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!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Christmas In July - Year Three

All that preparation paid off!  Year Three of Christmas in July at Zoe was a great success!  And have I mentioned that we have the best customers?  (And got to meet lots of new ones!)

The day in pictures:

Of course, I didn't sleep very well and was in the store early preparing for the big day.  We had just received these beautiful Contrarian Trench Coats late on Friday (which I think I love more than Burberry!) and I wanted them to be steamed and ready to go for our customers.

Tara brought me sunflowers to start the day off on a positive note!

Kathlin arrived promptly at 10:30 and the customers quickly followed!  There is nothing better than having the designer of a garment show you exactly how to wear it.  In this picture, Kathlin shows the customer how to wear the wrap dress as a tunic.

It is so much fun to see the same piece of clothing worn in two different ways!  Cori and Alexandra both look fabulous!

Kathlin has fans of all ages!  This future designer immediately began sketching styles to share with Kathlin when she heard that she and her Mom would get to visit the Trunk Show this weekend!

Our beautiful bride in her custom created Kathlin Argiro wedding gown!  Kathlin actually designed this custom sash as she worked on the fitting of the gown!  The black covering on the floor (to protect the dress) was one of the tablecloths used at the Warehouse Sale in February!  (It is sometimes good that I forget to take things home).

Everyone on Team Zoe was wearing Kathlin Argiro yesterday!  One of our customers was kind enough to snap this shot of us together just before Kathlin departed for the day.

Outside Zoe, musicians played under a tent on the patio, the Smurfs made an appearance, stories were read at many different locations throughout Union Street (in support of the chosen charity The Reading Connection), and of course Santa and Mrs. Claus were a huge draw!  This was our most fun and successful Christmas in July yet!

Friday, July 19, 2013

You're Either In or You're Out

This morning on my personal Twitter feed, I retweeted Pat Riley's quote "There are only two options regarding commitment, you're either in or you're out.  There's no such thing as life in-between."  Feel as you may about Pat Riley but his quote sums up my approach to life and to business.  Let me explain how I've applied that to tomorrow's Christmas in July event at Zoe Boutique!

If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it full throttle or I'm just not going to do it.  Having learned a great deal from the last two Christmas in July events (can you believe this is my THIRD one at Zoe??), my decision for an event (a Black Saturday sale and a Kathlin Argiro Trunk Show) were easy.  I was so thrilled that Kathlin was willing to sign up for a second year AND allow me to select new wrap dress fabrics for the occasion!  Plus, we had a special treat - a bridal gown that Kathlin had custom designed and made for one of our customers!

The next step was to start publicizing the event.  The young lady who is in charge of social media has done an excellent job of trumpeting the event on Facebook and Twitter.  In fact, when I spoke with my brother over the weekend, he said "There is one thing I know."  I asked him "What's that?"  He said "Black Saturday is July 20th."  (He is an avid Zoe Facebook and Twitter follower!)

Then, it was time to reach out to the bloggers and fashion press.  I sat down one Sunday afternoon and wrote to every outlet that I knew of that I had a) met the blogger/editor or b) had great respect for their product.  The results paid off with numerous mentions this week!

Then it was time to target Zoe's most loyal customers - our email and mailing list!  My email guru, Jenn Barton, crafted the message to go out to Zoe's list.  And we mailed over 200 postcards, many with personal messages, to that same list.

We're having a great event tomorrow.  I can't wait - I am so excited I can hardly wind down tonight.  Because I'm ALL IN.  Check back on Sunday to find out the results!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Meaning of It

So sorry to disappoint you.  Not a post of The Meaning of .....Life.  I'll save that for another day!

Today's post is going a little further on Monday's post about jewelry.  As I mentioned, I really am an observer of what people wear.  And I have several friends who I have never seen without a particular piece of jewelry, even if they have it layered/combined with something else.  I was brave enough to ask them about the meaning of their pieces.  I love their stories.

