kind of like a craft store, I felt like an impostor.  But I took a deep breath, tried on a couple items, and left with a top and pants that seemed appropriate.  And I said to myself "Did I just buy yoga pants?"  I checked their online store - my top is definitely a yoga top.  I think the pants could qualify as running pants.  That's what I'm telling myself anyway.  (Not that there is anything wrong with yoga pants.  I just never pictured myself wearing any.  As I always say "Never Say Never")

I looked much more stylish in my Friday class.  By the way, I do love it and really recommend it if you are looking for a great, challenging workout in the Alexandria area.  But, as always, it made me think.  Why couldn't I easily find workout clothing in a local store?  Where could I find it?

I have taken steps to get approved as a reseller of exercise clothing for three different lines.  I'll pick one to see if I can satisfy an unmet need for my customers and women in Alexandria.  And try to make sure I don't go to class as a fashion disaster anymore!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Kind of Shopper Are You?

Some of you may remember when magazines had quizzes.  Your answers to these 10 questions might tell you anything from what type of prom dress you should buy to the type of man who was your ideal mate to the sort of home you prefer.  They were affirming and, even more so, entertaining.

If I were to write one of these quizzes, I would write one to ask "What kind of shopper are you?"  My first question would be "Who do you prefer to go shopping with?"

As you can imagine, I have the opportunity to observe lots of different shopping styles.  And while shopping is intensely personal and each person approaches it in her own unique way, there are some trends.

1) With a partner or friend - This is probably about 45% of our shoppers.  Spouses, a significant other, a good friend, a co-worker, or even a son/daughter!  This shopper is then split again by those who value the opinions of the person with them and those who are secretly wishing the other half of their party would go on down the street to Ben & Jerry's!

2) On her own - We probably have another 45% fit this category.  She might be enjoying a leisurely hour to herself, be on a mission for a special piece, or simply prefer her own feedback to someone else's.  I must confess that I am this type of shopper.  If I feel comfortable with the salesperson, I might interact with her and discuss possibilities regarding shoes or accessories but if not, I will keep to myself.  That's why we like to give each customer their "space" at Zoe.  If we feel you'd like interaction, we love to work with you.  If not, we understand that you'd like to browse or try on in peace!

3) With a group of friends - If I had to guess, I'd say our remaining 10% falls into this category.  In some cases, everyone is trying things on and modeling for each other and in others, maybe 2 or 3 are shopping seriously while the others are providing moral support and opinions! Shopping is a social activity and they consider it a great day out with friends.

What kind of shopper are you? And why?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Not My Hometown Sidewalk Sale

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I grew up in a small town and shopped boutiques with my Mom.  Not because we were trendy or cool but because there were no chain stores!  Boutiques were the ONLY place to shop.  But it did shape my shopping and fashion choices forever!

Our hometown sidewalk sale always took place in August (just like Alexandria's this past weekend).  And, to be honest, it was kind of a letdown.  Most of the stuff out on the sidewalk looked like it was 10 years old and had been drug out of the store basement!  Or the boutique that also had shoes that had their one cent sale - buy one shoe at the sale price and get the second shoe for a penny.  (Um...I don't think anyone was just going to buy one shoe).  Needless to say, we went but we mostly ended up going into the stores to see their new Fall merchandise.

I contrast that experience with the Alexandria Sidewalk Sale.  Not even a comparison!  I am always amazed at the beautiful items that stores offer during this fabulous end of season event!  All weekend, we not only had delighted customers at Zoe but also customers showing us their finds from the other stores!  (The only negative - if you work the sale, you often don't have the opportunity to visit everyone else's offerings!)  This was definitely NOT my hometown sidewalk sale.

While we are fortunate to not be transporting the store (ala The Warehouse Sale) to another location, it still requires planning and work.  On Friday afternoon, Tara and I were busily marking down prices, assembling the H-rack, and talking about product placement inside and outside the store, as well as making our disaster recovery plans for rain (Good thing!  More to come on that).

I set my alarm for 6 am on Saturday morning so I could get to the store early and start to finalize preparations.  With an open time of 9 am on the first day of the sale, we needed to make sure everything was ready to go.

(Thanks to our friends at Alexandria Stylebook for this live action shot of me and Tara getting everything set up!)

