Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Retailers and Opinion and Boutiques and IBJ Style

STYLE: A pair of local designers rack up retail space

March 19, 2011

I remember the first designer-owned boutique I ever came into contact with. A colleague from the fabric store where I worked in high school opened her own retail space down the street in Royal Oak, Mich., where she sold merchandise from her own line and labels out of New York, on top of custom orders for things like prom dresses.

I thought she was so cool.

Her store, Shapes, is still open today, more than a decade later, in part because Therese is a talented designer, but also because shoppers are drawn to that whole artist-in-residence concept. “Fashion designer” sounds so untouchable, but when that designer owns a store, he or she can become as familiar as a hair stylist.

At least that’s what two of Indianapolis’ most established designers are counting on as they ready their own namesake boutiques, both due to open by May 1.

Arlinda Norris of R.Lynda and Nikki Blaine of Nikki Blaine Couture have both staked out spots on the north side. They say their proximity in location and opening date is a complete coincidence.

While most local designers have thus far forgone the operating cost of a brick-and-mortar boutique in favor of the universal accessibility of the Internet or just consigning with established retailers, Norris and Blaine feel they can better serve their customer and their brand through a tangible location.

Since Norris launched her label in March 2010, she hasn’t rushed to place her merchandise in any local boutiques because she says it would push her prices beyond her comfort level.

“If a sample costs me $45 to manufacture, it will probably cost around $200 by the time it hits retail. I don’t want to be that kind of designer,” she said.

With her own store, she eliminates the middle man, maintaining a price point below $150.

She tested the market by posting a small collection to her website, rlynda.com. When just about everything sold out with minimal marketing, she decided to plan for a boutique location.

Norris chose a 2,241-square-foot space at the Traders Point Shopping Center on West 86th Street, next to a movie theater, a sporting goods store and several restaurants.

“I’m counting on people coming in while they’re waiting for their movie to start, or for wives to browse while their husbands shop for new running gear next door,” she said.

While Norris’ initial offerings will include clothing and shoes from other labels, she plans to exclusively carry her namesake line within a year.

Blaine, who’s been designing custom apparel since 2006, has a line of handbags she sells locally, but her store represents her first foray into manufacturing a clothing line. While she’s at it, she’s going to design more separates, as her custom work tends to revolve around gowns and special occasion attire.

Her space on North Main Street in Zionsville is above a bridal salon and next to a jeweler, whose clientele she hopes will explore her boutique. A retail location wasn’t part of her original business plan, but she feels she’s reached critical mass with her custom business and sees retail as the only way to grow.

“The entire collection will still be available online, but I’m a touch-and-feel person. It’s important to me that I connect with my clients,” she said of her decision to open a boutique.

Blaine’s location is move-in ready, allowing for a mid-April opening.

Sharing the floor with Signature Shoes (which also has a location in Castleton), Blaine sees her shop as a place where a woman can purchase a complete look: clothes, shoes and a bag to match.•

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If you’d like to share your own style ideas or know anyone who’s making waves in the fashion community, contact Poshadlo at gposhadlo@ibj.com. This column appears monthly.

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