“What really drew me to Alexandria was the “small town in a big city” feel and the impressions I had of the strong small business community. I was right about both!”
Ok, we are up to Wednesday and heading from Petworth down to Old Town. Old Town, Alexandria is a mecca for small shopping. There are treasures in those cute little streets, people, and today I want to tell you about one of them – Zoe Boutique. I met Zoe’s owner, Susan a few months ago at the District Sample Sale. She had so many cute pieces there that I knew I had to include her shop in my Boutique Week series.
If you could sum up your store/brand in a few words what would they be?
Chic, Feminine, Flirty, Inspired - I considered a number of names for the store but kept coming back to Zoe. It was the name of one of the characters in Woody Allen’s movie New York Stories and I completely fell in love. I always said that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Zoe Catherine. (the legal name of my business, ZCG LLC is her initials). I never had children but this was truly my baby and I realized it was the perfect place to use the name, and Zoe Boutique was born!
What do you love most about owning your own store?
I love the personal interactions and connections with people – getting to know them and their stories; seeing them find the perfect item for themselves or the ideal gift for someone else; becoming a part of their lives. I have customers that I consider friends.
And my vendors too – my sales reps and many of the smaller designers are some of my favorite people. I look forward to doing business with them. When I go to apparel market or meet with them when they are on the road or host them at a trunk show, its like hanging out with an old friend.
What are some of your favorite gift items in the store for the holiday?
Oh my! If I were walking into Zoe, I think I would first head straight for the Chan Luu wrap bracelets (as an added bonus – through year end, we donate 10% of the sales of ALL Chan Luu bracelets to Breastcancer.org). Our Haughty Cosmetic Lip Gloss and Make-up Brush sets are fantastic stocking stuffers (from a local Alexandria company). A pair of earrings from ADMK would be the perfect gift for a friend or co-worker; and I can’t resist our stylish sweaters from Bela – I wouldn’t mind seeing one of those under MY Christmas tree. (I’ll make sure my husband reads this post!)
How do choose items for store? How do you find new designers/artists?
I’ve always said that doing the buying for the store is one of the most fun and most challenging things that I do! I really try to listen to my customers – what are they looking for? what do they like in a garment? I look for the creative and unique but not to the point of being overly trendy – it should be memorable yet classic.
I am constantly looking for new designers/artists. Sometimes they find me! Two of our favorite jewelry designers, Katie Bartels and Meagan Kurtz of ADMK Jewelry, contacted me. Not only did I like their creative designs but we clicked as people. That is important to me – designers who are honest, stand by their products, and have a true devotion to their brand and their customers. It is also important to me to have a specific set of brands that you know you can always find at Zoe. Love Velvet? We will have new shipments just about every month of the year. Same with Rebecca Taylor, Chan Luu, and Trina Turk. There is a consistency in style and quality that our customers can count on.
It is so funny you ask that – I wrote a blog post earlier this year that appeared on the Old Town Boutique District website on this very topic – I’ve done some cut and paste to share it with you:
I had just completed an enjoyable discussion with a customer. As I was ringing up her purchase, she was talking about the selection of items available at Zoe and she asked, “What inspires you?” I had to pause for a moment and then my answer was obvious–”The beauty that comes from all forms of art.”
When selecting the items sold at Zoe, I look for pieces that are going to allow women to express themselves while at the same time be functional and comfortable. I look for beauty in the patterns of the fabrics. I imagine what the drape of the garment will look like on a real human form and what feelings it will evoke for those wearing it (and those who see them). I seek embellishments that add interest to the garment, not overpower it or distract from the wearer. I look at how the piece will move with the body and what the visual impression will be. Where one person might see a pleat, I see possibility. As James Laver once said “Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something.”
Oscar Wilde once said “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” I would disagree slightly with him. I believe all of us are a unique work of art and the clothing that we choose to wear should enhance our beauty and express who we are by painting a picture for the world to see. I’ve often thought it was meant to be that Zoe was located a block away from Old Town’s artistic gem, The Torpedo Factory. The many talented resident artists that I’ve met as well as creative students continue to inspire and motivate me.
Other than your store, what are some of your favorite places to shop?
I really try to shop local as much as possible. The Christmas Attic across the street from Zoe has a great wine selection. I’m a Bellacara addict for all of my beauty treats. I seem to always have great success in buying gifts for my niece and nephew at Why Not?, Monday’s Child, and Pink & Brown. I can’t stop in at The Shoe Hive or Bishop Boutique without wanting to buy every shoe in the store, and I love to pick up gifts for my husband in the men’s section at Periwinkle. (Can you tell I love Alexandria?) Outside Alexandria, my favorite boutiques are Due (in Charlottesville, VA), Sonia Says (in Athens, GA) and Robina (in La Jolla, CA).