Suzy Fairchild nearly broke my heart when she opened her store, the Frock Shop, in the Phinney neighborhood of Seattle just months after I’d moved out of a house within walking distance. The shop carries fabulous clothing and accessories that aren’t out of my price range. Suzy also sells her handmade bags and cushions at Suzy Fairchild. I was familiar with her site I Heart Fabric, but I was happy that doing these interviews gave me a chance to find more about how Suzy’s shop came to be.
The bio on your site says that you worked as an accessories designer in London. How did you come to own a shop here in Seattle? What sort of schooling did you have?
I’ve always known that I wanted to do something in fashion. I worked in retail during high school and throughout college. I went to the Evergreen State College for a year to study art and costume. It was great, but I wanted more training. I went to Cornish college of art for a term, but decided to change from costumes to fashion. I got into FIT in NY and The American College in London and chose the adventure of another country. I moved to London at 20 and stayed for 7 years. I got a BA in Fashion design and started as a sample cutter in a basement studio of a cut & sew knit company in SOHO (horrible!) After that I worked as a tailoring design assistant and then designer for a women’s wear company. That was when I started making handbags from left over sample fabrics and vintage fabric that I found in markets and selling them in boutiques. I eventually decided to move back to Seattle, worked as a women’s designer and accessories designer for Nordstrom for 4 years. I left Nordstrom to pursue own ideas, I did still freelance there every couple of month as a merchandiser for the accessories buy meetings. That was when I started getting together ideas of my own shop. I basically would go in every season and merchandise a whole shop for the buyers, plus all of the sourcing that I did for them and the great feedback that I got, I felt it was time for my own shop.
You have your own line of handbags, do you sell in other shops as well as your own? Does having experience on both sides of the counter influence what you make?
I sold a lot more bags, hats and cushions in other shops when I didn’t have my own shop. Since opening my shop I have only made some hats for Hitchcock in Madrona. Now I have only been making special order bags. Working out in the public and seeing what is selling, talking to people about what they want has influenced my ideas for future designs, clothes more than bags.
I was surprised and pleased to find that the price tags on the clothing you carry was less than I expected it to be. How or where do you source the goods you carry in your shop?
I source from a lot of different places. I get a lot of lines sheets and look books, hardcopy and online. A lot of small companies have online showrooms which makes ordering easy. I go to trade shows, Vegas, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and soon New York. I like to keep everything in the shop under $200, in winter some of the coats are a little more than that. As well as some of the independent designer items can be more. I am basically shopping everyday looking for great things and reasonable prices. I love being able to reach a wider market. I have always felt like that even in design.
Do you have any perspective or tips for people approaching you (or any shop) hoping to have their things carried?
Yes, it will make your job and mine easier if there is a website or photos of items. I have had a lot of emails from people who don’t have any samples or items for me to see, they tell me that they make things. If you approach a shop with a sample and a business card and ask to make an appointment to show more samples or send an email with pictures or a link to a website and then follow up with a phone call.
Your shop is in a slightly less well known area of the city, what do you do to draw people to your boutique? Do you have neighborhood regulars? What advertising or promotions do you find do or don’t work for you?
I lucked out with that location. I had been scouting around town for a couple of years, while working out ideas, looking at prices and foot traffic, up-and-coming areas etc. I live in Phinney Ridge, so when I saw that shop listed on Craigslist I snapped it up. It all went so quickly from renting the space to remodel to opening in two months! I planned the opening to coincide with the Trick or Treat parade Saturday because I knew that there would be hundreds of people walking around that neighborhood. It was great, the response was fabulous! There is a lot of walking traffic in the neighborhood because of the restaurants and hair salons. But what really sold me on my space was that is was located on 65th and Phinney. 65th is a thoroughfare between Aurora and Ballard, so the people who wouldn’t normally go up to Phinney Ridge drive right past the shop. Everyday a huge percentage of people coming in say that they have driven by a bunch of times and couldn’t wait to come in. I change the window displays often and putting the pink awning up when we first opened make a huge difference. My repeat customers are very supportive. The magazines have been great with writeups, Seattle, Seattle Metropolitain, Seattle Woman, Lucky, plus the newspapers. A web presence is really big for me. The Daily Candy did a write up of the shop right before Christmas, City Search & NW Source bring a lot of business. The blog and now the website also bring in a lot of customers. I very rarely advertise, I’ve put an ad into the Bust Shopping Guide, really for the website. But haven’t had to advertise too much. Word of mouth is great too!
I tend to feel a bit intimidated by boutiques, but your shop charmed me. It felt cozy and hip at the same time. How do you find the fixtures for your shop? Did you have a plan for decorations and display or do things come together in a magical sort of way?
I’m glad you like it. I sort of had an idea about how I wanted the shop to look, but you never know until it’s all set up and running. I like the simple, pretty and white decoration so that the clothes are what is on display. I love looking in fancy shops at their expensive and gorgeous furniture, but I think that for me I need it to be cute and fun. The shop has changed a lot since we first opened and we’ll keep making updates that will improve the space. We have 3 dressing rooms now instead of one, in speaker stereo system, twice as many rails for clothes than when we opened. We are putting more lighting in the back and another rail soon. I want to work on the jewelry display soon too.
Most of the furniture came from Ikea and thrift stores. The rails are pipes from Home Depot and the rail hooks are plant hooks from Fred Meyer (was very pleased about figuring that out).
What is the hardest thing about owning a shop? What is the greatest thing?
I love owning my own business, being in complete control of every decision. (Especially after working in corporate design.) I like to take risks with the buying, not buying conservatively, but buying what I like. It works really well for my shop. I have talked to a lot of shop owners and I know what their complaints are, but I don’t feel the same way. I’m lucky with having my mom to help out so I get a day off. My (new!) husband does all of the remodeling and handyman stuff as well as updating the website.
You recently started selling much of what you offer in your shop online as well. What is next for the Frock Shop? Is there anything you’d like to take on in the future?
The answer to your below question: I have a few ideas going forward, I have another website idea and perhaps another Frock Shop in town. My big dream is my line of clothing and handbags I’m (slowly) developing to have manufactured and to sell in the shop and eventually take to market. Working full time in the shop makes it a bit difficult, but I do get a lot of research done while I’m sourcing for the shop. Buying is so fun and easy for me, narrowing my ideas down for a line of clothing is very difficult. My hopes are to have some items to start selling in the shop in Spring `08, we’ll see.
Please tell us a favorite story or anecdote about your business.
My favorite story is how the walls of the shop got painted ‘blue’ by my then boyfriend (now husband :). He is a contractor and we spent every evening and weekend for two months remodeling the shop. Whenever he made a mistake or dropped something or hurt himself, lets just say his colorful language could be heard by the gal in the shop next door and the people who live in the house behind! I made him walk around and put out good ju-ju to counteract all of the nasty shouting that he did. My mom and I also share hilarious customer stories, which you cannot publish, but anyone in retail has them.