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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by Rebecca Dale
After several years working behind the scenes as a buyer for Dalaga, Jade Elzien decided to step out on her own. This past September saw the opening of her first boutique, Violet Pepper, on Greenpoint's Manhattan Avenue. It's named for her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter (who has hair even redder than Jade's) and aims to provide quality, timeless pieces at an affordable price point.
While Violet played with the iPad cash register in the dressing room, we caught up with Jade to talk about why she decided to branch out on her own, and how she maintains a relaxed vibe on an up-and-coming block. She also talked about how the shop is different from the typical store you'd find in Williamsburg, and how she's appealing to the neighborhood's longtime Polish residents.
We love that you named your store after your daughter. Is she interested in fashion and clothing?
This morning, my husband tried to put her sneakers on her—her Air Jordans—and she threw a fit because she wanted to wear her white Mary Janes. So she's definitely getting it more and more. If I put on a dress, she goes, "Oh, Mommy pretty dress, me dress too!"
Why did you decide to leave Dalaga and open your own store?
I started off there as an intern when I was going to Berkeley College. I didn't really know what I wanted to do in the fashion field, so I did a few internships and realized that the office culture wasn't really something I was interested in. So, one day it just hit me and I said, "I want to do this, I want to have my own store and do what those girls do so successfully over there."
How have you seen Greenpoint change since you've been working in the neighborhood?
Dalaga was actually the first small boutique in the neighborhood. And then Alter came right after that, and then from there things just started popping up like crazy over on Franklin Street. Now Franklin is a great destination for restaurants, bars and shopping, but Manhattan Avenue hasn't really had that—it's been a little slower for things to come over here.
When I was looking for a space, I knew that this area was going to change and so I wanted to hop on it before it became too saturated. Now we have a Brooklyn Industries, and all these restaurants and bars are opening up, but there aren't too many boutiques. I think that's totally going to change.
What kind of customer do you have here?
So many customers recognize me from Dalaga. They're like "Oh, I totally see your Dalaga influence in here, but I also see that it's different." So I get a lot of the local neighborhood girls. I get people from other parts of Brooklyn and people from Manhattan, because you know, everyone's talking about Greenpoint these days.
Are there any "surprise customers" that you have?
What's made me really happy are the local Polish women. Some of my clients are a little bit older, which surprised me because I thought they would automatically be like, "Oh, it's too young for me in here." But a 60-year-old woman could come in here and find a beautiful blouse. I'm glad she feels welcome in the store.
Tell me about the design of your store—what kind of look are you going for?
I'm a really big fan of upstate New York. My friends and I always go up there and rent houses in the summer or for skiing. So I was influenced by the simplicity of being upstate. Manhattan Avenue is very colorful and there are lots of noises—it's very overwhelming to your senses. I kind wanted the opposite—I wanted it to be calm and clean in here. My friend who designed the racks brought this style to my attention, and I fell in love.
The price point is a lot lower than some of the other shops that have opened up around here. Why did you decide to go lower?
I definitely know the Brooklyn girl, because I am one myself. I don't have a ton of money to spend on clothing, but when I do spend money on clothing, I don't want it to fall apart in three months. I had to have affordable pieces but not cheap pieces. There's definitely a broad price range—I have shirts starting at $36 and going up to $110. I think anybody that walks in here can buy something in that price point.
How does that factor in to what you buy for the store?
I'm looking for pieces that transition well and that can go with things that are already in your closet. But also I like to curate outfits as well. If I know I have all these tops coming in, then I want to look for bottoms that go with them as well. Nothing too dated—you know, "That's so spring 2013." There's definitely trendy pieces—that's kind of inevitable when you have a store. But overall, I try to find the more timeless pieces.
Do you carry both local and national brands?
With accessories, it's a little bit more local. It's harder to find clothing that's made in the U.S. or in New York because it's at such a high price point. For instance, I was looking at pieces the other day and this T-shirt made in New York would retail for $140—it's not quite the price point that I'm in love with, but some people are really looking for that "Made in U.S." stuff. So, I'm going to try to incorporate some of that stuff in the spring.
I carry a lot of designers that are from LA, and a lot from New York. I have Kelsi Dagger shoes and bags with—it's a Brooklyn-based company, but it's produced overseas. And Carolyn A'Hearn designs fine jewelry, from 10 to 24 karats in sterling silver. The studio's right on Nassau, so it's local. And Erica Wiener, her stuff is all made in New York and it does really well.
What are some of your favorite pieces in store right now?
I really like kimonos, so this is one of my favorites, with the gold studs.
This sweater (gallery, fifth photo) I really love. It has this retro vibe to it, but it's a good quality. It's Isabel Lu. I just love the colors and the pattern. Everybody's looking for sweaters this season.
I also really love this bag (gallery, sixth photo)—it's another Kelsi Dagger. Crossbody has been really big for a few seasons now. This shape reminds me of something my mom had, like a camera case from the '80s.
Are there any other categories or designers that you'd like to carry in the future?
There's a bunch of jewelry designers that I'm interested in. It's hard to find things that aren't already being carried in the neighborhood, or right there in Williamsburg. You don't want to be going into boutiques and seeing the same things.
Are you looking to expand your customer base?
Absolutely, with the web store. I have a lot of friends and family all over the country and they're always telling their friends [about the store]. I don't think it's going to be this big huge thing, but people from other parts of the country can see things that they wouldn't see at the mall. I know in San Diego, where I'm from, everybody shops at the mall because there's not really the great community of local businesses like we have here in New York.
You recently started a Tumblr for the store. How important is it for you to communicate with customers through social media?
It is so important to keep up with the social media aspect. Everybody is online at all times, and so I'm trying really hard to be more aggressive about updating my Tumblr and my Instagram, because I want a good representation of the store. With Tumblr, it's not just photos of what's in store—it's things that inspire me.
Do you have any long-term plans to open a second store?
You know, not really. I love Greenpoint—it's changing so much and I know that it's going to keep changing, so I hope to just stay relevant in this neighborhood and stick it out here if I can.
Okay, time for the lightning round: 8 a.m. or 8 p.m. ?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite vacation spot?
Upstate New York.
Favorite neighborhood lunchtime spot?
Favorite happy hour spot?
Rap or country?
Scandal or Homeland?
I haven't watched either—Sons of Anarchy!
·Violet Pepper's Greenpoint Grand Opening—13% Off On The 13th [Racked NY]
·All Greenpoint coverage [Racked NY]
·All Better Know A Store Owner posts [Racked NY]