On a sunny Thursday in midtown Manhattan, pedestrians rubbernecked as they walked past a garage next to the Refinery Hotel on West 38th street, looking both perplexed and intrigued by a set of open doors that led into the back of a truck.Inside, the truck’s walls were lined with dresses, swimsuits, jerseys, bags and jewelry.
“What is this?” most wondered out loud. A small chalkboard sign bore the answer: Le Suite Boutique.
A mobile one-stop fashion shop, Le Suite Boutique is the brainchild of friends and business partners Iran Ortiz and Mareana Torres. The young entrepreneurs launched their venture two months ago and now tour Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn three times a week.
Having known each other for nearly seven years, Ortiz, 30, and Torres, 35, often discussed opening a boutique together. But New York can be a notorious environment for budding businesses. So the easiest and cheapest way was to take it on the road.
After searching for eight months, they found the perfect vehicle for success. Investing their life savings, $50,000 between them, they rejuvenated a beat-up truck for their showroom. The interiors were gutted, re-fitted with shelves, a changing corner with cloth partitions and a checkout counter. Tiny spotlights and air-conditioning give it a high-end ambience. The exterior was rebuffed with a two-toned paintjob of lavender and black and the logo embossed across the side in calligraphic text.
Ortiz and Torres split their duties evenly. Torres, a Westchester native who has an associate’s degree in business administration, handles the money, the management and “everything truck-related.” For the Bronx-born Ortiz, her bachelor’s in fashion merchandising put her in charge of social media, marketing and handpicking product purchases at trade shows. “We even each other out,” said Ortiz. She even sells pieces from her own jewelry line, Endless Noise.
Le Suite Boutique is not the first fashion truck to hit the streets of New York. But it is the first of its kind. “We’re the only ones that do contemporary urban street wear,” said Torres. “Everyone else is gypsy hippy, nothing like us.” They sell both reasonably priced and high-end products, anywhere from a $30 dress to $250 sunglasses. They also work with local designers and brands such as SVesna and Fellas & Dames in uptown, helping them promote their products across the city without having to go to brick-and-mortar retailers.
Most of all, Ortiz and Torres were surprised by their customer base. They expected mostly younger patrons but even older women found things they liked. “Unique”, “hip” and “original” said a few as they stepped up the short stairs into the truck.
“It’s the future of retail,” said Trudy Larson, a marketing executive from New Jersey in her forties.
Even tourists were taken by the concept. “It’s amazing and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Thore Schoelermann, 29, a television host from Germany. Schoerlermann’s girlfriend, Jana Kilka, a 27-year-old German actress, shopped for half an hour as he waited. “It’s a good argument for shopping,” she said. “You have to take your chance. You can’t come back to it later because it’ll be gone.”
If luck and profits hold out, Ortiz and Torres plan to run two more trucks in two years, for men and teenagers. In the winter, they will operate as far as the weather allows it but will continue sales online. Eventually, said Ortiz, “maybe a brick-and-mortar store.”