BUSINESS SAVVY: Meet The Ladies Behind LILA

Sep 21, 2016 0 comments
BUSINESS SAVVY: Meet The Ladies Behind LILA

By Caitlin Maloney

Photography By Melissa Kelly Photography

Pack your bags, you’re about to leave on a jet plane and travel across the Atlantic to the world of international fashion — welcome to LILA Fashion International, a new women’s fashion and lifestyle brand with international flair, founded by sisters Lisa and Laura Anne Lamprou.

“The premise of our brand, which includes a web shop and storefront, is working with small talented designers who are based internationally and who don’t have the resources to have a presence in the US,” Laura Anne said. “We have the privilege of bringing them over here and introducing them to local shoppers.”

But why international brands you ask? Long before they found their way to Main Street, the sisters’ story began almost 5,000 miles away in Greece where they were born and in Saudi Arabia where they were raised for most of their childhood.

Though the sisters were raised abroad, you wouldn’t know it by your initial conversation with them — they have no accent at all. It isn’t until their mother calls from Greece to check in on the shop that the sisters switch seamlessly to their second language, Greek, in which they are fluent. Their father on the other hand, is an American second generation Greek who was born in San Diego and met their mother in Greece while stationed there with the Navy. And at the international schools they attended as children, the base curriculum was taught in English and the electives were taught in the native language of the country. So, in Greece their core classes were taught in English, but their electives in Greek.

“In both languages people are surprised that we don’t have accents, we get comments and questions about it all the time,” Lisa said. “I think that’s what happens when you are raised fully bilingually.”

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, most people assumed the girls lived like Bedouins in the dessert and rode a camel to school every day, Lisa joked. Though that was not the case, living abroad certainly gave the sisters a unique perspective, particularly in regards to fashion. While living in Saudi Arabia, a conservative country, the girls were allowed to wear whatever they wanted, including shorts and bathing suits, in their two controlled environments — school and home. The only time they had to blend in with the locals was when they went to public places like the bookstore or mall when they had to put on their abayas, the black robes traditionally worn by Middle Eastern women, to show respect for the culture they were living in, Lisa said.

“We could wear whatever we want and go and never had to think twice about what we were wearing underneath” Laura Anne said. “You could be wearing pajamas and throw the abaya over it, so as children we saw it as fun.”

While abayas may be regarded as restrictive, the sisters found them to be liberating. The women in the Saudi Arabia really found a way to express their personal styles with abayas. “You could get them embellished with gemstones or rhinestones,” Laura Anne said. “These women are very polished and put together and they pay a lot of attention to beauty. They also appreciate the finer things in life; that mindset definitely rubbed off on Lisa and me.”

Culturally, fashion is looked at very differently in the Middle East and Europe. “You would never go in sweats anywhere,” Lisa joked. “We’ll never fully understood the sweat pant and flip flop culture, but we have actually assimilated now, I love Lululemon and would wear it everyday if I could, but then I’m reminded daily when my mom FaceTime’s me and says, ‘What are you wearing? That’s not ladylike. Don’t you want to put some makeup on?'”

Lisa still makes fun of Laura Anne when she gets dressed up to go to the supermarket, “That’s just me,” Laura Anne said. “Growing up abroad you see people put a lot of effort into how they present themselves.”

In Saudi Arabia, fashion magazines are not a common sight and any magazines brought into the country that had anything deemed inappropriate was blacked out — literally with a Sharpie marker, Laura Anne said.

But when Laura Anne was in 7th grade, her teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up, and without hesitation, she said she wanted to be a fashion designer. “I ended up going home and telling my Mom and she opened up a magazine she brought from Greece introduced me for the first time to iconic designers like Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana and at that point, the world of fashion sort of opened up for me,” she said.

When Laura Anne was in high school, the family moved back home to Greece, and designer fashion became even more accessible. “There was a lot of emphasis placed on dressing well, and being well-acquainted with high-end fashion designer fashions in Greece,” Laura Anne said. “ We went to a school where there were a lot of wealthy kids who came to school wearing very high-end designer brands, and you were expected to do the same to fit in. Those four years were a tremendous influence for me.”

While Laura Anne’s personal style is more high fashion, Lisa describes her personal style as more equestrian chic. “I did a lot of horseback riding, so for me high fashion was Ralph Lauren,” she said. “I wear a ton of really nice leggings with polo’s. I love over the knee boots in the winter and equestrian jackets. Hermes was huge for me because of the equestrian influence.”

As the fashionista of the family, Laura Anne always had her heart set on owning a boutique one day. Lisa on the other hand, was originally on a path to med school when she realized that it just wasn’t making her happy anymore. This sparked the idea to launch LILA, first as an online web shop, and then as a brick-and-mortar on Main Street.

When it came time to bring their concept to life, the sisters turned to 99 Designs, an online platform of graphic designers that bid on your graphic design project needs. It was over dinner at Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar that Lisa and Laura Anne looked through the submitted design concepts and saw their dream start to become a reality. Little did they know they were sitting across from the storefront they would later call home.

After opening an online shop in July 2015 and running a successful online store for almost a year, the sisters started testing their business in different markets throughout the Philadelphia region by hosting pop-up shops.

