Before many of the top contemporary designers were building empires of their own they were stacking the bricks to build someone else’s. Alehya Lewis counts herself among them. Once a sales associate at Nordstrom, the boutique owner turned custom apparel designer is using what she learned as a personal shopper to woo customers wallets away from her competitors.
“I would get like a rush over dressing people,” Lewis told Hello Beautiful about her time as a personal shopper before founding Alluxe Couture and Luxe Label.
She noticed that while many clotheshorses salivate over the flourish of specific designer pieces, others want the process of shopping simplified for them. “I would do people’s wardrobe for the whole season,” she explained. “It went from just one outfit to the whole wardrobe but it was a fun job.”
Not only was the job fun, it was lucrative. She earned enviable commissions that put into perspective just how much her employer was making from her hard work once she made them one million dollars in a calendar year. Her worth was not the only thing she learned about the retail business. Nordstrom allowed her to observe shopper’s habits. “I learned a lot of people don’t know what they need, so it helps me to know that I can create the way for people ‘cause they don’t know what they want. So that was a major one.”
The experience let her place herself in the mind and closets of her customers, a place she remains as a business owner. “It’s like, okay I have to put a full outfit together, I have to be organized, and I can’t do it by single pieces because they don’t know what to wear with them.”
Those without the privilege of personal shoppers — or who prefer to pick out options themselves — still look to Lewis. Her clothing has been worn by a variety of celebrities and influencers and, despite rapid changes in social media and the struggles faced by small businesses, but she’s not worried about her company’s popularity being impacted. “Whoever has that influence on the people, their influence on people is genuine. People are drawn to them, people love them because they love their style and their fashion so I think it’s still going to shine through.”
She continued, “My product speaks for itself; I’m consistent. “I’m the sole provider for everything. I do the buying. I do the designing. I do the full nine yards. I do wholesale and I do personal custom designs as well.”
Lewis draws inspiration from from some of the biggest names in fashion to keep her going. “Alexander Wang is one of my biggest influences right now he has a very similar story to me from working in a department store to making one of the biggest designer brands in the world right now.” His ability to maintain his own aesthetic while serving his clients needs mirrors her own.
“I want to take my designing to the next level and really show myself to the world. I want to create, I want to focus fully on designing.”
Lewis’s path from the personal shopping floor of Nordstrom to building a sustainable business was not an easy one. She was sidelined by family concerns and forced to enroll in a nursing program that she knew was not a fit. “My mom’s a registered nurse and she was a little sad for a very long time because she kind of forced me to go to nursing school. I wanted to do it for her. My mom has been through so much stuff and time after time she came up on top. She basically raised me and my two siblings on her own she has been through so much. She’s the biggest influence on my mind.”
While her mother also encouraged her to continue in fashion, she wanted to make sure Lewis diversified her options. “I didn’t really have a plan B. She was like you can do that on the side, but you need a backup plan. Midway into that nursing program I was like no this not it. I’m a fashion girl! I’m not that girl I get queasy. I was in the lab one day and we had to dissect a pig open and I was like ‘yea this isn’t for me’.” That’s when Lewis sat her mother down and told her she didn’t want to waste her time or money any longer. She expected anger but was met with compassion and support as she became a sales associate at her local Nordstrom’s.
When leaving her position to start her own company, Lewis was meticulous about “what pieces to pick up,” placing her customer’s concerns at the forefront. “Especially with the seasons, like when to start shopping for Fall, when to start shopping for spring,” she noted. But in the same way her mother wanted her to diversify her options, Lewis had to incorporate more variety into the apparel she chose.
“When I first started I was solely going to LA but I slowly started to realize that I don’t want the things that these boutiques have because you know in LA in the fashion district you see all the same things and I wanted to set myself apart from those same styles.” Her efforts to do so led her to build relationships with factories in other nations, including China and Pakistan.
The experience, however, was difficult for her “not only as a Black woman but as an American period.” She has had to make adjustments in her personal schedule and find as many technological resources as possible that allow her to communicate with vendors. “With the time difference I’m literally up at 5 in the morning.”
Despite the challenges, Lewis has found personal fulfillment in the fight to claim her own piece of the fashion industry, but she said her accomplishments are about more than finding her name on the racks she once presented to clients.
“I know I have a bigger purpose and it’s not just about me. I want to build my platform so I can put my people on.”
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