I met Elena Brennan four years ago when I was just starting my own business. I was just beginning to understand the retail landscape and starting to think about brand identity, marketing, sales and everything else a fashion startup thinks about obsessively. I was a part of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator and Elena came to talk with us about how she started BUS STOP. She was warm and welcoming; opening up to us about the initial years when she launched BUS STOP. I was in awe of how she just jumped into running a boutique but quickly learned how to create a shopping experience that resonated with her clients. Over the years I have watched BUS STOP grow and am so excited to see Elena design her own collection with BUS STOP X. I loved stopping by the shop and sitting down to chat with Elena about how she grew her brand.
You worked for many years in the marketing and advertising industries. Tell us about why you wanted to make the switch to entrepreneurship and what it took to do so.
After 27+ years in the advertising, I lost the passion & respect for the industry. Our clients just wanted everything faster & cheaper which was sacrificing the quality of the products we were producing. I planted the seed in my head for about 10 years before the timing was right. As fate would have it, I signed the lease on my son Colin’s 18th birthday!
Where did the idea for BUS STOP Boutique come from? How did you pick the name?
BUS STOP is very nostalgic for me. When I was 16, I would take the London Underground to Kensington High Street on a Saturday and go to my two favorite shops – BUS STOP & Biba. The original BUS STOP was owned by Lee Bender (sadly she closed her shop a while ago) and I would immerse myself & spend hours, soaking up the scent and perusing her merchandise. Right next door was Biba owned by Barbara Hulanicki. I always told myself that if one day I would open a shop, I would call it BUS STOP!
Tell us about the early years of starting your business, what did you do to stand out and how did you learn more about your customer?
When I opened my doors on April 14, 2007, my boutique was stocked with hard-to-find European designer shoes e.g. Repetto, Coclico, United Nude etc. I wanted my customers to stand out and have a very personal shopping experience. There’s a story behind each designer and it’s interesting to share that with your customers, it makes their purchase all the more personal! Spending one-on-one time with my customers allowed me to really get to know them and find out what they were looking for.
You sell both men’s and women’s products, tell us what is it like catering to both?
I would say 90% of the boutique is stocked with women’s shoes and 10% with men’s shoes, although we do sell unisex accessories such as scents, wallets, socks & hats. We used to have a much larger shoe selection, but I’ve found it hard to cater to men, they are very specific and not easily swayed to purchase shoes that are outside their comfort zone. Women, on the other hand, take risks and are willing to try something new, especially with our styling tips.
Eventually, you started to design your own shoes and handbags, how did this come about?
I’m driven to do what I haven’t done & I love a creative challenge, to learn a new craft, a new business. In 2015, I designed my very first BUS STOP X shoe collection, a series of 12 oxfords. I didn’t have to think twice who I wanted to collaborate with, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with All Black, a Taiwanese boutique brand well-loved by me & my customers alike. As fate would have it, I met Marty Rose (the US distributor) at Sole Commerce before I opened my boutique & I’ve carried All Black for 11 years, having successfully introduced All Black’s unique and effortless design aesthetic and incredible comfort to Philly’s shoe lovers. It was meant to be...
What is your design process like, how do you decide to design each collection?
Each collection is inspired by my experiences, my passion & my travels. I create a color palette including Pantone Colors of the year and start by requesting swatches from the factory of all the shades possible in those hues and in different textures too i.e. leather, suede, nubuck, patent, metallics etc. Then I sit down at the drawing board and create magic!
I personally feel that you are a nurturing presence within the design community and are very supportive of other designers/ brands. How do you feel the Philadelphia design community has changed and grown since you first started your business?
It has changed a lot and in a good way! There are so many more entrepreneurs and fashion designers, especially female designers than there were 11 years ago. It’s a tight-knit community and we have no problem helping each other, sharing resources or promoting each other with collaborations.
What are some exciting things you are working on for the future?
My next collection, launching this Autumn is an Athleisure line which I’m super excited about, as well as an Evening/Holiday collection. Next Spring, I hope to launch my first ever Wedding Shoe collection.
My dream is to turn my boutique into BUS STOP X and make the brand larger than life! A name that will be known nationally and internationally!
Cover: Right: Sophie Cecile Xu left: Gabrielle Man
Photo 1: left: Sophie Cecile Xu Right: Gabrielle Mandel
Photo 2: Left: United Nude, Right: Brae Howard
Photo 3: Left: Aileen Bannon, Right: Sophie Cecile Xu
Photo 4: Left: BUS STOP, Right: Aubrie Costello
Photo 5: Left: BUS STOP, Right: Gabrielle Mandel
Photo 6: Gabrielle Mandel