Where fashion and funk- tionality meet, Harriet’s Alter Ego’s boutique carries a splendid variety of stylish and affordable designs- a dream for any shopper! Located on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, NY, Harriet’s pieces reflect the diverse culture of its eclectic community, showcasing the creations of local artists and designers. Each season ushers in colorful patterns, fresh fabrics and unique style, staying true to their motto that “fashion imitates life.”
Clutch: When was Harriet’s Alter Ego born and what inspired you to create the clothing line?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: Harriet’s Alter Ego was conceptualized in 2002. Initially, Hekima Hapa owned a small boutique in crown heights, and I was editor for an online magazine and had a clothing line. Hekima had a great opportunity to move into a shared retail space downtown and took advantage of the opportunity. I followed her to her new location; a year later we became business partners.
Our inspirations vary; I think both of us started our own business out of a desire to be self-determined. Hekima’s mother was a seamstress, and she had been sewing since the age of 8. I began sewing in my early twenties but I have a degree in business and worked in retail for over 10 years.
Clutch: How did you come up with the name Harriet’s Alter Ego?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: Our line and clothing store is named after Harriet Tubman. Harriet is such an inspirational figure to us. She led 100s of people to freedom. She did what many thought was not possible. She was strong and determined as all women are. But we also know that there is another side to Harriet and all women, a side that we don’t often get to indulge because we are busy taking care of so many things. At Harriet’s we encourage women to celebrate and embrace their alter ego, there inner self. Harriet’s Alter Ego is all about celebrating oneself!
Clutch: Tell us where you’re both from and how long you’ve been in the fashion business?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: I’m from Nigerian and Hekima is from Florida. I guess you can say Hekima has been designing since she was eight. She was also a merchandise manager for a major fashion retail chain. I have worked in fashion for about 13 years. I’ve produced fashion shows in NY and Atlanta, I have also done merchandising for a major retail chain as well as some fashion writing.
Clutch: How would you describe your clothing?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: Our clothing is African inspired with a vintage aesthetic. Our clothing is fun and functional.
Clutch: What are your inspirations when creating these unique pieces? Who are some designers that inspire you?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: So many people. We are most inspired by our peers; there are so many amazing indie designers around us. But we also love Brenda Brunson-Bey. She was my mentor when I first started sewing, and she is just an amazing designer. I love Marc Jacobs because his pieces are really fun. I’m also in love with Nana Boateng because he’s made menswear so interesting, his use of color is amazing. You never get to see men in off-beat bright colors. But he does it so well that it does not seem over the top, and his pieces are very wearable.
Clutch: Who is the Harriet’s Alter Ego customer?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: Women who want to have fun with their clothing. You just need to be a little open to trying something new. I always feel you need to make a piece work for you. How I wear Harriet’s is not how another woman will wear it. Give me ten minutes, and I can put an outfit together for you that speaks to your personality.
Clutch: Tell us some of the celebrity clients you’ve outfitted.
Harriet’s Alter Ego: M.I.A, India Arie, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Baazar Royale, Ndea Davenport, Me’shell Nedegeocello have all worn Harriet’s Alter Ego
Clutch: Aside from clothing, what other products and services do you offer?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: The boutique carries jewelry and accessories. We also feature a full service make up and skincare counter. So customers can come in and get make-overs, consultations, etc. We also offer yoga classes seasonally, and we have an art gallery on the premises.
Clutch: Are all the designs in-house or do you feature other independent designers?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: We feature the lines of several local designers.
Clutch: Tell us more about your Backyard Couture event.
Harriet’s Alter Ego: In our continuous efforts to create a fun shopping environment we introduced New York to Backyard Couture in the summer of 2006. After much success and several features in the Daily News and a host of local papers we are extremely excited to bring back this popular summer event. Backyard Couture allows customers and neighborhood residents to shop in a relaxing yet stimulating setting while experiencing the beauty of the outdoors. Held monthly in the garden of Harriet’s Alter Ego Boutique & Art Gallery attendees can purchase one of a kind pieces from local designers and enjoy complimentary food and beverage. Event highlights will include beauty makeovers, mini-massage therapy sessions, performances by local musicians and a live DJ set.
Clutch: What makes Harriet’s Alter Ego unique from other boutiques?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: Harriet’s is a lifestyle boutique. WE are a destination. We do more than sell clothing. We provide services to suit the lifestyle for our customers.
Clutch: As women of color, what advice can you give to other women who are interested in starting their own clothing line?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: You need to be determined and really believe in yourself and your product. This is not an easy industry and you will not find success easy but if you are diligent and focused you can be successful. Definitely, get a business plan together so you can understand the industry, your market and figure where you fit in
Clutch: What has been the biggest challenge in opening your boutique?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: Our biggest challenge has been financing. In order to grow you need financing and or investors. We are working on that now. But I would definitely say securing financing has been our biggest challenge.
Clutch: What are some of your necessary fashion pieces that we should be rocking this summer?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: You definitely need one of our halter tops in your life. We have several styles in different fabrics. Our multi-functional flounce or tulip skirts are a must. They can also be worn as a dress. We also have these really cute Bermuda shorts made from Batik fabric that are fabulous.
Clutch: Lastly, what can we expect from Harriet’s Alter Ego in the near future?
Harriet’s Alter Ego: There are many things in the works for Harriet’s. We will be expanding our online boutique. Our line will also be available in several boutiques outside of NY in the next few months. In Vermont at Revolution and in Maryland at Modus Vivendi. We also have a lot events in the works. The best way to keep abreast of all things Harriet’s is to check our website or our Myspace page and join our mailing list.