BE in New York CityThursday, 17 December 2009 by Lydia Parafianowicz
After growing up in a fashion-forward family, two sisters in Williamsburg, New York, have taken the bold step to open their own shop to continue their family tradition – and the results are paying off.
“From a very young age, we have both been interested in fashion,” says Claudia Argiro of her and her sister, Daniela Parker Bowles. “Our father is from Italy and always instilled in us the importance of fashion. He understands quality and taught us to invest in staples rather than trends.”
For Claudia and Daniela, growing up between America and Europe brought with it many unique experiences: attending their first fashion shows in Milan as teenagers; visiting clothing production factories in Italy before the age of 20. Their parents were in retail for over 35 years, and taught their daughters about fashion, style and business. If mom and dad went to Italy to buy products, the daughters went too. If Europeans were wearing certain trends, the daughters wore them too.
“It was always a dream of ours to follow in our parents footsteps and open a store when the time was right,” Claudia explains. “We have always had a little edge to our personal style and people love it. We figured, ‘Why not open a shop where we get to pick out every single piece in the store?’ It’s like shopping in our closets!”
Claudia says they spent years preparing and training for how to operate a business before opening ‘Charlie & Sam’ in May 2009. At the same time, Daniela was managing a new husband, home and newborn baby.
“I’m juggling being a new mom and being part owner of a new business, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Daniela says. “The economy was and is still not at its best state, but we said we had to move forward with our dream!”
Charlie & Sam is located in the developing area of Williamsburg, New York. The sisters have lived there for over 10 years, which they say has given them the knowledge and expertise to offer the right products to their varying clientele. Williamsburg attracts everyone from the upper-class Sunday brunch crowd, to tourists, to locals who don’t want to travel to Manhattan to shop.
“There is such a range here, so making sure we have something for everyone,” Claudia explains. “One of the main components of our store when we were opening was to offer a comfortable shopping experience for everyone. We have the ‘boyfriend/husband,’ chair so guys can relax while girls shop. Sometimes customers hang out for an hour or so, just chatting while shopping! You can definitely take your time here.”
Daniela says every aspect of the shop has been carefully thought out to provide as comfortable an atmosphere as possible for shoppers. She emphasizes that they only carry products that they would wear themselves, such as Belen Echandia.
“I love BE because the collection offers a unique style but also offers function,” Daniela explains. “It’s great to carry a product that is designed with love!”
Claudia also says that despite lots of competition in the American handbag market, many designers lack high quality and over-charge.
“BE bags are beautifully made and make a statement in a subtle way,” she says. “Whenever I carry my BE bags, I always get asked what brand it is and where I got it. We love how the bags are still a secret to most consumers and when they find it, they fall in love and have to have it.”
Other designers they feature include New York companies like Siwy for Women, Grace Sun, By Francine, T-bags, Neons + Navies, Elizabeth Gillett and Jane Tran. They also carry Australian favourites like Wish and None The Richer, plus Italy’s Bettina, Japan’s Arth, and Nicole Ritchie’s famous line, House of Harlow. Expect to find clothing, shoes, accessories for men and women, plus a children’s vintage-inspired clothing line, and a Brooklyn-based eco-friendly skincare line called SkinnySkinny.
“We like to have products that represent different areas that relate to us,” Claudia explains. “For example, Daniela’s husband is English and Australian, so in Daniela’s travels she researches brands that we can bring back to the US. Belen Echandia was one of those special brands that she found and believed in.”
Claudia says at the end of the day, it’s their parents’ business philosophies that have helped them succeed.
“We are just two normal girls, who love fashion and love dressing people,” Claudia says. “My parents always taught us that if you give customers a great shopping experience, they will come back and remember you. It is more about long customer relationships for us; if we have great service and great products, they will come back and will tell their friends about us!”