The questionable weather kept things uncertain during the first few hours of the sale.  In total, we brought the clothes inside and then back out FOUR times over the course of the earlier hours on Saturday!  By the last time, I think we did it in 3 minutes flat.  As fine tuned as a NASCAR pit crew!

Our shoppers perusing the temporary racks inside during one of the drizzle periods outside!

Once the weather cleared up and looked more certain, the shoppers came out in droves.  As always, it is so much fun to see so many of our existing Zoe friends and customers and make new friends.  And there is nothing more satisfying than seeing someone happy over getting a great addition to their wardrobe at a great price!

Shoppers enjoying the wide open surface of the outside patio shop!

This year, the Sidewalk Sale was slated for 2 days!  We had always put Zoe's merchandise out on Sunday anyway (since the patio is private and doesn't block the street).  But this was the first time it was official!  We not only had great weather but continued good crowds on day two.  When we shut down on Sunday evening, we deemed the weekend a success.

I can't go without mentioning the amazing work done by Tara and Julie this weekend!  They kept our customers happy, our doggie visitors well-treated (literally!), and our dressing rooms well managed and clean.  Nothing about this event would have been a success without them.

I love the Alexandria Sidewalk Sale (can you believe this was Zoe's third time to participate?)  And as many things as I like about my experiences shopping in my hometown, I'm glad our Sidewalk Sales are not the same!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Different Point of View

This past weekend was not only Jim's first trip to New York but also the first time he had seen me "at work".  He provides his point of view in today's blog post.

Susan:  This was your first trip to New York City.  What did you like best about it?

Jim:  Getting to see you in your role as "the buyer".  I never could really understand this process without seeing it first hand.  I was really impressed with your reps and their presentations.

Susan:  What was the worst thing about your trip?

Jim: One of the cab rides was horrible!  And all of them have road rage!  But I probably would too if I had to drive in Manhattan every day.

Susan:  What was the biggest surprise?

Jim:  The cost of EVERYTHING!  Food, drinks, attractions.  I couldn't believe how expensive it was!  The other thing was the size of Central Park.  I didn't realize just how big it was - and I spent parts of two days there and still didn't get to see all of it.

Susan:  What were three observations that you had about the buying process for Zoe?

Jim:  1) How difficult it would be to make a decision on what to buy, 2) The size of the collections - when you told me that the Resort/Early Spring collections were small compared to Spring/Fall, I couldn't believe it.  I thought these collections were big, and 3) The locations of some of the showrooms.  It is hard to believe these beautiful spaces exist in these nondescript buildings.

Susan:  You compared the visits to sales calls that you make in your job.  What did you observe about my interactions with my reps?

Jim:  I was impressed that your reps seemed to know what you wanted to see.  That they knew your previous orders and didn't waste time showing you things that didn't fit the Zoe customer.  And the interactions between them and you were pleasant and friendly.  And when you went to work, you didn't even seem to remember I was there!  Meaning that you were very natural and seemed liked you behaved the same way you would if I wasn't there.

Susan:  I can always use a chaperon!!  But I did ask you to feel the fabrics sometimes!  What did you think?

Jim:  The fabrics were amazing!  They are even softer than they look!  It is clear that companies are making clothing with a focus on how they feel on the body.  They want people to be comfortable.

Susan:  We met with fab jewelry designer Katie Bartels in her shared workspace office.  What did you think about that set-up and meeting?

Jim:  The shared workspace set-up was very interesting.  I am not sure if I could work in that environment but it seemed like a great fit for Katie and the others working there.  I enjoyed seeing the two of you as small businesswomen talk about the different methods for building and publicizing your brands.  And she took us out for the MOST delicious chocolate chip cookie!  And it was fun getting to see (and weigh in on) the design of the Zoe necklace.

Susan:  Would you go back again?

Jim:  Yes, without a doubt.

Friday, August 2, 2013

5 Days, 5 Outfits

Today was the final day of work for a dear friend and valued co-worker at my day job.  People showed their love and appreciation for her in a variety of ways, including gifts of all types.  But being so fashion and style focused, I just had to share my favorite gift with you!

A self-confessed tomboy who nonetheless loves pretty clothes, my friend has always said she struggles to put together the right combination of clothing and accessories for work.  In order to start her off in her new job in style, three friends got together and outfitted her with clothing and accessories to cover the first 5 days in her new job (plus a bonus outfit to wear to go out with her husband next Friday night to celebrate a successful week at her new company!)

