803: First, I love the space, did you come up with the aesthetic for the space? Did you have any inspiration?
Keiko: Yes. I chose primarily chose pink because it’s a signature for women, and I wanted to provide an avenue in which women felt more than comfortable in and something that was purely for women. Whereas men have alot of places to just go and relax, like sports bars and cigar bars, women don’t really have that so I wanted to give them their place of comfort
803: So it’s more than just “come here and buy your clothes”?
Keiko: Oh yeah! We’re a firm believer of “If you can make a woman feel good on the outside she can remember all the good things on the inside.” Given the fact that I am a woman, most women are moms, sisters, career women: we have so many things going on in our lives we tend to forget about ourselves.
803: So is there a reason you chose this pink specifically?
Keiko: I felt that a lighter pink would be too foo foo little girl. And I think the depth of the color says something about us because it’s kind of deep. We’re deep as well because we have motivations and things we want to do. It’s the type of color that if it’s too light, it’s kind of glaring and if you go too dark, it’s kind of gothic.
803: Why did you decide to only stock 3-6 pieces of each garment as opposed to more?
Keiko: I hate bulk shopping, and I really feel that for women in Columbia, unfortunately, there’s not a lot to choose from here. Traditionally they have to go out to Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta to find something that’s different, so I specifically had the intention to find those pieces and bring them here. I, myself, now have children and I can’t get up and move as frequently as I could have when I was younger so this was a way to control my own vice as well as to offer that to all of my clients.803: So did you make the boutique to solve a problem you were finding when buying pieces?
Keiko: That definitely was a big piece in deciding only to have 3-6 people, however in deciding to have the store, my biggest thing was helping women to remember themselves. A lot of times as career women and moms, we tend to forget about ourselves. You put your career first, you put your kids first, you’re putting your husband first, you put everyone first and you forget about yourself. I just wanted to remind them of themselves.
803: Do you shop for yourself or do you have a specific woman in mind when you go to buy things for the boutique?
Keiko: It’s been a growing process and I have amazing clients, they are like friends and family. Since I don’t have a lot of family here they kind of filled that hole. We go way out for our clients, and kind of take them under our wings. So knowing what their needs are and their criteria, like their body type, I go to find things that of course I personally like, but are applicable to their bodies.
803: So over time the styling of the store could change depending on your client base?
Keiko: I think that I’ve been kind of lucky in the sense that the clients that we do have really like what we’re already doing. So I don’t really want to change my formula per se but I am aware that not every single line is for every single body type. So we will probably develop more lines of clothes that are more equipped for different body types as opposed to changing what we already have. We try to keep a nice selection of workwear everyday wear, going out wear, formal wear. So we try to have a little bit for a vast audience.
803: So I know that Tara and Kayla are both interns, so is everyone who works in the store an intern?
Keiko: No, we have two other employees as well both of whom have other things that they are pursuing. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise: they are still with us, but their time given over the summer kind of had elapsed. I knew in advance that they weren’t going to be here and it just so happened that Tara and Kayla approached me about an internship at the same time.
803: So is their internship focusing on the business aspect or more of the fashion aspect of the boutique?
Keiko: Initially when I interviewed with both of them, I wanted them, I think in some senses, and I hope not to be jumping the gun but I know in a lot of internships they just work the store, Ideally I don’t want them to just work the store. I want them a.) to utilize the talents that they’ve learned alongside with learn anything that they want to obtain from this or receive from this. I hope that they pursue those things here. I share all my inside things with them so that they are fully equipped, whereas alot of people just let them have a job, and utilize the free services. I’m letting them see everything that, I see the goods and the bads, the uglies and in betweens. The same way that I form relationships with my clients they’ve been here for a little while and they are doing the same thing.
803: It seems to me alot of the things that you do are about empowerment, is this intentional?
Keiko: That’s definitely our hopes. Definitely, we do try to do alot of different events. We eventually want to turn Mina/Mas into a label which is why I wanted to pull Tara on board because she designs and stuff. I’m trying to push her and motivate her to keep going with that as well as I want her to work with us to kind of design some of our pieces too. But ultimately we want to turn into a label and then take the proceeds from that and develop youth programs like group homes for kids803: So do you have any local designers stocked?
Keiko: Well here’s the thing, I’ve interviewed with several and have allowed for them to host their items here for free. Whereas if they say their products are XYZ as long as they fall with in the boutiques price point, they receive all the commission for that. Just given different circumstance I haven’t had anyone that was consistent enough that brought a line. It is something that I would entertain for sure. I think that there is alot of unrecognized talent in Columbia and being a business, formost people that own a business it’s “self before anyone else” whereas I’m a firm believer in “what you give out is what you get back.” So although sometimes I don’t see my blessings I know that they are always there so I always love helping people to advance even if it far exceeds myself.
803: Have you considered expanding into menswear?
Keiko: We’re actually contemplating that currently. There’s not really a high custom made suits in demand. But there is a high demand for the absence of custom made suits. So I really want to have that service. Not a tailoring suits because I know of places here that advertise as custom made but really they are tailor made. But we actually want to custom make and that’s about the extent of us going into menswear.
803: Alot of people don’t understand that many times in music and in arts there are alot of people who work on teams behind the scenes. I was wondering if it was the same way with boutiques and more importantly, Mina/Mas.
Keiko: Well we work with one person, she owns Silky Alterations, and she’s helping to incorporate some pieces for the future. But there’s all kinds of people that we are still kind of collaborating with and growing relationships with before we put anything in writing. You want to make sure that before you get into bed with someone you want to make sure that they have the same mindset as you and has your back the same way that you have theirs. So we’re still grooming those but in terms of who we have now, Silky is sort of our “signature seamstress”