New York City. The place where ambitious individuals come to pound the pavement, receive the fruits of their labor, and become extraordinary human beings. Described as the fashion, financial, and entertainment capital, New York remains one of the world’s main attractions and desired destinations. Just a few blocks east of the glamour, hustle and bustle of Manhattan, sits the equally buoyant Harlem.
Home to the Dance Theater of Harlem, Sylvia’s Restaurant and the famed Apollo Theater, Harlem remains one of the world’s richest cites in African-American success and culture. In the midst of Harlem’s best clothing stores sits Lavilu, a female operated rising force on the fashion front, specializing in menswear. Today, owners Stephanie White and Jazmine Delgado join me to speak candidly about the pros and cons of maintaining stable entrepreneurship in an ever-changing industry.
Greetings ladies! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today! What was the motivation behind you both deciding to start your company?
JD: For me, the motivation behind starting this company was because I couldn’t find what I wanted when I shopped. There was a void and I had all these ideas of garments I would like to wear, that were not available. I did a lot of freelance styling which led to me creating so many amazing relationships. After working in retail for twenty years, and growing million dollar businesses for other people, I knew I had to put the same work in and bet on myself.
SW: Motivation for me, is the love I have for unique clothing. I grew up in a house where both of my parents were tailors who made their own unique designs. My dad sewed leathers and suedes for major brands in New York’s garment district, designing for major labels in the 70’s and 80’s (Jordache & Sasson). It was a hobby for my mom. She sewed in her spare time. She learned her skills from my dad. I developed my love for fashion then. My first jobs were in the retail business for the popular retail stores in the 80’s (Bloomingdales, Express & Benneton). I always wanted to own my own retail business one day, fashion has always been my passion.
Amazing! What inspired the name of your company?
JD: The name was inspired by my nickname “Lu” and La vie in French means life. So I played around with it & interpreted it as Live Life Lu or “Lavilu”
SW: Jaz is the creative designer, so I agreed on the name she chose. Which I also liked the choice. Lavilu has a nice ring to it.
Lavilu specializes in menswear. Are you open to merchandising female apparel in the future?
JD: This is a great question. Being a woman designing men’s clothes, you would think that would ultimately be next. However, my style has always had a tomboy vibe. I cannot foresee me going into womenswear. I love men’s fashion; I love men’s style and I love their bodies. I really can’t see me going towards the ladies.
SW: When we had the discussion on the sex of the clothing brand we were creating, I was aware that Jaz favored men’s clothes. Knowing she would be the main designer I agreed with the idea of Lavilu being a men’s brand. We are great at dressing men, and we love men’s fashion. Men’s fashion can also be unisex. So, with that being said, we aren’t going into designing women’s clothing.
How long has Lavilu been in business?
JD & SW: The LLC was formed in 2017 but we started selling product in 2018. So, it’s been three in business.
Describe your typical workday?
JD: My typical workday is intense. To be honest, the “workday” never really ends for me because I’m always brainstorming about what’s next. When I’m physically at the store, I would be handling email correspondences, following up with my graphic designer/production team, and connecting with other entrepreneurs to pick their brain. It’s a lot of work. We are closed every Monday and Tuesday and I bring my laptop home with me to continue working even when I’m off.
SW: My typical workday is being at the store selling our merchandise, having touch base conversations with each other on new ideas for Lavilu, sending emails and networking to expand our business, and connecting with other clothing entrepreneurs brainstorming on business ideas.
What aspects about your merchandise do you feel sets you apart from your competitors?
JD: What sets us apart from other competitors are the small details. We really sit down before each drop and go over all the fine details to make sure our clients experience something they wouldn’t find with other streetwear vendors. From the quality embroidery, to the elevated packaging, and even the SoHo mancave layout of the store. There’s a subtle urban regal feel. You don’t feel like you’re purchasing a regular hoodie. You are purchasing the entire experience.
SW: The style of our men’s line is unique and can also be conversation pieces. Trendsetting items that are timeless. Our store has an upscale home appeal that’s very inviting. We wanted to bring a downtown aesthetic to Harlem.
I like that! As mother and goddaughter, do you find it challenging to be business partners?
JD: Absolutely! I have an intense retail background. I’ve worked for the top brands, and I know and understand the expectation. Something that she may be ok with, would be totally unacceptable for me. She doesn’t know me professionally at all she knows me personally. I am a beast professionally, but it’s that work ethic that led me so far, and so high up the ranks in retail. You wouldn’t be able to successfully run a $100M luxury store on Madison Avenue if you weren’t conditioned that way.
SW: Yes indeed! Any family business will have challenges. We respect each other and try our best to work through our differences. Communication is key and we are constantly learning from each other. In this work relationship, as the elder, I am learning from Jazmin, who knows much more about the business due to her more recent retail experience. I on the other hand, was a first responder for twenty years. I haven’t worked retail since 1992. With that being said, I’m a little rusty. I’m a work in progress.