Each day's outfit was wrapped with care in tissue paper, tied with ribbon, and included a card outlining how it could be worn "as is" or combined with other things in her wardrobe!  Included in each day's package were outfit appropriate earrings and accessories!  She may have a lot of things on her mind as she adjusts to a new commute and a new work environment next week, but she won't have to worry about what to wear!

It really made me think about gift giving in a different way.  We all notice what our friends wear - why not give them something to accent that great skirt or pair of jeans?  And tell them you were thinking of that favorite piece in their wardrobe when you purchased it!  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Happy Birthday!

But not to me (not yet, anyway)!  Fellow Alexandria businesswoman Katie Wells, Founder and Event Stylist of Petite Social, celebrates the second birthday of her business starting today!

As part of the celebration, she teamed with so many wonderful locally owned businesses, Zoe included!  By entering the contest on the Petite Social website, you can be eligible to win one of two iPad minis!  All through following the social media sites for the businesses of your choice!

Styling and planning everything from business events to fashion shows to kids parties to bridal showers, Katie brings her gift for making everything just perfect.  What an honor to celebrate with her!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When The Boss Sets The Style

In last Thursday's Wall Street Journal, there was an article discussing CEO's setting fashion trends for employees.  There was even a bullet point list outlining ways to "Translate Boss Style".  Pictured below, Amy Barton, women's senior editor at online retailer Gilt, says she mixes formal and more-casual items, emulating women's editorial director Tracey Lomrantz Lester - who says her snakeskin Christian Louboutins are her "go-to work shoe.". (Yes, they would probably be my go-to work shoe if I owned them too!)

It started me thinking where I've looked for work style in my career.  My first style icon was my Mom.  Not only did I get to shop the local boutiques with her as a little girl, but I got to see how she dressed for work every day.  When I was in Junior High, the school was within walking distance of where my parents worked.  It was always such a treat to walk there after practice or an event and ride home with them.  My first stop would be to see my Mom (to check in and see what she was wearing, since she often wasn't dressed for work when she sent us off to school) and then park myself in my Dad's office to do homework until it was time to go home.  Mom was always crisp, professional, and on point.  Never do I remember anything about her wardrobe being any less than perfect.

Unfortunately, my career choices didn't always provide many female icons to emulate.  In fact, as I prepared to write this blog post, I could only think of one female boss (outside of a part time retail job I had in my later twenties to supplement my clothing budget) that I've had in my entire career.  The fields of lobbying, manufacturing, and technology don't typically lend themselves to female leaders!

But trust me, I always looked.  I looked at the women who had been a success, even if they were in other areas of the company.  I was once told "Dress for the job you want.  Not the job you have."  I took it to heart.  I occasionally found "fashion mentors".  My style grew and changed over the years as I matured and got to know myself better.

The article does stress that "...while taking cues from the boss, it is important to maintain a distinct individual style."  I believe that is true of any field.  But my favorite quote was this one - "You never have to apologize for dressing up." (Chip Swearngan - First Data Corp)

Who are your style icons?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Mystery

On Thursday of this past week, an H&M store opened on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.  People stood in line overnight to be some of the first to enter the store and, as one of the first 100 shoppers, receive an "all-access fashion pass" valued up to $300 off a shopper's entire purchase.

I have to confess, I find this to be a mystery as to why people would do this, much less be excited that an H&M is now in Old Town. Actually, I guess I don't find it a mystery.  Here is what I understand is good about it:

- The sales taxes it generates for the City will be good for everyone.
- It will draw a shopper type to Alexandria that might not normally come here but would instead go to Pentagon City or Georgetown.
- The landlord has an international tenant that it knows will pay the rent and has deep pockets.
- They sell clothing at a price point that makes it attainable for many people.

As a businesswoman, I get all that.  But I remain unimpressed and not enthused.  And I'll tell you why.

