Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE
Location: Vienna, Austria
Who needs to sit on top of the world when you can sit on top of a tower of sweets? Or so I asked myself after I tired-but-happily finished Frederick & Sophie’s new buying edits. I didn’t buy sweets (although it is on my list), but I did feel like a kid in a candy store. Or rather, like a city mom in a candy store, terribly excited about the new toys, baby accessories, and baby wear I will add to our categories and share with you in the next weeks and months (like our new whimsical toy brand Sophie la girafe!).
My buying process, or editing as I call it, feels like coming full circle. I don’t have a straightforward retail track record, with all the bells and whistles to leave you in awe, but I recently realized that what excited me most throughout the years, has had something to do with the business and art of merchandising. Already as a kid I liked to make an edit (without realizing that I was making one). Getting a library book, or shopping for a toy was a lengthy process. I needed to inhale ALL that was there, observe, research, and then delete all that didn’t fit to me or to the story I was playing in my head. I enjoyed browsing through stores, libraries, and museums. Most were beautifully and conveniently organized, and I liked the calm that harmony gave me (I still like to walk through a department store to add some Zen to a busy day).
It’s no wonder that when I decided that I was ready for my first weekend job, I looked at a department store first. I was thirteen years old, and I was determined to make my own money. Making my own money was never about making money to me. It was about having the decision power to buy things I really wanted but maybe didn’t make immediate sense to my parents or anyone else. My parents supported my act of independence with the restriction that my school work would not suffer. The only problem was that I wasn’t allowed on any shop floor. At that time I lived in The Netherlands, and Dutch law dictated that to work as a weekend sales clerk, you had to be at least fourteen years old. So, I started off the shop floor, in the dimly lit backroom of a department store, tagging alarms to clothing and placing the tagged clothing on a rack for sales personnel to take. It was my first introduction to what goes on behind the shop floor. So many products came in, had to be unpacked, processed, and then tagged. A continuous buying and selling of goods. I loved it. The atmosphere in the back of the store, was as exciting as in the front. We held the new products in our hands first!
When I turned fourteen, I moved to the shop floor and moved onwards and upwards to several other shop floors. My weekend job turned into a weekend and Summer holiday job. I had the good fortune to work with experienced retailers who recognized my attention to detail and my passion for harmony and products. They taught me that it wasn’t about a hard sell, it was about igniting that same passion for a product in customers. They also entrusted me with more and more responsibilities. That’s how at age sixteen I was asked to do the visual merchandising of the fashion store I worked for. Every product was its own story, and it was my job to make window displays and store edits that excited others. Soon, I was asked to do the same thing for the retail brand’s whole region and in the weekends I traveled around doing the window displays of the brand’s different stores. It was also my job on the shop floor to inform clients about the ways a product could fit into their everyday or to guide them to a product that they would never have thought of in the first place. I wasn’t selling. I was matchmaking!
One particular Saturday, I assisted a client who was in search of an outfit for a job interview. She was excited but also extremely nervous about presenting herself as the right candidate for the job. While listening to and observing her, I recognized her optimism and I could not imagine dressing her in black, grey, or navy blue. So I asked her to try on a 3/4 length yellow blazer and a pant with a pattern in which the same yellow hue returned. She looked at me as if I was crazy but tried it on anyway, and the outcome was wonderful because it was her. She didn’t drown in yellow, she carried it. It made her straighten her back and smile. Two days later, she returned to the store with a big cake. Written on it in colorful letters was the text, “Thank you!” She had gotten the job. To me, it wasn’t my good sale, it was her good buy. And that made me happy.
Editing store collections, products, and assisting clients to make their own edits felt like an extension of myself. Nevertheless, I never took it as something to do for a living. Maybe because it never felt like a “job.” I left the shop floor, but I never really left retail. It was always there, somewhere floating around, whether in my corporate jobs working for retail directors, in my creative jobs writing millions of words on copy for brands, retailers, and advertising agencies representing brands to excite clients about products through story, in editing my family’s home, in editing my own wardrobe choices, in my obsessiveness to find friends and family members the perfect birthday/Christmas/Valentine/graduation/*fill in the blanks* gift, or in my role as a fashion designer talking to buyers about my fashion design edits. I worked around the fact that I simply enjoyed making an edit. Whether with products, images, or words. It’s funny how you never really see what’s right in front of you.
It’s the edit that is my candy store. And it’s toys and kids products that are the cherry on top of my tower of sweets. When I became a mom, I slowly but steadily started to unleash the child inside myself. I still walked for a while through and around fashion, but Indy taught me how to look at the world through his eyes, and what I saw was a wondrous world filled with magic, imagination, and play. I wanted to bring that happy place to life through all the editing and writing skills I gained over the years and add my family’s warmth, taste, and dose of funny sauce over it. So far, it is exciting, and enjoyable, and it is also challenging, tiring, and nerve-wracking, but all the good adventures are. As is every new Frederick & Sophie edit!
May you enjoy our products, may they excite your child as much as the child inside yourself, may you dive headfirst into the magic of the stories you want them to tell, and may they make you and yours feel like kids in a candy store.