Bus Stop Boutique, the store with the quirky windows on Philadelphia’s South 4th Street, has been dressing local trendsetters with brands like Swear, Esska and Blackstone for the past nine years.
Elena Brennan opened Bus Stop after coming off a 27-year run in advertising and marketing in the UK handling major accounts like Kellogg’s and The Guardian. “It was like the ’80s version of Mad Men,” she said. However, after moving to the U.S., Brennan said she lost the passion and respect for the industry. “And voilà, that’s when I switch gears to the footwear industry,” she quipped.
Brennan’s move to retail wasn’t a total surprise—her parents were in retail—but footwear proved to be an opportunity for her to use both her creative and business mind. Recently, Brennan has been dabbling in design, collaborating with All Black last spring to produce an extensive range of colorful oxfords and four more for Fall ’16. Brennan will also introduce Bus Stop’s first-ever collection of private label handbags, sourced and made in Italy this fall.
“Our clients crave the unusual when it comes to footwear. They have come to us for nine years to find styles that you can’t get anywhere else. Now we can truly deliver just that through our own in-house designs and our customers love it,” she explained.
VAMP: How do you enhance your customers’ shopping experiences?
Brennan: Our customers give us accolades on our customer service and shopping experiences, in the boutique or online, and that’s rare with online shopping. Here, you’re interacting with the person who curated the shelves, who has a deep love and appreciation for everything in the shop. It’s a person-to-person experience, and I think people want that authenticity and back-to-basics approach when shopping for shoes. There’s a story behind every shoe and designer too.
We also know how to throw a mean party. Our customers really look forward to our launch parties and celebrating our new collections with us. They know that if they want to own a pair of our limited-edition designs, they need to come early and they do. It’s all about the experience—offering our customers something that’s limited-edition, exclusive, well-made and comfy inside our cozy shop.
VAMP: What’s new for fall?
Brennan: I recently returned from a trip to the All Black factory in Taiwan where I was working on designing the third collaboration with All Black, adding four new styles along with everyone’s favorite, the Bus Stop x All Black oxford… We’ve really outdone ourselves this time and are excited to be able to say we’ve launched two footwear capsule collections in one year—a big first for us and we are so proud of what will be adorning the shelves come fall.
I’m carrying a Japanese designer for the first time. I found the brand, Yuko Imanishi, when I went to MICAM in February, and I met up with Yuko Imanishi on my recent trip to Japan and visited her showroom. Our mission from the beginning has been to introduce new international designers to Philly. We are obsessed with Japanese designers right now, so stay tuned for even more Japanese designer spotlights in 2016 and 2017.
VAMP: What do you wish you’d see more of from brands and designers?
Brennan: I wish I could see the designers take more chances and offer styles that stand out—they can be classic but with a twist. I’d like to see more quality control and an emphasis on the handmade, soft leathers, an attention to detail from brands. We treat our shoes like pieces of art on the shelves, so my standards for the level of beauty and quality are high.
VAMP: What do you look for in a new brand?
Brennan: Unusual details, colors that speak to me, and of course, good quality luxurious leathers. And designers that keep it fresh—I’m always looking for new up-and-coming designers to offer our customers brands that are not saturated in the marketplace in the U.S. or internationally. We like to offer our customers the newest brands and best kept secrets.
VAMP: What are the rewarding aspects of being a small business owner?
Brennan: The independence, being your own boss, seeing your ideas come to fruition, collaborating with like-minded business people and designers, designing and seeing your creations come to life.
VAMP: Why are you passionate about footwear?
Brennan: I have a creative and business mind, so having my own shoe boutique and designing my own shoe and handbag collections feeds my passion.
For more interviews like this, check out VAMP Magazine.