As business partners, what are one of your greatest strengths and weakness?
JD: My greatest strength in this business, is already knowing what to expect. There is nothing in retail that could occur that I have not already experienced and troubleshooted my way out of. My weakness would be my expectation. I expect everyone around to operate at the level I’m at or exceed it. I’ve worked under the strongest and best store directors, district managers and corporate executives.
I never let their expectation make me feel inadequate. It made me strive to step my game up. It was inspiring! Currently, I’m being pushed & pulled in so many different directions. I’m wearing so many hats. From the being the actual brand ambassador to the creator, the businesswoman, the store manager, stock, visual etc. We need a team, and we will get there. So, to be honest, I wouldn’t even call my expectations a weakness, but I do need to be mindful of what someone can and cannot do, and then manage appropriately.
SW: As business partners, my strength is the business and finance part, which would be keeping up with the paperwork and billing aspect. My weakness would be admitting that I don’t know as much as I use to when it comes to the retail aspect. Also asking for help when I’m coming from a supervisor mindset to being the one who may need the supervision. I want to learn quickly so I can assist Jaz in as many ways possible. Once again this is all a work in progress.
What is one quality that you believe every successful entrepreneur should have?
JD: In order to be successful as an entrepreneur, and in life in general, is understanding that you can’t wait on anyone. You must do the work. No one is obligated to teach you, finance your project or show you any skills that will help you be successful. If you don’t know how to do something use the resources at hand and figure it out. You don’t understand something, take a class, go on YouTube etc. Find the information because it’s out there and develop yourself. You don’t have the money, take a loan or get a grant. Find the money! Self-development is essential on all aspects. Understand that the only person responsible for your success is you. I can’t count how many times I asked for help in my retail career, and during this personal venture & got ghosted. I learned very early on, “Ok Lu, if you want to know how to do this, your going to have to teach and do it yourself”.
SW: To be successful as an entrepreneur, persistence is key. Have a business plan on the steps you plan to take, to make sure your business grows. Research things you may not know via google or YouTube. Investing in yourself mentally and financially. Making sure your business is your priority. If you want things done, you must do it yourself, or ask for assistance from fellow business owners on instructions on how to get it done. Do not get discouraged because the beginning is quite challenging.
Excellent advice ladies! What is one of your main tactics for building a good clientele?
JD: The best tactic for building clientele is ensuring that your client has an amazing experience. Remember the details. If they come in, and shop, and only purchase one thing, make a mental note of the type of item, the size and fit. Then, the next time that you have something, you can follow up and say, “Hey I remembered you picked this up before” and then it starts the conversation of their last experience, and segway’s into their return experience.
SW: The best tactic for clientele is making sure each customer feels special and welcomed. Greeting each customer with a hello and a great smile. Even if we don’t have the size to accommodate them, we can offer an accessory. Paying attention to detail, such as what style they prefer. Some customers like graphics and others like simpler designs on their clothes. Learning what our customers prefer will help us as our business grows. We want our customers to feel welcomed with each Lavilu experience.
What has been the most gratifying moment in your business thus far?
JD: I would say opening day. I had so many people come and show me love. It was like a whirlwind, but it was also a waiting to exhale moment. There were so many hiccups during the construction and build out, that at one point, we didn’t know when we were going to open. Then when the opening day came, it was super successful and complete madness all at the same time. I was outside of the store looking at the double-parked cars, and apologizing to the police for disrupting traffic. It was then that I had an Ah-ha exhale moment. Like, wow we did it!
SW: I would say our first sale pre-opening day. A friend, and believer in us from day one spent a large amount. We were so happy because his purchase set the tone for success. After all the challenges we endured during Covid, just trying to get the store open. It was one challenge after the other. Then our opening day was awesome! So many people came out to support. There were so many purchases and so much love. It all seemed so surreal! After all the hard work, it was well worth it!
What impact do you hope that Lavilu will make in the fashion world?
JD: I want Lavilu to be the go-to brand for effortless style. The brand that doesn’t do too much, but does just enough. I want men to need these pieces in their closet like they do underwear and t-shirts. The goal is to be the men’s brand with understated elegance for men of all ages, created by women who want to see them look good.
SW: The impact that I would love for Lavilu to make in the fashion world, is that men are comfortable, and convinced that they will find something they love each and every shopping experience. When men are shopping, and looking for that unique timeless piece of clothing, I would love if Lavilu comes to mind. I want men to trust in our vision and be excited to shop with us now, and for years to come. I want Lavilu to be a household name and a must have.
Excellent! Ladies, I wish you all the best with Lavilu, and all of your future endeavors! Let our readers know exactly where the store is located, and how they can keep up with you on social media!
JD &SW: Thank you! Our store is in East Harlem: Our address is: 301 East 108th Street (Between 1st & 2nd Avenue) New York, NY 10029
Facebook: Lavi Lu
Instagram: @La.Vi.Lu, @Lu.sso and @One.2.Envy