I love creating an experience. It is one of my favorite parts about having the boutique. I love having people come in or look online and leave happy because they’ve learned something new, saw something great or were just treated kindly.
Juliana Correa + Lencería Boutique
Creator: Juliana Correa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Words of Wisdom – I recently heard someone say that the best advice they ever received was, ‘no one knows what they are doing.’ I love that! It’s refreshing to remember that we all had a first time making an order, or speaking to a client, or closing a deal. It’s also helpful to think…if we always knew what we were doing, wouldn’t that mean we are not growing, or learning something new?”
Sometimes the route of being an entrepreneur can be a lonely one. On the surface it looks like the most exhilarating experience in the world. You create your own hours, be your own boss and in some cases, work from anywhere in the world.
And while I admit that being an entrepreneur is freeing, it definitely has its gut checking challenges. The hours are long, the work seems endless and we don’t always know what we’re doing. Okay, there are many times we don’t know what we’re doing.
Hence, having passion for what you’re doing is vital to the success of your business.
It’s that constant voice in your head and an idea that just won’t go away that pushes the curiosity into reality.
For Juliana Correa, a move to Los Angeles was the tipping point for her to create and launch Lencería Boutique, a high-end Lingerie and Swimwear store that has since been designated by CBS as “among the best bikini boutiques” in all of LA and has attracted high profile celebrities such as Courtney Love and Elisabetta Canalis.
“Initially, I looked for a corporate position, but I could not get the boutique out of my mind. So, instead of going through LinkedIn to find a job, I found myself searching for a location on real estate websites and driving around the city to find the perfect location for Lencería Boutique.”
Photography: Sasha Tivetsk
Having originally met Juliana from our days at grad school, I had no doubts that she’d turn her curiosity into a reality and she’d be a successful entrepreneur.
Here we are several years later and I was fortunate to reconnect with Juliana again! Lencería Boutique officially opened three years ago on Sunset Blvd, and most recently relocated to Melrose Avenue just six short months ago after needing a much bigger space.
Promotional Video by Alejo Restrepo
I got to learn more about the creation and growth of Lencería, her strong connection to her Colombian roots, her intense focus on the customer experience and listen to her perspective on the endurance of an entrepreneur’s path,
“I think the biggest shock to people is how much I work. When I’m in town, I work at the boutique every day (Monday through Sunday), and until recently, I had not taken any days off for personal travel.”
While Juliana works extremely hard at Lencería, it’s easy to see she loves it. Here’s what else Juliana Correa had to say:
HDF: Juliana!! It’s so great to do this with you!! I’ve known you from our days at school, but can we start with a little bit more about where you’re originally from (Hometown and Current City)? What do you love about either?
Juliana: Hi Matt! Thank you for reaching out! Congratulations on this magazine! Love the layout and the content!!
As you may know, I’m originally from Medellín, Colombia, but my family moved to the US when I was 11 years old.
I lived in South Florida for many years before moving to New York, where I worked as a paralegal in a corporate law firm.
I then took a year off to travel in South America and China before getting my MBA at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Now I live in Los Angeles.
Despite leaving Colombia when I was 11 years old, I’ve always felt a strong connection to it, especially Medellín. I love its natural beauty – the mountains, the flowers, the exotic fruits, etc.
I also love the people there. There is a very strong sense of community across the country, but I speak mostly for Medellin. You can see the love and respect people have for their elders, their strong family ties, and the general kindness in people as soon as you arrive there.
The region where Medellin is located, Antioquia, is known as a hub for entrepreneurs. The “paisas” (people from Antioquia) are said to have an entrepreneurial spirit in their veins. Which is probably why Medellin is often ranked among the most innovative cities – and that makes it especially exciting for someone like me. Every time I visit, I get new ideas and learn about innovative businesses.
As for Los Angeles, well it has the best weather in the world (as long as we conveniently forget about the drought) and it may also have the best food I’ve ever had. It’s as if the best chefs from around the world have all decided to open restaurants in LA (except chefs from Colombia – Colombian food in LA is not great).
People in LA also have this tendency to be incredibly driven and hardworking, while understanding how to take a break. It sounds simple, but that’s a hard balance to find. The people in this city do a great job managing work and life – or at least they make it seem that way.
HDF: I think that’s why I love LA so much as well. The balance between work and life. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you were doing before you started Lencería Boutique?