One of my friends always wears the most beautiful, delicate necklace.  When I asked her about it, she told me that, when she was a teenager, her mother bought her the single diamond from Tiffany's (her mother also had one).  She loved it and its simplicity so much that about 20 years ago, she bought the one she has now and has never taken it off (with the exception of having to have a recent repair to the chain after pulling on it a bit too hard).  The single diamond Tiffany necklace is pictured below - beautiful, isn't it?

And it layers so nicely with pretty much any other necklace she chooses!

Another of my friends always wears a heart pendant.  When asked about it, she told me that her husband (boyfriend at the time) had given it to her as one of the first gifts in their relationship and she has only taken it off during surgery.  It is another classic, timeless piece that looks beautiful with everything.

And another friend always wears a Ruby ring.  When I asked her about the origin of this ring, she told me that it had been her grandmother's ring and from the moment it was given to her, she has always worn it - over 20 years!  Looking at it brings back fond memories of the woman who had worn the ring before her.  The ring she wears looks like this one.

I admit it - I am such a sentimentalist.  I love these stories.  And I love to imagine the possibility that people who shop at Zoe are finding "that piece" that will be something they wear for 20 years too.  I also love the fact that none of these pieces are "fad" pieces - they truly are classics. 

Do you have a piece of jewelry that you love to wear?  Tell me about it and it's meaning!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Accessorize Me

I have been thinking a lot about accessories lately.  And observing what people wear.  And I realize that we mostly fall into three categories:  1) Creatures of habit/meaning, 2) Neutral lovers and 3) Mix and Match.  Sometimes we cross categories but we can pretty much predict where we fall on any given day.

I will tell you that I really want to be a Mix and Match girl.  But I'm pretty much a blend of Creature of Habit/Neutral lover.  So what do I wear on a daily basis?

I still wear a watch.  Jim gave me a beautiful art deco watch about 10 years ago and I don't go without it.  The one pictured above is very close to mine.  I recently read a popular blogger's post on Instagram that questioned why anyone would wear a watch except as a fashion statement.  I do still look at mine to tell time! And I don't feel fully dressed without it!

You'll pretty much always see me wearing my Chan Luu Hematite Wrap Bracelet on my right wrist.  It was the first thing that I appropriated for myself at Zoe so that I could show customers how it looks and works.  I even had to have it repaired after a year and half of constant wear (remember this post?)  Although I like to wear other bracelets sometimes, I always feel a bit lost when I'm not wearing it.  (Like I'm cheating on it!)

A recent addition to my wrist is this beautiful hematite cross bracelet from my Union Street neighbor Mystique Jewelers.  The owner, Liz, had always admired my Chan Luu and told me about the cross bracelet when it arrived.  The hematite, along with the black CZ in the cross, is the perfect compliment to my wrist!

As far as rings go, I always wear my engagement and wedding rings along with a Tanzanite and Diamond ring that I purchased as a gift for myself at Ajanta Jewelers in the Virgin Islands (similar to the one above except I have an Emerald cut for the Tanzanite stone).  Whenever I look at it, I am transported back to a wonderful vacation.

I get a little more adventuresome when it comes to earrings and necklaces but I gravitate toward Zoe's designers Katie Bartels and ADMK Jewelry.  But I tend more toward neutrals and things that I can mix and match with lots of other colors.

Where would you categorize yourself?  And why?  More on accessories later this week...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I'm Too Old To Wear That

Have you ever heard anyone say that?  Have you ever said that yourself?  If you've ever felt that way, did you know that with a few enhancements, you can change the look of almost any piece to be what you feel is age appropriate?

Yesterday, Tara had a customer admire our Contrarian Swanny Sheath Dress (which I absolutely adore)!

But she said "Oh, I think I'm too old to wear that."  Upon finding out she is a Middle School Teacher, Tara suggested that she could buy it for the classroom, toss a cardigan over it and wear it over leggings as a tunic!  The customer loved the idea!

See something you like but are wondering if you can pull it off?  Let us help you!  And never say "I'm too old to wear that" again.

