Most fashionistas spend their time planning their next best outfit. Some turn their gift of style into a goldmine. For long-time friends La Toya Quamina and Anisha Cephas (both 24), the goldmine days are still ahead, but it’s safe to say they’ve found the money train.
As co-founders of the Trinidad-based, online, fashion store Runway Street, their days are full of style spotting, shopping, and keeping their customers on the edge of fashion. With plans to open their first retail location in 2010, these ladies represent a new generation of entrepreneurs in the Caribbean fashion industry.
“We don’t want a huge space… just a space to call our own,” says La Toya, who envisions Runway Street being a leading brand for clothes and fashion information within five years. “When people walk into our store, I want them to feel our passion. We started with little money, a credit card and lots of heart.”
Runway Street’s story sounds like your typical university/ college startup – two friends find their passion, and start a business with little resources. Retracing their steps leads you right back to one of The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) computer labs at the St Augustine campus. It was 2008, the month of November to be exact, when La Toya and Anisha, still undergraduate students at UWI, had finally saved a small amount of cash, and felt that it was time to set their plans in motion. At the time, La Toya was completing her final semester for a B.A. in Communications, while balancing a full-time public relations job, and Anisha – who had already completed finals – was patiently awaiting results for a B.Sc. in Economics.
“Sometimes you just have to take the leap,” says La Toya. “If you keep waiting for the perfect conditions to do things, you’ll never do anything. The time would never have been right.”
“If you keep waiting for the perfect conditions to do things, you’ll never do anything.”
Anisha, though, had other things on her mind. Her mom had just suffered a minor heart attack, and, in between dealing with personal matters, and making the transition from student hood, she was a bit concerned about finances.
“We were going to wait until we had saved some more,” she explains. “But Toya was like let’s not wait to get a lot of money, or else we won’t start. So we just started. Previously, we had an idea to do a website that would showcase local designers, their design and history etc, basically like Net-a-Porter. We had developed our business plan, but realized that the resources and manpower required were extensive. At that time, La Toya, another friend and I were thinking about this business idea. Then our friend went off to school.”
Down to two, they regrouped, and decided to launch on a much smaller scale. With TT$4,500 in savings, and unable to afford the cost of a website, they needed to get creative and find a solution. Like many entrepreneurs all over the world, they turned to Facebook. It was free, provided a portal to showcase Runway Street, and it didn’t hurt that Trinis were spending increasingly more time on the social networking site. They ordered clothes and accessories, and late one night in November 2008, they sat in UWI’s computer lab, ready to hit the virtual catwalk.
“I remember that night clearly,” says Anisha, a self-professed stylish tomboy and fashion lover. “We just put up stuff on Facebook and that same night our phones started ringing. I was going home and my phone was ringing off the hook.”
Since then, business has been good with Runway Street making a profit, which, in turn, is invested in the operations. The partners seem to have a good balance. As someone who works behind-the-scenes at fashion shows (e.g. Claudia Pegus), Anisha has an eye for putting together looks. She handles Runway’s finances and fashion direction, while La Toya is primarily responsible for marketing and public relations. Sharing the work between themselves, with no other staff, and no immediate plans to hire, things can get pretty crazy. But their friendship keeps Runway Street drama-free, and help from family and friends adds much-needed support.
“Runway Street is such a reflection of our personality. And our personalities complement each other.”
Savvy events and frequent Facebook communication with consumers has garnered Runway Street a loyal following. Definitely not ones to “hog” the spotlight, the fashionistas hosted their first fashion show – “Lift Off” – which doubled as their website launch, in August 2009, and invited other young fashion businesses, such as So Chic Clothing, 1804, CelebriTs, and Fashion I.S., to showcase their clothing and accessories as well. Other successful events they’ve hosted include an open house, and a charity clothes drive in collaboration with local NGO Families in Action to source clothing for low-income families.
“We spent a lot of money out of our pockets on the fashion show,” says La Toya. “People asked us why we had invited similar businesses to participate. But everyone has something different to offer, and we’re about establishing a community. We operate in the virtual sphere, and so we don’t get to meet our customers that often. The fashion show was an opportunity to nurture relationships with people and it worked. So many people came out.”
Leveraging technology has helped the girls tremendously in managing Runway Street, and living out their other dreams at the same time. La Toya is currently in France completing her Masters in Marketing Communications, and with Anisha balancing a full-time job at the Ministry of Social Development, and planning to head to France to study fashion in 2011, the Internet will definitely remain key to their communication.
“We definitely take things as the come,” says La Toya. “I would not have felt comfortable doing this with anyone else but Anisha. Runway Street is such a reflection of our personality. And our personalities complement each other.
“Even if we’re going to Club Zen and liming, we discuss the business. We’re very open with each other, and we’ve never really had any conflicts. I can tell her when she’s annoying me or I don’t agree with something, and vice versa, and we discuss it and leave it there. If I know I’m having an extremely hectic week with school and have to focus on assignments, I tell her and she picks up the slack. I do the same for her when things are hectic for her at work. I think we make a great team.”
It’s obvious that in this partnership, friendship and business mix perfectly. But can two fashionistas keep the peace when it comes to style?
“In choosing stock, sometimes I tell Anisha I need to get a particular item that I love, and she doesn’t like it and I’m like no we need to get it,” says La Toya, excitedly. “Then sometimes she (Anisha) has her own ideas of what we should purchase. Then she shows off when her stuff sells faster than mine.
“Sometimes there are some items you think will go quickly, and then what you think won’t sell fast are the things that go quickly. It’s so amazing how different people’s tastes are. Every time we meet to decide on stock it’s different, and just as time consuming. One thing’s for sure, we try to not repeat the same tings in terms of styles. There are a lot of people selling clothing and accessories on Facebook and I go on to see what people have because I love clothes. The things Runway Street offers you don’t see here every day. I like to think that we do help to set trends. We like clean, classy looks, and we look at what works well.”
Anisha is prone to going with her gut feeling.
“We look at what we personally like, and if we can’t appreciate seeing it on other people, then we don’t buy it,” she says. “For example, I hate seeing boots in Trinidad, so I’d see a knee-high boot and like it, but I won’t buy it.”
With a clear vision of exactly what Runway Street stands for, these fashionable entrepreneurs seem to be on the right path. Slow and steady is how they’re playing it, and with plans to launch their first, retail store this year, we can definitely look out for what’s next on their catwalk.
Photos courtesy Runway Street.