Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Norma Iona, I am 35 years old, I am a wife, mother, and (newly) entrepreneur. I am an FIT Graduate (BFA from FIT, majored in International Fashion Design). Studied abroad in Milan, Italy for a year and that’s where I met my soulmate. We are now happily married almost 9 years and 2.5 years ago, we became parents to the most delicious little boy. He has added an extra layer of enthusiasm to our lives. My career started in fashion and evolved into everything else. I started off as an assistant fashion designer, then worked closely with high profile executives through the world of product development, ventured into buying and merchandising, and my last job (is) as Development Director for a Woman’s Organization, working as the right hand to a former celebrity, (well known as a lawyer, journalist, television personality, fashion designer, author, and women’s and diversity advocate). The versatility and experience of my last job are the key influential factors for the aspiration of my (current and future) career as an entrepreneur.
You are in the process of leaving Corporate America to create your own fashion/ accessories brand, can you tell us about that?
Leaving a career in Corporate America that has given you the opportunities, exposure, and experiences that I was able to have is not an easy thing to do. The “stability” of corporate itself, the security of having benefits, and a stable income, of waking up knowing that there will be tasks, and as long as they are fulfilled, so is your salary. Knowing, as a mom, that although your job is demanding and may take away from fluffy parenting, your child is secured by your income and your health benefits. Health benefits these days have women up against the wall. We commit to our jobs wholeheartedly to secure our family’s “extremely mediocre” health benefits — basically selling ourselves short. Our lists are reprioritized and passions and aspirations fall well below numbers 1 to 3, as we want to make sure we have a decent salary, decent benefits, and a decent role. Ironically enough, Corporate benefits, health insurance primarily, have us “by the balls”. So leaving corporate has not been easy, nor fun. Making sure that I am able to start a new business venture that can provide the same security and peace of mind for a family that was funded by an established multi million dollar business is a scary thought. However, if there was one thing I learned from my boss, who is also a great friend and a wonderful mentor and coach, is first and foremost to do what you are most passionate about, what you aspire to, and secondly to own that space confidently and wholeheartedly. I have always had a passion for fashion, and I always knew I wanted to create something of my own.
What exactly is Blush Boutique?
Blush Boutique is a fashion/accessories boutique located in the heart of Locust Valley, New York. The main focus of Blush is fashion jewelry, but there is an overflow of other fine accessories (handbags, scarves, hats), as well as skin care, bath and body, home ambiance, and unique gifts. The vibe is super feminine– it is literally a grown woman’s candy shop and toy store mixed together. It is a place where a woman can come and reward herself with something super special, or buy something fun just to make herself feel better (RETAIL THERAPY WORKS!). The idea behind the brand is to celebrate femininity and live everyday like you’re on vacation.
What inspired you to start Blush Boutique?
Becoming a mom brought many of these aspirations to the front burner. I knew I wanted to be at work doing something that fulfilled me, that motivated me and made me happy. That if I was going to have to be away from my family, I would be over-filling that void with everything that made me passionate. I knew that I did not want to be away from my family to just fill a job. I knew I wanted the flexibility of being my own boss. That on days when my son was flu-ridden I didn’t have to leave him to be taken care of by a stranger. That I did not want to miss him walking in his first Halloween Parade. I wanted to set up a creative environment for myself that allowed me to be the best at work and the best at home. The opportunity came up to purchase an existing boutique where I worked when I was younger, and knowing all my goals and dreams, my husband pushed me (harsh word, because he was actually brilliantly supportive) to make the first move into becoming an entrepreneur. The goal was to start Blush Boutique, and evolve it into a women’s lifestyle brand. Blush started as a boutique but the plan is to use my institutional knowledge, expertise and background experience to create my own label under the brand.
How did you come up with the name?
I wanted something feminine, something that was soft and short and pretty. I wanted it to represent excess and a necessity at the same time (as blush does for makeup). I wanted it to evoke a soft uncontrollable feeling, similar to how we “blush” when things excite us, or a compliment that is flattering and unexpected.
March 1 was your one-year milestone, Congrats! What is one thing that was challenging you had to overcome?
