Karina and I first connected over instagram, like all great friendships do. We met for coffee one of the weekends she was in Austin from New York City and she told me about her dream of opening a children’s boutique. She was warm, had incredible style, and such a vision, I knew it would be a hit. Fast forward many months and Alexa James is officially open in downtown Austin and it’s a dream. Designed by Claire Zinnecker, it’s more of a destination where mama can shop, baby can play and with plans to include baby classes and workshops, my whole family just might take up permanent residency. Karina stopped by to share her inspiration for the boutique, how she made her dream a reality, and what we can expect when we walk in the doors of Alexa James, today on Love Child. Photos by Taylor Prinsen Photography
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
I was born in New Orleans to Venezuelan parents and grew up in Houston. As a kid I spent a good amount of time traveling to Venezuela. 18 years ago I landed in Austin for college and have lived here, with a few breaks, ever since. My husband and I met here, we were engaged under the Congress bridge, our friends and family are here, and I love calling Austin my home. I’ve taken two hiatuses from this great city, both times to NYC. The first time was to pursue my career in advertising. The second time was to attend a merchandising program at Parsons. We lived there until this past February when we moved back with our daughter, Alexa James, our store’s namesake.
2. What was the inspiration behind opening Alexa James?
My daughter Alexa! She was born in Manhattan. Being pregnant in NYC was very intimidating. I couldn’t imagine having a baby in such a crazy city. It seemed like a very adult place, but I was wrong. NYC has plenty of pockets that cater to families, offering mama groups, great playgrounds, baby classes, beautiful products and cultured activities. It was an amazing and magical time for us as a family. As a new mom I was exposed to so many beautiful things, and I really wanted to bring a piece of that back home with me.
3. You had a successful career in advertising. Was it an easy decision to leave your previous job to pursue your dream?
It was an easy decision from the standpoint that I certainly didn’t want that life anymore. I was working long hours, and as a new mom I knew I would be forced to make sacrifices that I just wasn’t willing to make. I wanted to have more flexibility in my schedule and to be present for my daughter in a way that wouldn’t have been possible at that point in my career. Now if you ask me if I ever questioned whether my decision was tough and totally crazy, the answer is yes, many many times!
4. We have so many readers who are on the brink of starting their own business. Any advice on making the shift?
It sounds so cliché, but follow your instincts and intuition. If you feel strongly about it, explore it! Someone once told me that you have to be slightly naive to start your own business, given that the odds are heavily stacked against you. I’d say be aware of the risks and mitigate them wherever possible, but don’t let them keep you from pursuing your dreams. With that in mind, be honest with yourself about your areas of weakness and seek support in those places. And lastly, ride out the ups and downs. Trust the process and be open to the possibility that your initial plan may change drastically. Sometimes your perceived lows turn out to be really big wins. For instance, I lost four retail spaces to other shops when I first started looking. I was devastated at the time, but now I sincerely couldn’t picture us anywhere else!
5. What was the process like to make this dream a reality?
The beginning was surreal and exciting. I had quit my job and I was spending half my time looking for similar advertising roles. The other half I was reaching out to brands to gauge their interest in being represented back in Austin. I had no real plan, no website, no store front, but I had a strong drive to make it all work. Keep in mind at the time we had zero plans to move back and my husband’s job was a few blocks from our apartment. I remember telling him that I had bought my first brand (last summer). He just looked at me and asked “So, you’re opening a baby store? …in Austin??”. I honestly didn’t know. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that most of the process was unplanned. It was a series of question marks that were slowly answered along the way. So much of it was out of my control. Would we have enough money to carry the store? Which brands I could buy at what time? Would I get my retail space in time to sell the seasonal merchandise I had bought months earlier? It was not a perfect process. But as a control freak, it was a good lesson in letting go and going with the flow.
6. How do you decide what brands to stock?
From the beginning, I had a very strong vision of what I wanted the store to look and feel like. If you’ve been in our space you know that It’s airy, soft and modern. I definitely look for brands that carry that modern yet whimsical aesthetic. I am a mom, so I am also a consumer. Any brands that I’ve purchased for my daughter and love, I absolutely try to carry. It’s important for me to be able to tell a customer how an item fits, how it wears, how it washes – all from a personal experience standpoint. Beyond that I tend to lean towards brands that use thoughtful materials like Pima cottons, muslins and organic materials. Every once in a while I’ll come across a new brand that truly excites me. At that point I’ll do whatever it takes to get them in store…even if it breaks all of my rules.
7. How do you balance work, relationships, and motherhood while opening a retail shop?
Balance, specifically between Alexa and work, has been the most challenging part. And to be completely honest, there have been times it hasn’t existed. Trying to take on motherhood and working simultaneously is just not possible for me. There have been times where I was desperately trying to send out that “last email” while my daughter was tugging at my shirt, kicking and screaming trying to get my attention. I learned that if I am with her, everything else goes on the back burner. But I also committed to spend my time at work not worrying or feeling guilty for having someone else look after her. It’s hard, and will always be a bit of a struggle, but I hope one day she can look at all of this and be so proud of what we accomplished as a family.
8. What can we expect from Alexa James?
You can expect to find the perfect gift or item for your little one. If we don’t have something you’re looking for we will do whatever it takes to get it in store for you. Expect fun events for both babies and families. And most importantly, expect to be treated with a lot of gratitude because I am so grateful for every single person that walks through that door!
For more on Alexa James, follow her on Instagram.