P.S.  We style ladies from their teens to their 80s.  You are never too young or old to shop at Zoe!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rushing The Seasons

Why are we always in a hurry for the next new, exciting thing?  Why can't we just enjoy and savor the season we are in?  But it is human nature.  Always looking for new, interesting, better.

In past seasons, I have tired of the current season at Zoe.  The colors and styles that I was so in love with when they arrived reach a point of "Oh, I'm so ready to be done with those pieces - they need to find a home."   I will say that this Spring and Summer, I have remained enamored with the beautiful colors and styles.  The designers truly outdid themselves.

But now the Fall pieces are starting to arrive.  (Let's not discuss the lunacy of Fall clothing arriving in July - that's a whole other blog post).  And I look at them and I start to imagine the crisp Fall Saturday afternoons.  The purple and red top with dark denim.  That amazingly cozy sweater with the leather belt.  And, although it goes against everything in my nature, I long for Fall.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Whenever I do something new (or something I haven't done in a long time), one of the first things I think about is "What should I wear?"  On Sunday, I was preparing to go to my first Nationals game since baseball returned to Washington.  (I know, shameful that it has taken me this long to go.  I've been kind of busy.)  I most recently went to a baseball game (Mariners) in 2005 in Seattle when I worked there.  So it has been a while.

I used to worry solely about the fashion aspect whenever I went anywhere.  Sporting events included.  My thinking got changed slightly when I was angsting about what to wear to a college football game in the late 90s.  One of my male family members (who shall remain nameless) said "Sue, It's a football game, not a fashion show."  Ouch.

But it did make me think....I can look nice but should make sure I'm comfortable.  And dressed appropriately for the weather.  So back to the Nationals.

1) I knew it was going to be hot (1:35 pm start).
2) I wasn't 100% sure of our seating arrangements - would we be in the sun?
3) I didn't already own any Nationals garb and wasn't going to spend money on any beforehand
4) I should at least attempt to dress in a color appropriate scheme (red or blue or white)

I started with the easy part - bottoms first.  I originally thought about wearing my white Red Engine Jeans but had to nix the idea of long pants in the heat.  My second choice was a pair of tan khaki Bermuda shorts.  That dilemma was solved.

But what to wear on top? I have a lot of Red, but much of it is either long sleeved (for UGA football games, naturally) or branded with a different Washington sports team (I have some Caps tops).  None of it seemed quite right.  So I went to one of my favorites - a lightweight, cotton Rebecca Taylor Top from last summer.  Layered over a thin Chan Luu cami, and I had the basics taken care of.  Pair it with Michael Kors Red flats from The Shoe Hive and a UGA Baseball cap, I was good to go.

The day was hot and the game was long but exciting!  It felt so good to be back at a baseball game again!  And I felt appropriately dressed!  My one regret?  Not having a Cincinnati Reds cap on when I met one of my childhood sports idols George Foster!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Entrepreneurs

One of the joys of working with others is seeing them grow.  And nothing makes me happier than seeing all of my Zoe Ladies experiencing the thrill of entrepreneurship.

From reading the blog, many of you know that Janice and Karen started their own business, Semper Stylish, last year.  From an initial start of doing Zoe's windows to graduating to the Luckett's Spring Market to now having their beautiful finds in two locations (soon to be a third!), they have grown their business leaps and bounds over the past year and a half!  So much so that Janice's loyal Monday/Tuesday customers at Zoe won't be seeing her much longer as they devote more time to their expanding business!

In her final quarter at The Art Institute, Fashion & Retail Management student Tara (Zoe's Assistant Manager) is currently knee-deep in developing a business plan for opening her own boutique.  Her final project involves a detailed business plan that covers every area from budgeting her "open to buy" amounts for each season to determining her expenses (everything from advertising to rent to insurance to postage has to be covered) to giving her boutique a name and a theme!  It has been such fun to talk with Tara about her project and answer her questions about planning for and running a boutique.

In the past week, Alexandra has attended the National Student Leadership Conference at Fordham University.  Her program, Business and Entrepreneurship, covered all aspects of creating and managing a business.  (I am so jealous, by the way - this would have been amazing opportunity at the age of 16!)  The class of 14 studied topics in Finance, Marketing, and Globalization.  Alexandra was especially surprised to find out just how much she enjoyed the Finance section of the coursework.

