2011 April 7

The Retailer Files, Vol. 4: Navin Megji, Feature Boutique

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Feature Boutique in Brentwood Feature Boutique in Brentwood
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(NEW YORK)  The Retailer Files goes bicoastal this week with a jaunt to Feature Boutique in Brentwood. Owner and buyer Navin Megji set up shop three years ago in this sunny, tucked-away L.A. enclave, with her sights set on assembling a supremely chic, handpicked potpourri of brands that eclipse and avoid style stereotypes of the City of Angels. 

When—and why—did you open Feature?
I opened in February 2008. I was fresh out of school from NYU and USC, and I had worked in fashion before. In general, I’ve just tried to go into every corner of every market and learn as much as a can. I grew up in the restaurant industry, but I interned at Dolce & Gabbana in New York, then I assisted at GenArt for a year and a half back in L.A. in addition to some other fashion-related gigs.

Why Brentwood?
Brentwood had a void in the retail landscape in terms of the specific labels I wanted to carry—CFDA-worthy brands. I was born and raised in L.A., in Santa Monica as well as Calabasas in the Valley, where the Kardashians live. Distribution was wide open in Brentwood for a lot of the brands I wanted to carry, and I thought there would be interest in this area. However, not being in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills has definitely had an effect on the stylists that come in. Big stylists have their boutiques in those areas where they constantly shop for clients, and they won’t necessarily come out to Brentwood. But we do get a number of personal shoppers at Feature.

Who’s the Feature woman?
I cater mostly to the Brentwood mom, but they’re not like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. They want to look good, but they’re not the type that would go out and get a stylist. I originally thought my customers would be in their late 20s and early 30s—working, professional types. I’m 27, and I work with women in their late 30s and early 40s. It’s all moms and little kids, all day! They’re a group of women who don’t necessary “lunch,” but they do go to Soho House, and to big events with their husbands. Our customer base is not heavily Hollywood, but it’s on the fringes.

What was the initial reaction from customers when you first opened?
I opened right before the recession, and it was really reassuring that when people came in to shop, they often keep coming back. I’ve had incredibly loyal customers that come every week. We’re not a bigger, Fred Segal-type store with a steady flow of customers coming in every day to buy a bunch of little things. My repeat customers come in every few weeks and buy in bulk.

Do you often accommodate requests from repeat customers?
It’s been tailored more to what specific customers wear, and what they want to be wearing, over the last year or so. Before that, it was focused on the specific brands I wanted to be carrying. Fashion in L.A. is often true to stereotype: everything is tighter and form fitting, and that’s definitely not what you’ll see at Feature.

How about any local Brentwood celeb customers?
Reese Witherspoon has been in four times over three months. She could not be sweeter. She’s picked up very fashion-forward items which have surprised me, because they’re very different than what she normally goes for.  She’s bought Vena Cava blouses, some printed dresses from various designers, a cute Nellie Partow dress. I’ve also had Whitney Port, Marcia Cross and Jenny McCarthy come in, but it’s more low-key than some bigger L.A. boutiques.

How did you come up with the name?
Originally, we were called Edit, but there was an Edit boutique in New York, so we had to change the name last minute. Feature captured the idea of what’s new and noteworthy. I didn’t want to name the store after myself, because I don’t want people to dress like I dress or try to look like me.

What’s trending right now?
Maxi dresses and skirts are popular. And definitely Alexander Wang. My customers are obsessed with his T by Alexander Wang collection. Brentwood loves a t-shirt like no one else. It’s insane! They don’t care if it costs $100. They value comfort above everything else.

What were some recent blockbuster items that you had to restock?
Last fall, Philip Lim did really well. We also had a leopard coat by Wren that was really popular.  I thought it was overly trendy for a Brentwood mom—it seemed like a pretty crazy purchase. Now I’ll spot multiple customers wearing the jacket in Starbucks! And right now, there’s an asymmetrical Suno jacket from the resort collection that’s selling very well.

What row do you sit at fashion shows?
I'm such a fashion addict, the thought of even being invited to a show was so flattering when I'd just opened the boutique. I would still not believe that I was on the list, even though I knew I was a buyer! When I first went to NYFW, I was put in like the third row and I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I didn't care. After going to a few more shows and making more friends and when I was put in the front row one year, I completely got what that experience was about. But for the purpose of buying, the fashion shows are purely for fun.

What is your buyer's plan-of-attack?
When I do market week, I book back to back showroom appointments and sort of power through. I know beforehand which lines we're going after and who I'll work with again. I used to try and do some buys through look books and photos. But it just doesn't work, because the clothes are so different in person. When I do appointments, I try and go in with an incredibly critical eye and really try and just get the best. Being a small boutique, I just don't have too much room to bring in any styles that 'might' work. At this point, I envision the customer in it, and I know what our people will go for.

How much of your business comes from your website?
When I first started, I thought we’d do more e-commerce, but there’s too much competition online. The majority of people who buy on site are from Australia or London. I thought no one in L.A. or customers saw the site, but I’ve noticed that they check the blog to see new arrivals and then will come into the store to try it on.

How often are you in the store?
I’m there 24/7. We’re open Monday through Saturday, and I think I typically take two half-days off each week. I have two part-time girls that work in the office, and one is a part-time stylist, so our customers can take advantage of her styling expertise when they come in!

What’s up next for Feature?
We’re going to be incorporating shoes into the store, hopefully in the next year. When I started, I wanted multiple locations across L.A. Now, my focus has shifted to having one good, big store that people can depend on in Brentwood.

Any plans to expand beyond L.A.?
I’ve been offered opportunities up north in San Francisco and Napa, and even New York, but I would need a partner. I’m pretty content with how things are going right now!

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