Welcome to Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today’s interview with Karen Kostigen, fortuitous owner of Zia Clothing Outlet in Belmont. Then go ahead and nominate yourself or a friend!
Karen Kostigen, Owner, Zia Clothing Outlet
Christine: Tell us a little bit about your background Karen. You’re a local who spent professional time in convention sales and catering, and now you’re in the fashion industry as the owner of Zia Clothing Outlet. When did you catch the fashion retail bug?
Karen: I went to college to become a social worker, then after realizing I couldn't live on that salary ended up in the hospitality field for 7 years as a hotel catering and sales managers at various hotels, Marriott being the last company. When I was an at-home mom for 13 years, 7 of those I volunteered in the development department of a school where I did fundraising and event planning. As for my retail experience, I worked part-time in high school and after college in clothing stores to get the employee discounts!
Christine: I was amazed to read on your site that you were a loyal customer of Zia (under its previous owner and name) and when you heard that the store was going out of business you went in to buy sale clothing and ended up buying the store! What were you doing at that time professionally or otherwise, and what inspired you to buy the business?
Karen: I was a customer of the previous store when the store was in a different location. The previous owner approached me, saying that she was thinking of selling the business rather than liquidating because she was relocating. I thought, cool, now the store will stay and she offered me the business, saying I was exactly what she would want for her customers. It was my kids who talked me into taking the next step. I thought I was too old, didn't have enough money, and had too many kids but they convinced me to try; that I would be successful and happy. I said I would buy the business and run it for one year and if it failed, I would think of it as getting my Masters; that no matter the outcome, it would be a great learning experience. Four and a half years later I’m still going strong!
Christine: I actually grew up in Belmont and the town centers have changed a lot in the last decade, no doubt trying to shake its sleepy image of years past. How did you decide on Cushing Square for your store’s location? Do you find you get considerable passerby foot traffic, or does it seem that new and repeat shoppers come to Cushing Square explicitly to visit your store?
Karen: Cushing Square is off the town center (Belmont Center) by about one mile, which is perfect for an off-price boutique. The store had to be relocated when I purchased it since the previous space was already leased to another business. What I love about the space here in Cushing Square is that it has a lot of natural light and is in a warm, old-fashioned kind of walking area. Bus #73 from Harvard Square stops right outside my door and the store is easily accessible from Cambridge, Newton, Waltham, and Watertown.
Christine: It seems that in both the women and children domains, discount fashion stores are all the rage (and no doubt necessary in this economy). Without giving away your secrets, tell us more about hitting the market to find fashion treasures. Are there specific reseller-only places where you can hunt for treasures? Do you follow your instincts and just buy what appeals to you or do you think in terms of aligning your inventory with current fashion trends?
Karen: I'm in the market weekly and am considered an "opportunity buyer." Many times when I go to buy I'm not sure what I'll come back with! There is an eclectic mix of merchandise at all times at Zia Clothing Outlet. Sometimes to get the best price I must buy a large quantity; other times, I pick up "one of a kind" manufacturer samples.
Christine: You clearly are committed to philanthropy, donating partial proceeds to, or hosting fundraisers for, various organizations. How do you choose these organizations? Are any of them close to your heart for specific reasons?
Karen: October was Breast Cancer Awareness month so I fundraised for different breast cancer groups, like Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, The Julie Fund, Embrace a Family, and the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. In June, in honor of my late aunt and in conjunction with the store's anniversary, I host an Ovarian Cancer event.
Christine: You also host monthly in-store events and in-home parties. How do the in-home parties work? Do you bring favorite pieces from stock for women to try on and buy?
Karen: I host a monthly in-store wine and cheese party and vary the theme each month. For example, I've had tarot and psychic readers, fashion shows, wine tastings, book signings, and art openings. The home parties are a blast too! I bring an array of merchandise and accessories, many times the hostess helps me choose the items and set up in someone's living room and the party begins! I've also hosted private, in-store shopping events for mom's groups, birthday parties, etc.
Christine: Your nominator shared that you are a single mom juggling a growing business and three children. How old were your children when you acquired Zia, and how do you juggle your work and family demands as a single parent?
Karen: The store opened June 1, 2004 and the kids were in 8th, 6th, and 1st grade. I hired a babysitter a few afternoons week to help with the afternoons while I was at the store. Now I have someone watch the store a couple of afternoons to balance the family/work life.
Christine: What do you think has been the most challenging thing about being an independent mamapreneur? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom for aspiring mamapreneurs?
Karen: The most challenging part is feeling like I should be at the store more when I'm home and feeling like I should be at home more when I'm at the store. I am trying to learn to let go of the guilt as it all gets done and nothing lasts forever. One of my kids is a freshman in college already!
Christine: We’ve talked all business up to now. Tell us about the favorite things you do to unwind or any hidden/unusual talents you may have.
Karen: My favorite thing to do is to spend time with my family and friends. I love to read cookbooks to unwind and I'm still trying to find my sandbox because I love to shop so much, it shouldn't count because I do it for a living!
Christine: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?
Karen: My three favorite things about being a Boston Mama are my kids Jenna, Olivia, and Richie!
Know a fabulous local mama? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured!