Turning a Passion for Fashion into a Trendy Business

by Ellen Lee on April 5, 2011
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Catherine Chow and Corina Nurimba were young college graduates with a love for fashion — but little business or retail experience — when they decided to start Azalea, a clothing boutique in San Francisco.

Now almost a decade later, the two fashionistas own three boutiques, as well as a thriving online business. Last year, their stores, with products such as a pair of $200 Hudson jeans and a $675 Alexander Wang scarf wrap dress, produced $15 million in sales.

Chow had studied hospitality and Nurimba architecture at Cornell, but the two friends found that they had other passions they wanted to pursue.

“We love to travel, we love to eat, and we love, love, love shopping,” Chow says. “We wanted to share our experiences and what we love with the San Francisco community. That’s when we decided we wanted to open the store.”

They first started with private trunk shows held at their homes before making the leap to a boutique in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, an up and coming neighborhood. Working around the clock for the first six months, they quickly learned about bookkeeping, managing their inventory, and other small business secrets.

A few years ago, they picked up a partner, who helped them launch online. Tobi is their online store, offering one-on-one phone and online chat consultations with a stylist who help customers navigate the website. The site also recently launched online limited-time, private sale events in the style of Gilt Groupe and Ideeli.

The two have also tapped into other online trends, such as producing behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube as they scout new trends and sending messages to their customers through Facebook and Twitter. And they throw events at their stores for their customers, showcasing and bringing in emerging fashion designers. To find their merchandise, they hit the runway, attending shows in New York, travel around the globe and find inspiration from the clothes that everyday people wear on the street.

Their key advice for other budding small business owners? Find a good team that you can trust, Chow says. They are the key to growing your business.

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