Thank you!!! IT’S BEEN A RIDE! THE most challenging thing I had to overcome personally was stressing about growth. The second biggest challenge was excelling at my current job and my new business venture simultaneously (but that’s a story for another day). So, stressing about growth…..Instant gratification and instant results are seriously the culprits of everything we do nowadays. Expectations are obviously always higher when you start a project– as they should be, because we should always aim for the best. Timing though, ugh, that’s always tough. Everything needs to take its course and although I always heard people say “businesses take time to grow”, or, “it takes at least two years to get real results”, you always hope that it all happens at the click of a button or the snap of your fingers. It was similar to having a baby actually. Same type of growing pains, sleepless nights, worry on top of worry on top of worry, and literally neglecting many aspects of my life to nurture it during the foundation stages. At the end of the day, your business is (also) your baby! The process however has been so worthwhile. Aside from the stress and wanting it to already be the brand I envisioned when I first started this venture, watching it all come together has literally been one of the most satisfying experiences of my career. Nonetheless, it’s an emotional process: there is doubt, shame, regret and worry; but then there is pride and there is joy and there are so many successes… and all of it is growth! And I loved every minute of the good and the bad.
What is your favorite part about running Blush Boutique?
My absolute most favorite part about running Blush is interacting with my customers (whom I refer to as #blushladies or #ladieswhoblush). We literally bond over all the fun baubles in the store, and buying a gift for self or bestie, turns into an amazing relationship. I love hearing their feedback about my buying or my taste, or having them specifically come to me with challenging style situations. I know it’s superficial (I’m very much aware that earrings and clutches never cured brain cancer or discovered the moon) but there is an overwhelming feeling of excitement that I get over fashion and accessories that is contagious and I feel like it spreads to all the ladies through Blush!
What is your least favorite part about running Blush Boutique?
It has to be me being a control freak and trying to do the job of 4 people. I literally feel like I have to do it all and don’t always trust not being behind the wheel to execute every single project. It’s something I am preparing myself to slowly let go of, but in the meantime, in true Virgo nature, I’ll enjoy all the controlling since it has saved me money on hiring help left and right!
Is there a favorite product?
I am a huge sucker for jewelry and fragrance. Give me baubles and something that smells amazing and I will be your best friend for life. Will literally cook and clean for accessories, but will also drive and walk your dog for jewelry and anything that smells good. There are 3 things at Blush that will always make my heart skip a beat, and they are: ANY AND ALL of my statement earrings (I literally get new ones in weekly), Antica Farmacista Luxury Home Fragrances (currently obsessed with Lush Palm Home Diffuser) and Tocca Beauty perfumes. I obviously also obsess over handbags and clutches and hats, but that was a given!
How do you spread the word about your company?
This past year I have relied heavily on social media to grow a cult following. The quick of it is that IT WORKS! BUT, it works if you make it work for you. Obviously branding and advertising through social media is another full time job, however, it is inexpensive and efficient. Customer service is also a huge when it comes to building a clientele and spreading the word about your business. These definitely helped in growing the business organically. As I take the business online on an e-commerce platform in the next few months, I do have a marketing team that will obviously help drive things to the next level in order for Blush to become a well known brand.
Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Know your worth, trust yourself, and dive in! Don’t test the waters, walk in, retract, walk back. No! Just jump in! Once you’re in, we (as women) know how to survive! Our body temperature adapts, we regain our focus, we begin to swim faster, and before you know it, you are navigating merrily down a stream. We shouldn’t doubt ourselves, we can’t fear the unknown. We can’t be afraid to make mistakes. We have the ability of doing unworldly things….why do we question ourselves in front of other decisions? Follow your dreams. Do what you love, and it won’t feel like it’s work!
Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? ☺
I’VE ALWAYS LIVED BY THE WORDS OF OSCAR WILDE: “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art”. Not as superficial as it sounds, as being a work of art doesn’t always equate to external beauty, but rather being interesting and unique. Wearing a work of art? Well that’s self explanatory– you do have two choices, though!
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I’m super excited about the new Blush website launching over the next few months. We are currently working on so many exciting projects: website with e-commerce platform, exclusive collaborations with designers, the creation of our own fashion label. Lots of fun stuff ahead is making me so excited about YEAR #2!