“We were testing on the Main Line and a few other locations, but the pop-up shop we did here at Pineapple On Main was very successful,” Lisa said. “We had people come in one day and come back again the second.”

Even though Manayunk seemed to be the right fit for their market, Lisa and Laura Anne weren’t really prepared to open a storefront at all. But, with encouragement from a few other merchants on the street, they quickly connected with Dan Neducsin and the day after their pop-up shop was over, Lisa got a call from Dan saying that he had a space for them. “When I first saw the space, I’ll admit it left something to be desired, but I had a vision,” Lisa said. “I brought in Laura Anne and said to her, ‘it’s a bit rough around the edges, but has so much potential.’”

Once the lease was signed, it was on to designing the space. “We wanted it to feel feminine, sexy, and have an international component to it,” Lisa said. “We wanted women to come in and immediately feel like they could just be in here and live in here. We just wanted women to feel like it was a store made for them. We are here for you — we were made for you.”

With a little help from local vendors including Philadelphia Woodworks, who built their cash wrap, Lisa’s boyfriend Edward, who made all the hanging racks, and their parents FaceTiming from Greece to share their opinion, the store quickly came together, almost overnight.

“From the day we signed the lease on May 24th, it was exactly four weeks until we opened on June 25th,” Lisa said. “I don’t even know how we did it. I stayed overnight in the store some nights just to get it finished. When I look at it now, it looks like it’s always been like this and that is what makes me feel like I did a fantastic job.”

When it comes to the clothing in their store, the sisters say they strive to bring in clothing directly from where they are manufactured and in the country of origin where they were designed. Their sandals are made in Cyprus by Cyprian craftsman and women, and their Vice Versa handbags are made in a factory in Greece that they visited themselves. They tend to work with designers who are very transparent and share pictures of their craftsmen and woman and how they make the products. “We want people to know that real people make these things,” Lisa said. “I don’t place a lot of orders July through September because that’s when most of these small businesses go on vacation so those factories close down.”

Carrying items that come with a lot of longevity and not fast fashion pieces is also an important aspect for the sisters. “We try to curate pieces that are going to be timeless and an investment in your wardrobe. People need to start looking at clothes that way again, that’s not what the clothing industry ever was,” Lisa said. “Shopping truly is an artwork, it’s about knowing how to buy for yourself and what looks good on you and knowing what patterns and fabrics are quality and not mass produced.”

As for the designers they carry, Laura Anne’s favorite without hesitation is Madame Shou Shou. “I feel like her designs resonate so much with my personal style. I love florals and embellishments and a lot of her pieces have an open back which I find incredibly sexy but demure,” she said. “I would wear every piece from the Madame Shou Shou collection in my everyday life. I think that’s how we choose everything in here, we couldn’t select anything we wouldn’t wear ourselves.”

For Lisa, their wooden sunglasses by Zylo Eyewear are a staple of her wardrobe. “The quality is impeccable,” she said. The sisters also sell their own jewelry collection in the store as well, all made from sterling silver and semi-precious stones, designed by them and produced by craftsmen and women in Greece.

To find these unique items from around the world, Lisa and Laura Anne visit two tradeshows a year - Pure London and TRANOI in Paris. “We not only have to market our boutique, but also market the designers we have since they aren’t as well known in the States,” Lisa said. “We have to explain why you should pick Madame Shou Shou over J. Crew and Daddy & Fox over Victoria’s Secret.”

Your stop into LILA isn’t just about the clothes, it’s also about the shopping experience they have created. When you walk through the doors, soft music plays from a playlist the sisters created, which features Parisian cafe music, Greek hymns and other international tunes. At the counter are chocolates and cookies their mother sends over from Greece and dog treats courtesy of the shop dog, Olivia Jane.

“We try to make it feel like you are transported overseas for a small period of time,” Lisa said. “I want you to come in and indulge on a foreign sweet treat and I want you for a second to be transported to Paris, London, Singapore, or Greece.”

Though running the web shop was rewarding, being able to see the garments on customers in person has been the most transforming part of the job, Lisa said. “It’s great to see someone's face light up when they come in and try something on and say they love it,” she said. “You don’t get that feeling online, they can write a review and tell you how great an item is, but it’s not the same.”

The girls admit they have night and day personalities, and though they certainly disagree on many points, at the end of the day, they both love the business and each brings a set of valuable skills to the shop. Laura Anne is the creative mind behind the business, handling the marketing and media relations, while Lisa handles more of the business side, spending her days manning the shop.

“Lisa definitely liaises with the designers and handles the accounting, she is here doing the groundwork and interfacing with customers while I’m at work,” Laura Anne said. “For me, because of my agency background, I’ve been able to support LILA with our public relations and social media efforts.”

The girls may have different personalities and personal styles, but the one thing they share is their love for LILA and the clothes and lifestyle products they sell. You’ll often see them modeling their favorite pieces on their web shop and through their social media platforms.

“We want people to see that we love these clothes,” Lisa said. “We pick things we think we look best in. I’m all about maxi dresses and knee length shorts and Laura Anne loves rompers and open back dresses, so we choose to model those on the web shop. We want people to know we love and back all the pieces we sell.”

*For those they didn’t catch it, the name LILA comes from a mix of both sisters names — Lisa and Laura Anne.*

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