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Beyond the Runway: Karen Beebe and Lucille Clothing

What does it take to run a clothing line? Clothing lines vary in styles, prices, where it’s sold, who’s behind it, and so many other factors. To get a better idea of what it’s really like to own and run a clothing line as it starts to take flight, Lucille designer, Karen Beebe, shares her story of designing, running businesses, and doing what’s needed to make it happen.

Karen Beebe started Lucille in 2001, using the same name for the line as is her mother’s first and Karen’s middle name. Beebe learned to sew from her mother, who grew up sewing in the mills in New Bedford, MA. When she set out with the Lucille line, Beebe was sewing in a studio, showing her clothes wherever she could. Over the past decade Lucille has now graced runways, shown in NYC, LA, and Japan, and is sold in Beebe’s store, Queen of Hearts. Karen is a talented designer and true entrepreneur, not only owning the Lucille line but also two stores in Providence, RI: Queen of Hearts and Modern Love. With plans to continue growing the Lucille line, Beebe reflects on how she’s hustled other jobs to keep her fashion dreams going and looks forward to what’s next.

M.I.S.S.: What did you set out to do when you started Lucille?

Well, when I started Lucille I was sewing out of a 20×20’ room with machines… and after my first year I moved into a 1,300 square foot loft and dedicated half of it to Lucille.  I had some temporary pop-up shops in Providence and had been toying with the idea of opening a store.  In 2006 a little storefront was offered to me at a reasonable rate and I went for it.  I sold my own line at Queen of Hearts and also the work of over 50 artists, many of them local to the Providence area.  It was great, but I found my time torn between running the shop and producing my line in my studio, and I wasn’t sewing as much as I wanted to.  So when the opportunity came to combine the two it only made sense.  I moved Queen of Hearts just around the corner from its original location to a 900 square foot space and in the rear portion of it I have five machines set up, which gives me the opportunity to design and sew in-house and also do on-site alterations when needed. I realized how much customers really love to watch you create on site.

This past year I got the opportunity to expand again when my neighboring business closed.  We busted through the wall with a doorway and I opened Modern Love, where I carry shoes and accessories.

M.I.S.S.: How do you feel about where you currently are with Lucille?

I feel great about where I am with Lucille. I am always juggling things with the line and the two shops that sit side by side, but by now I’m used to being busy!  I am currently doing about two runway shows a year and have shown in NYC, LA and Japan.  I would, however, love to be selling my line elsewhere besides just my own shop and branch out a bit. Currently the majority of everything is one of a kind and I am still hand-making everything myself.

M.I.S.S.: Where will Lucille be in a year? Five years?

In one year, I think I will have had a few more shows in the Providence Area, with Style Week Providence.  In five years I hope to have at least 6 – 10 of my most sellable pieces in production and in boutiques around the nation.  One boutique each in some great metropolitan cities.  There is no need to flood a market.  It drives me crazy when Providence artists want to sell in every great shop in one city.  I want to branch out.

Some looks from Lucille by Karen Beebe

M.I.S.S.: What is a “typical” day for you?

I can pretty much say I love coming to work.  I love the atmosphere I work in and I have an incredible staff that is fun to be around. My days tend to be extremely hectic… phones ringing in two shops at once, cell phone ringing in harmony… keeping up on the hundreds of emails is challenging.  Finding time to get to the sewing machine is hard at times.  Before I have a show I am usually in the studio every day for a few weeks day and night.  Tons of paperwork is always sitting on the desk that needs attention.

M.I.S.S.: What is your favorite part of the day?

When I get to create!  Whether I am designing, sewing, or working on graphics for the shop. Window displays too…  I love to just be creative.

M.I.S.S.: What is your least favorite part of the day?

When telemarketers call me and when I have to sit down with paperwork.  The paperwork just never seems to end.   I like to feel organized or I feel unsettled, so in the end ,when the paperwork is done it helps me to have more creative energy.

M.I.S.S.: What are your future goals as a designer and entrepreneur?

I am working really hard to launch the Queen of Hearts online store and for the time being you will also be able to purchase fabulous shoes from Modern Love from that site until the link is up to its own site.  I also need to start keeping up with the Lucille Clothing website. It seems to be challenging to keep up with all of the online marketing but totally necessary for the growth of all of my businesses.  It’s hard for me to think too far ahead since I just reached a huge goal of mine.  Just last September I was working three bartending jobs, one teaching job, running my shop, and keeping up with my clothing line.  I had been working 80 hours a week for over four years!  Since October of 2010, with the opening of Modern Love, I am down to one bartending job and now have five employees.  I honestly feel like I need a little down time, which to most would mean a little normalcy before I make any more deadlines.  I am preparing to start my Spring/Summer 2012 collection, which will be shown in late August here in Providence.

Karen Beebe's first retail store: Queen of Hearts, complete with Lucille sewing area

Queen of Hearts' shoes and accessories sister store: Modern Love

M.I.S.S.: What do you like most about having your own line?

Well, I am fortunate to be able to have a shop to sell my own line and work with customers one-on-one as well as having my studio in-house.  One of the ways in which I feel most accomplished about my line is that I didn’t spend thousands of dollars to become a designer or business entrepreneur, but learned from my own mistakes.

M.I.S.S.: What is hardest about having your own line?

If you don’t have a ton of money it’s a very difficult industry.  Hand-making everything on my own is very challenging.  I do not have the funds to get samples made and hire a [sales] rep and get things into production.  I would love to be able to do that.  Although, I do feel like I have to do one thing at a time and the last four years have been extremely hectic with the growth of my retail businesses.  So who knows what’s next for me?

M.I.S.S.: What does it take to have your own clothing line?

There are different kinds of designers.  Some can sketch a design out, have a sample made and production begins.  For me, being a “smaller designer,” I have got to be able to sew. I see so many great artists/designers come to me, but if you do not understand garment construction and how fabrics work with design…  Color combination is also so important.  But one of the most important things is understanding business.  You have to treat your business like it’s your boss and you work for it. I think every artist and designer should have an education in business.  It’s definitely the hardest and most challenging part of having your own clothing line.

Keep up with the latest from Karen Beebe’s stores through their blog, friend Queen of Hearts Providence and Modern Love on facebook, and stay tuned for the Queen of Hearts web store!

Image Layout: the amazing C-Rocka

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