Juliana: Yeah, I was actually getting my International MBA from Thunderbird School for Global Management, and during that time I went to Colombia for 3 months to work for my family’s business.
It was an eye-opening experience. I always loved Medellin, but until then, I felt a little like a tourist in my own country. During those three months I grew very close to my city and its people. I realized how much talent everyone had and learned a lot about the textile industry in the region as well.
I also learned that these brands I’ve always known and respected solely for their quality and design, were creating these pieces while also helping women support their families. As I visited the factories and met the designers, I was surprised to find that most workers are women who are providing extra (and sometimes the only) income to their families.
A seamstress is treated as well as the CFO in Colombia.
Beyond generally being good employers, these companies also launch innovative social programs. Maaji, for example, plants a tree for every swimsuit sold. They are planting trees in a region that was hard-hit by the war and general deforestation. This program is not only helping the environment, but it is also helping bring clean water to the neighboring towns.
Another brand, Entreaguas, joined governmental agencies and NGOs to hire people with disabilities, women transferring out of the jail system and female heads of households who are the only source of income. They recently founded the Entreaguas Foundation to provide extra support to these groups.
HDF: So interacting with your Colombian heritage, coupled with the fact that you were getting an education on fashion brands and social advocacy, gave you the inspiration to come up with Lencería Boutique?
What was a defining moment at school where you said, “You know what, I want to make this happen. I want my own boutique store in LA and never look back?” (laughter)
Juliana: Well, Lencería Boutique was born in my Business Plan class taught by Dr. Hisrich, head of the Department of Entrepreneurship at Thunderbird. When I was looking into ideas for a plan, I thought of all kinds of intricate, “original” ideas.
Dr. Hisrich stopped me and said that a business plan is worthless without someone willing to stand behind it and execute.
So, I created something simple and exciting – importing lingerie and swimwear from Colombian brands that are not well represented in the U.S., specifically on the West Coast.
At first, I created the plan because I wanted an A in the class – I thought it would be pretty easy. Instead, I spent a month at the library doing research about the brands, the industry and the market, and speaking to designers and sales representatives.
After the project was finished, I moved on to other classes and thought I would get a corporate job soon after graduation. Joe (my boyfriend at the time and now my husband) and I both looked for jobs. He was offered a position in LA, so I came with him.
Initially, I looked for a corporate position, but I could not get the boutique out of my mind. So, instead of going through LinkedIn to find a job, I found myself searching for a location on real estate websites and driving around the city to find the perfect location for Lencería Boutique.
Within a couple of months, and with Joe’s support, I completely dropped the idea of finding a job and dedicated my time to the boutique.
I found a location pretty soon after that and we opened the boutique within a couple of months. What’s amazing is that I ended up opening the boutique on the same block that I had written down on the business plan in school!
HDF: So, Lencería Boutique was born out of the fact that you couldn’t get it out of your head, you already had it written down, it was right in front of you and a corporate job wasn’t going to work for you. (laughter) That’s Awesome!
Do you represent various brands in lingerie and swimwear from all over the world? Do you also design at all, and if not, do you want to?
Swimwear: Agua Bendita
Website (LenceriaBoutique.com): Assortment of Brands
Juliana: Yes, no and not now. I represent swimwear and lingerie brands from all over, but mainly from Colombia and Brazil.
I have considered designing my own label, since I have direct access to my clientele and I know what they want and need.
However, if you look into any of the brands I have at the boutique, you’ll notice how much time, effort and passion goes into each collection. My time, effort and passion are in customer service and experience.
HDF: Well Colombia and Brazil is a great place to start. How do you decide what to feature in your store?
Do you constantly watch trends in women’s wear and lingerie around the world and look for unique pieces?
Juliana: At the beginning, it was easy. I knew the best brands in Colombia and featured them at the boutique.
Now there are so many new and exciting brands out there it makes it more difficult to choose. Thankfully, I have also developed a better idea of what my customers want and I’m not shy about asking them what they are not finding.
I also look into social media, trade journals and events like the Miami Swim Show or Plataforma K in Colombia to help me find new brands.
If a brand looks like something I would want at the boutique, I’ll look at its history, the designers, where the clothing is made, their story, etc. If everything looks great, I’ll contact them and figure out if it makes sense for both of us to move forward.