The book "Overdressed:  The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion", does a very good job of outlining the problems with stores like H&M and their counterparts like Zara and Forever 21.  If you haven't read it yet and do enjoy understand a behind the scenes look at fashion, I highly recommend it.  Some key points directly from the book:

- Rather than following typical seasons, fast fashion retailers receive new shipments regularly and lure shoppers into their stores on a continual basis.  Never mind the time and effort and creativity that go into designer's lines - the fast fashion chains rip them off, mass produce them, and have them in stores almost as soon as they are off the runway.  What I see in September, I won't have in the store until at least February or March.  You'll probably see it within a matter of two months or less at H&M

- The quality is shockingly bad.  Items purchased at fast fashion chains are throwaway items.  The author notes that buyers do not even consider "How long will this last?" or even "Will I like it when I get it home?"  Because the consumer assumes that if they don't like it or if it falls apart they can still throw it away because they bought it for a low price.  Quality today means something quite different than it used to.

- Think about how clothing is put together, what it's made of and visualize the journey to your closet.  Wouldn't you rather have garments that are unique and made with a level of skill and good materials that cheap fashion simply can't provide us? (this is quoted directly from the book).

- Fast fashion chains (such as H&M) produced 500 million pieces of clothing a year in 2004.  One would assume their numbers are much higher today   Designers such as I carry at Zoe have to have a certain number of orders or they don't produce an item.  And they usually only produce what has been ordered - if an item arrives damaged or I sell through items quickly, it is difficult to reorder simply because they can't afford to make things that they don't know that they will sell.

- We're completely in the dark about what fast fashion has cost the environment and American jobs.  From an environment standpoint, the natural resources that go into fiber production every year now demand approximately 135 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water.  This doesn't even take into account the toxic dyes dumped into water supplies or pollution generated from garment manufacturing factories in Eastern Europe and Asia.

- As the spouse of someone employed in the US manufacturing industry, I'm especially sensitive to the loss of these types of jobs.  In March 2011, the New York Times reporter Nadia Sussman documented the lives of New York City garment workers in a video segment called "Struggling to Stitch."  Sussman interviewed Hispanic day laborers lined up in the early morning hours on Eighth Avenue at West Thirty-eighth Street in the Garment Center, vying for scarce jobs sewing, packing, ironing, or cutting loose threads.

- When a fashion designer is getting their start, using foreign manufacturing isn't an option.  Most don't have the travel budget or big enough order sizes to make it possible.  Yet they tend to put the most care into their garments and create the most unique pieces.  Items made in New York and Los Angeles give the local designers control to make last-minute adjustments and to monitor quality.  Zoe's US manufactured designers will often allow us to change an aspect of a garment that we believe will make it more attractive to our customers.  You'll never get that from a fast fashion store.

Take the time some day to add up what you've spend at fast fashion stores.  And how much of it you are still wearing a year later.  And let me know the results.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Picture This

I can usually remember how I got started using a form of Social Media but I can't remember exactly what sparked my interest in Instagram a little over a year ago.  But it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite ways to not only see the world in photographs but share a little of my own world too.

Until preparing to write this blog post, I didn't realize where the name came from - the founders loved playing with cameras and liked the idea that cameras "back in the day" touted themselves as "Instant".  They also felt that the snapshots that people were taking were like telegrams being sent over the wire to others.  So why not combine the two words?

Earlier this year, I tried to take a photo every day (that was one of my promises to myself - that I would share more of myself with people).  But some days it just felt forced.  So I decided to share when it was relevant - sometimes I'll go two or three days without sharing a picture and others I'll share three pictures in a day!

I don't have an account just for Zoe (more on that in a bit) but have instead kept my account focused on my world as a whole.  You never know what you might see....

A shot of the new Summer Velvet Arrivals at Zoe back in April.

Pictures of cars (Jim loves them!)

Gratuitous pictures of the niece and nephew (my cuties!)

Silly pictures (one of my first when I was still learning to use it last summer!)

Pictures when I'm at Market (Tara and Alexandra love to follow along remotely to see what I'm looking at!  These are three Rebecca Taylor Pre-Fall pieces that I selected in January and they  recently arrived in store.

I try to remember to hashtag the Zoe related items with #shopatzoe.  Which brings me to my question - do you like to follow your brands and stores on Instagram?  I don't market my personal account to my customers (of course, if they wanted to follow, they would be welcome to do so).  But I know how much I enjoy following other stores and brands.  Let me know your thoughts.  Or if I should stick with my personal only.  I'm fine with that too!