I recently spoke with Anya Ponorovskaya, a New York fashion designer who opened her first Miami boutique, Anya Ponorovskay, in the Design District. It's the 4th store for this self-described fierce entrepreneur and Russian native who came to the US with her parents as a child in the '70s. Her 3 other stores are based in New York.
Irina: Hi, Anya. Let's start with your background and how did you arrive to this point?
Anya: I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and my parents were able to emigrate in the late 1970's as part of the first wave of emigres to leave Russia. I studied fashion design in New York City at The Fashion Institute of Technology and in Florence, Italy at Polimoda Institute for Design.
Irina: Tell us about your company. When and how it all started?
Anya: I opened my first store in NYC's Nolita neighborhood in 2005 and began there by carrying other designers. But within a year I had my own line and opened a second location in Soho in 2007. I opened my third location in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, in 2008, the same year I premiered my first shoe designs.
The following year, in 2009 I began designing handbags and opened my Miami store. This year, I re-launched my very first location as Anya Ponorovskaya Bridal Studio.
Now, when I'm saying it, it looks like it was all planned out but in actuality it has been a very organic natural trajectory of growing the business at it's own speed.
I have a staff of 10-12 people, and my husband is a huge support and motivation for me, in addition to being our in house lawyer. My employees are more like sisters or daughters to me. They are all my GirlCATS and going to work is always enjoyable because the energy in the stores and the design studio is more like a home than an office.
Irina: How did you finance your company?
Anya: One dress at a time. Honestly, the sales from my boutiques finance the business as I grow. It's an alternative business model, but I've been very sure from day one that I didn't want to take on a financial partner. I need to have the freedom to make the decisions without having to deal with someone else's idea of what a bottom-line should look like. It is really the only way I could run this business and I have found that it is a great way to maintain the personal touch and control of the business, which is necessary since it is my name on the label.
Irina: What are your daily challenges?
Anya: Although, I absolutely love the freedom of being my own boss, it is always a challenge. I need to juggle the responsibilities of a designer, a boss, a wife and most importantly, as a mom. Quite often, I work seven days a week, balancing design, sales, being home with my son when he gets out of school, and its always a challenge, but I would not change a thing.
There are times when I am constantly anticipating and preparing for the future, which makes it a challenge to be in the moment and enjoy the fruits of my labor. But then I will have one client come to the store and absolutely love the designs, look fabulous in them and tell me what a great designer I am. In those moments, the challenges drip away and I can live in the moment.
Irina: Who are your clients?
Anya: It's funny, as I don't have a true target market. I design for the female body, for a woman of all shapes and sizes to look fabulous and feel sexy. Many of my repeat clientele are professional women who can take one of my designs and dress it up for a night out, or dress it conservatively for the work place.
We sell to lawyers, bankers, teachers, actresses, producers, students, artists, brides, mother of the bride's and C.E.O's in their 20's to their 70's.
A very diverse range of women, who all appreciate the timeless and feminine aspects of the design, but keep coming back because of the fit of the designs. Since we manufacture in the garment district of New York City, I will keep sending a new design back to the sewer until the fit is just right. It takes a bit longer, but I have always been rewarded for this demand for perfection in the fit.
Irina: What are your distribution channels?
Anya: I have avoided wholesale wholeheartedly. There may come a time where I move in that direction, but I have built the business by only selling to customers at my own boutiques. I'm available exclusively at my four boutiques located in NYC, Brooklyn and Miami Design District.
Irina: Do you do anything special to build your brand and to get your name out there?
Anya: I prefer to keep things very personal and close to my heart. This business is really an extension of myself and when I do grow I would like to preserve that sentiment. We have grown through word-of-mouth as one client will come back with their sister, who will return with their best-friend, who will return with her mother. Part of our mystique is the exclusiveness of the designs.
Irina: Do you sell on line?
Anya: Yes, we are going live on-line to coincide with Art Basel this year. So, we are unsure what percent of business will be from online sales, however, we have learned that many of our customers are not local, and make it a point to come to the boutiques every time they visit NYC or Miami. They know the designs, they know the sizing, and the online sales will help them keep up to date, even when they can't get on a plane to come visit one of the boutiques.
Irina: Tell us about your day. How many hours a week do you work?
Anya: It's hard to say, the business is such a integral part of me, that I'm never really not working, but I love it, it's a way of life. I usually start my days around 8 am when I pack a lunch for my son and send him to school, then I turn on my iPad and begin to plan out the day and what needs to be accomplished.
I will then head to the design studio, one of the boutiques or to one of my suppliers. By the afternoon, I try to be home to meet my son when he is out of school, and then back to work until 8 or later each night.
I find inspiration for my business and my designs in just about everything, from building a sand castle with my son on vacation, to traveling to Peru for my shoe production. The revenues have grown steadily over the past eight years since I opened the first boutique.
We have definitely seen how the economy can affect retail, but anecdotely, we have felt much less affect than other boutiques and retail that we know or have read about. I'm very happy to keep moving forward.
Irina: What are your plans for the future? Do you see any need for financing as you grow?
Anya: I'm not sure at the moment. Although part of my love for the business comes from the excitement of the next challenge. I would continue to avoid financing unless some concept comes along that is too good to refuse. As far as what's next, maybe wholesale, maybe a European location, maybe menswear...
Irina: What would you say some key ingredients of your success so far?
Anya: Taking it one step at a time and keeping grounded.
Irina: In conclusion, what would be your advice to others entrepreneurs?
Anya: I know its cliche, but I would say do something you love, surround yourself with people you can spend a lot of time with and go for it!
True to her Russian heritage, this month Anya invited The Russian Round Table, a socio-cultural organization that origated in Coral Gables, to have their 2nd Anniversary party at her boutique. During Art Basel, Dec 2-4, 2010, she plans to host Downtown Salon at her boutique showcasing some New York contempoarty artists.
Anya Ponorovskaya 35 N.E. 40th St. Miami FL 33137 AnyaPonorovskaya.com
This blog is a part of my volunteer efforts to build a strong entrepreneurial community in South Florida and worldwide.
About me: I am Irina Patterson, was a Medical Doctor and tech PR executive in the past, My current passion is entrepreneurship. I'm a volunteer for the Silicon Valley-based Global Initiative 1M1M that offers free online guidance to entrepreneurs worldwide. Feel fee to ask your quesitons below in the comments.