Bou­tiques on the move

Af­ter food trucks, fash­ion hits the road in the united States.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By FA­BI­ENNE FAUR

AT about noon on a square in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, food trucks line up, of­fer­ing soups and sand­wiches to the lunchtime crowd. Lia Lee’s truck is there, too – but she’s sell­ing dresses and jew­ellery.

“I just re­stocked this blouse. This is a very nice of­fice top – per­fect for sum­mer,” the 27year-old Lee told one cus­tomer brows­ing in her Street Bou­tique, a cream and black truck parked in this Wash­ing­ton sub­urb.

Food trucks have al­ready taken many Amer­i­can cities by storm, but fash­ion is now also a busi­ness on the move in Amer­ica.

Lee’s truck is set up like a reg­u­lar brickand-mor­tar store, with an el­e­gantly ap­pointed in­te­rior lined with racks of dresses and blouses, jew­ellery cases and even a tiny dress­ing room.

“In late 2010, there were prob­a­bly five in the na­tion,” said Jea­nine Romo, the co-founder and vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Mo­bile Re­tail As­so­ci­a­tion, which brings to­gether the coun­try’s mo­bile stores.

To­day, there are be­tween 300 and 400 na­tion­wide, most of them fo­cused on sell­ing clothes. A few of­fer shoes, beauty prod­ucts and even pet ac­ces­sories.

“We just see that growth kind of keeps go­ing,” said Romo.

Lee long dreamed of hav­ing her own store – one that didn’t move. But money was tight.

“Af­ter writ­ing sev­eral busi­ness plans and go­ing to con­sult­ing, I re­alised it was not fi­nan­cially pos­si­ble for me to do,” Lee ex­plained.

“This is more af­ford­able, and it fits my per­son­al­ity bet­ter. I like the va­ri­ety, go­ing to dif­fer­ent neigh­bour­hoods. ”Like Lee, Donna Hund­ley, a 30-some­thing fash­ion­ista, did some re­search and found that, in Cal­i­for­nia, fash­ion trucks are all the rage.

She launched her red and grey Curvy Chix Char­iot in Septem­ber 2013. It’s an old postal van she bought for US$2,200 (RM7,115), and then ren­o­vated, dec­o­rated and re­fit­ted.

Hund­ley – whose store, as the name in­di­cates, caters to volup­tuous women – sources items from young de­sign­ers. “We tend to have all the plus-size cloth­ing al­ways be the same – it’s al­ways black, flow­ers and they al­ways want to put us in chee­tah print,” she said with a laugh.

“I pride my­self in mak­ing sure that I find some good qual­ity pieces, and part­ner with some good de­sign­ers.”

While a brick-and-mor­tar store can re­quire an in­vest­ment of as much as US$500,000 (RM1.6mil), putting a fash­ion truck on the road costs about an aver­age of US$20,000 (RM64,690), Romo said.

Rais­ing that kind of cash is even eas­ier thanks to crowd­fund­ing on the In­ter­net.

Many times, re­tail trucks are more of a labour of love than a lu­cra­tive job.

Half of new truck own­ers – the vast ma­jor­ity of them women – keep their day jobs in or­der to pay their costs, such as park­ing and per­mit fees.

Shel­ley Sarmiento, who is in her 60s, fol­lowed an un­usual path.

The co-owner of White House Black Mar­ket – a chain with more than 100 stores, 3,000 em­ploy­ees and US$180mil (RM582mil) in an­nual sales – sold her stake a decade ago.

Two years ago, Sarmiento – who teaches at the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in New York – said she was “stand­ing at a grilled cheese food truck” in the Big Ap­ple and thought – why not put clothes on a truck?

Since then, her Lit­tle White Fash­ion Truck has rolled quickly along. She now has four trucks in Mary­land and Ten­nessee.

Her tips: don’t run up debts, make as small an ini­tial in­vest­ment as pos­si­ble, of­fer items at low prices and of­fer va­ri­ety, so that ev­ery­one “can’t re­sist buy­ing some­thing.”

Dur­ing her lunch break in Wash­ing­ton, Miranda Gil­lis in­deed could not re­sist. She picked up a “beau­ti­ful green dress” from the Curvy Chix Char­iot.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a fash­ion truck,” said the 52-year-old Gil­lis, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Govern­ment Em­ploy­ees.

“It’s an ex­cel­lent idea. It’s con­ve­nient, and she has good stuff. It’s more per­son­alised.”

El­iz­a­beth Gib­bons, 29, picked up a pair of shorts from Street Bou­tique.

“There is re­ally not a lot around this par­tic­u­lar area,” Gib­bons said, call­ing the truck “re­ally fun and so con­ve­nient too.”

— Pho­tos by aFP

Mo­bile fash­ion: Curvy Chix Char­iot owner donna Hund­ley (right) takes cus­tomer Miranda Gil­lis on a tour of her truck in Wash­ing­ton. Hund­ley and her fash­ion truck are part of a grow­ing num­ber of ‘rolling’ bou­tiques in the united States.

Lia Lee, owner of the Street Bou­tique fash­ion truck ar­ranges a man­nequin while wait­ing for cus­tomers in Crys­tal City, Vir­ginia.

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