HDF: Juliana, I completely respect your process for picking brands. That’s partially how we do it at H&DF. After being around the entrepreneurship world for so long, you can start to figure out patterns of what makes a truly unique company (their story included).
To that point, I feel like a lot of people want to quit their corporate job that they’re not passionate about and say, “I’ll go start my own business.” (Laughter).
Besides the fact that people probably don’t know how much work it entails, what are some of the realities they need to consider before starting in the fashion retail industry or even own their own brand/store?
Juliana: It’s true. I think the biggest shock to people is how much I work. When I’m in town, I work at the boutique every day (Monday through Sunday), and until recently, I had not taken any days off for personal travel.
We even delayed our honeymoon a year and a half because I felt uncomfortable leaving the boutique while it was so new.
Besides that…entrepreneurship (the way I’ve done it) is a pretty lonely path. You spend a lot of time with yourself. Making decisions and taking steps without a team can be quick and painless in one sense, but it can also feel draining and isolating.
You don’t necessarily have someone to celebrate your high moments or to discuss lessons learned from the harder times.
This also makes finding a mentor a little more difficult. Instead of learning from your boss or someone at the office, you have to make it a point to find someone that you admire and hope that they are open to helping with their time and advice.
Photo with Juliana Correa (Lenceria Boutique) & Kaitlin Cohen (Photo by Bethany Heykoop – TheNewVantage.com)
HDF: It’s true. In the past I’ve had to ask random business people I admired if they’d like to be my mentor. They weren’t even necessarily related to my industry.
So, what would be the best advice you can give someone just starting out as a fashion retailer / entrepreneur / storeowner, etc?
Juliana: I recently heard someone saying that the best advice they ever got was,
“No one knows what they are doing.”
I love that! It’s refreshing to remember that we all had a first time making an order, or speaking to a client, or closing a deal. It’s also helpful to think…if we always knew what we were doing, wouldn’t that mean we are not growing? Or learning something new?
HDF: I can tell you that the only way I grew was because I took a chance on things. Of course, taking a chance sometimes means you encounter obstacles.
Have there been any obstacles along the way, either at an earlier age or more recent, that have taught you valuable lessons? Any that you’d like to share?
Juliana: I can think of so many lessons in life and business!!!
One of the most expensive lessons I’ve learned is to always remember what made you succeed.
From the time I wrote the business plan and through most of my time buying for Lencería Boutique, I knew that inventory management would be the key to success. Therefore, I took the position of always being a very conservative buyer.
You see, some brands require that you make your orders six months in advance.Other brands let you get away with making purchases one month in advance or even “immediates” (items that can be shipped out within a week).
I was always very conservative with my purchases and carried mostly what you can buy as “immediates”. So, I’ve always had a very good idea of what was coming in and out of the boutique at any given moment. This gave me the flexibility to adjust the boutique to my customers’ demands or the latest styles.
However, at one point I felt overwhelmed with orders and I thought I had enough data from previous collections, so I figured I would work the same way most boutiques work – with pre-orders.
I spent weeks putting together the orders of the next six months. When I turned the orders in, I had more time to focus on other projects. This worked out smoothly, until customers started changing their buying habits and I wasn’t able to change with them.
Had I kept true to my initial plan, to keep a conservative policy, this would have been an easy shift. Instead, the business went through a period of slower than usual sales with higher than usual purchase orders (expenses).
Thankfully, sales picked up within a couple of months and the website helped move items that in-store customers were not buying.
But that scare was a good enough reminder to revisit previous seasons and to keep doing the good things and modifying the rest.
Lenceria Boutique Swimwear
HDF: I think you hit on a very interesting point, or several for that matter. First, you had a system and it was working for you. Second, that system allowed you to stay flexible so you could adjust to the customers’ needs – Customer first, followed by appropriate pivots. Several big companies sometimes miss the mark on this.
If you could describe the brand or brand essence Lencería, what would it be?
Juliana: Lingerie and swimwear buying tends to be an intimidating process. At the stores women often feel vulnerable and men can’t run away fast enough. With Lencería, I wanted to create the opposite experience.
Lencería started out as a place where women can support good brands (in all aspects: quality, style and social conscience), while finding something unique and beautiful. It is a place of comfort. The store is beautiful without being uptight.