Using the Capsim Business Simulation Software, Alexandra and her teammates developed a business plan for a cell phone company.  Other modules included the development and marketing of a new technology, management of social media (Alexandra managed her team's Twitter account), and Field Trips to the Federal Reserve and the Museum of American Finance.  In addition, Alexandra took a leadership evaluation which identified her as primarily a Lion (with a secondary as a Koala).  Meaning that she is forceful and direct but also wants everyone in the room to be happy and in agreement.  Good traits to have when trying to build consensus!

Last year, Forbes wrote an article "Entrepreneurship is the New Women's Movement".  Based on the Zoe Ladies alone, I'd have to agree!  (Plus, have you ever noticed how many of the small businesses in Alexandria are women owned?  Amazing!)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fly Away

A friend's recent travels as well as my own last month were a stark reminder of just how horribly some people dress when they go to the airport!  Sometimes, it is so bad, you just want to shield your eyes.

My parents were of the generation that dressed up to fly.  My first flight (to Cincinnati at the age of 6), I was outfitted in my Sunday best.  There is even a home movie of us boarding the plane and then disembarking (things were a LOT different then.)  My Dad was really a personal YouTube.

Even as fashion norms have changed over the years, I've always tried to mix comfortable with professional.  It really is possible to look nice AND feel good at the same time (without resorting to wearing your pajamas and UGGs).

Some of my favorites:

An easy, draped cardigan.  (Yes, my summer sweater obsession continued).  This is the perfect layering piece.  Put it on when the plane or airport is over air conditioned.  Take it off when you reach your warm, sunny destination!

A flattering top can be paired with shorts, a skirt, jeans, or slacks.  The fit is structured but loose - you can look nice while still hoisting your carry-on bag up into the overhead bins!

I'm always a big fan of nice clothing that doesn't wrinkle.  And it can be hard to find!  But throw this Tencel jacket on over your favorite comfy tee or cami and you've got the best of all worlds.

A maxi dress can be a great travel staple.  Allows for easy movement (as you just might find yourself running through the airport to catch that connecting flight) as well as can be worn again out to dinner or to that evening beach cocktail soiree.  And such easy packing - they don't take up much room in your suitcase on the way back!

So don't be "that girl" that everyone is talking about in the airport (for all the wrong reasons)!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Warm Me Up

I love to be warm.  I was made for the hot, humid weather of DC.  But I wasn't made for air conditioning.  Let me explain.

I grew up in a house without air conditioning.  My parents built their house in 1960, the year they got married.  Air conditioning would have consisted of a window unit at that time (and that isn't something that they found necessary).  Plus, they lived in the Appalachian Mountains at an elevation of 2,421 feet.  A summer day over 90 degrees was a once a year event.  Why have air conditioning?  When you don't have something, you don't miss it!

As I've gotten used to air conditioning in my adult life, I've gravitated toward spring and summer sweaters as great primary or layering pieces.  But I find that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for sweaters.

When I opened Zoe in Spring 2011, I had a selection of sweaters from one of my creative favorites, Lia Molly as well as sweaters from Laurie B.  They sold reasonably well.  The next Spring, Lia Molly had ceased large scale production and the selections from Laurie B were slower to sell.  Something was up - why weren't they selling? 

I had to reevaluate my product mix.  And bring in only six sweaters for Spring 2013 - three from Velvet, two from Graham and Spencer and one from Tracy Reese.  Most of the cardigans have done well but the others have not.  I was especially surprised this fun layering sweater from Velvet wasn't more popular.

It had the neon accent at the bottom, could be layered over many color combinations and worn with everything from jeans to a skirt to dress slacks.  So what did I miss?  What are your concerns with this sweater?  Help me make good buying decisions when I shop for Spring in September!

P.S.  Are you shopping your Independent Retailers this week?  Make sure to collect your experiences to share with me!