We are helpful to customers without being pushy (we often recommend other boutiques that may better fulfill their needs). We welcome all guests with wine, water or coffee and something sweet. Imagine walking into your (really neat and tidy) friend’s home. That is Lencería Boutique.
The best moments at Lencería are when a customer tells me they felt this way. Or when they write a Yelp review that reflects it.
Lenceria Boutique – Photography by Emily Gann
HDF: I like the way you detail the “customer-first” experience. Being in L.A. have you had any “interesting” customers come to the store? And more importantly, were they easy to deal with. (Laughter)
Juliana: Ha! Yes…I have had my fair share. Most of the models and TV stars have been a pleasure to deal with!
There are some women who prefer that I don’t speak about them and there are others who even Instagram or Tweet about the boutique.
Elisabetta Canalis and Courtney Love both tweeted about their experiences there and that was incredibly helpful in terms of foot traffic!
Also, a lot of shows are filmed in and around the boutique. Those always help.
Additionally, there are models that work for local magazines who tend to be the most demanding and the most fun! When I shop for the boutique, I always have them in mind.
HDF: What about Social Media? How important has social media, and the Internet for that matter, played in the building of your brand to date? How important do you think it will be as you continue to grow it?
Juliana: I think of social media and the Internet as two separate things. My website, has been a great tool to maintain current clients who have been to our boutique but now live somewhere else. The blog and email tool from the website is also directed to them.
Then we have social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.
Twitter is a great way to communicate with other community members, such as restaurants, hotels, brands, even city council and other boutiques.
Facebook is the least relevant. Everyone likes to talk about its importance, and yet I see very little movement coming from that platform.
Regardless, I believe they are all extremely important. They help convey our messages and ideas without overloading our customers’ mailbox. I think it will continue to be a very important tool moving forward.
HDF: The fact that you understand that Social Media, websites, email and blogs all serve different purposes, but work together to convey your messages and brand already puts you ahead of most.
So here’s a question slightly off topic but related to your industry: If you could meet any fashion designer / retail owner, etc throughout all of history, current or past, who would it be and why?
Juliana: I would have a dinner party with all my current designers! Some of the designers I admire the most, in the world, I am proud to carry at the boutique.
Certain designers that I carry have literally changed the way Colombian women view lingerie and/or swimwear.
Others have done incredible things at a very young age. And all of them understand their market as well as any professional could only dream of.
If I were forced to choose among the designers, I would invite Sara Cohen of Suki Cohen, Natalia Botero of Entreaguas, Johanna Isaac of Made of Stars and Amulette, Shadia K’David of Salua Lingerie and Claudia Ochoa of Clo Intimo.
I’ve met all these women through work and work related events and I always come out of conversations wanting more time with them. I have so much to learn from each of them! And, I’m pretty sure they would have a blast together!
Suki Cohen – Lenceria Boutique
HDF: With you leading the dinner party, I’m sure they’d all have a blast. (Laughter). I like how you not only admire these individuals, but you want to continue to learn from them.
This next question I ask because I think no matter what age we’re at, we all need someone we look up to, or several “someones”, right? Who’s a role model you look up to on a daily basis?
Juliana: I think of my Dad often. Throughout my childhood, he was just dad, but now that I am running my own business, I realize how much he achieved in such a short amount of time.
My family friend Pedro is another role model. He is who I imagine my father would be today. He is the busiest man I know, yet he still finds the time to mentor me through all of the ups and downs of business and life.
HDF: Final Question – What’s the best part about creating for you?
Juliana: I love creating an experience. It is one of my favorite parts about having the boutique. I love having people come in the boutique or look online and leave happy because they’ve learned something new, saw something great or were just treated kindly.
At the boutique we always offer a drink and some sweets. The layout was meant to offer comfort and privacy in the fitting room. All customers are treated as guests in our home. When we don’t have something, we either get it or find another boutique that has it. Etcetera.
My goal is that customers leave thinking, “I can’t wait to go back there.” And it’s always so rewarding when they do come back – many times just to say “hi.”
HDF: Juliana, that is the exact type of thinking that will continue to make you hugely successful. This was awesome, thank you!!! We briefly had time together in school and I think it’s great you chose the route to open your own boutique and brand in Los Angeles. Thanks for sharing more of the story with me and allowing me to interview you.
Juliana: THANK YOU!!!! This is exciting!
Photography: Bethany Heykoop