Our Meet Your Merchant series goes behind the scenes of the Island businesses that keep our rock running. From our hard-working organizations to our friendly shopkeepers, we celebrate all of the people our Island depends on.
Vera & Alex in Oak Bluffs is the latest addition to the Circuit Avenue shopping scene. Recently opened in mid-May, the childrenswear store is poised to become the go-to place for clothing and gifts for the under-12 segment. Co-owner Natasha Fomina (along with her husband Peter Martell) took some time away from restocking shelves and entering new SKUs to share her story with The Times.
How long have you been on the Island? How did you end up here?
I have been on the Island for 15 years. After working for the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, as an interpreter for the Defense Attaché Office, I decided that it was time to widen my horizons. I moved to the United States, and discovered the picturesque Island of Martha’s Vineyard. I then went on to pursue a master of business administration degree from Babson College in Wellesley, and finished my degree in fashion, design, and experience from SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy. Prior to opening Vera & Alex Childrenswear, I was the general manager of the Wesley Hotel in Oak Bluffs.
What inspired the idea for Vera & Alex?
The idea behind Vera & Alex came after I finished my degree at SDA in Italy. There was a niche on Martha’s Vineyard that had not yet been filled: fashionable and stylish clothing for babies and children at reasonable prices. Of course, becoming a new mother to twins last year also provided inspiration; I became a guru of “all things baby” when I was buying for them.
How long had you been thinking about owning a store like it?
I have often thought about working in fashion. The idea of owning a store like Vera & Alex had been in the back of my mind for at least 10 years, but I wasn’t able to realize it until this year.
What were you doing before? Have you ever worked in retail?
I studied retail while working toward my degrees in the U.S. and Italy. I also interned at famous fashion houses like Giorgio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo, where I was able to get a feel for the industry, and recognize the latest trends and main players.
Why Circuit Avenue?
I chose Circuit Avenue because it is a highly visible location and it attracts people from all over the Island. For a new business like Vera & Alex, it is important to be in a well-recognized area to gain awareness and to establish credibility with the target audience.
What kind of brands and merchandise do you carry?
We try to cater to different clientele. The brands that we carry are both European and American, ranging from venerable Spanish brand Condor (in business since 1898) to Tea Collection, a San Francisco–based company that is fun and novel. We also offer shoes and accessories from Livie & Luca, See Kai Run, and baby layette brands like Kissy Kissy, as well as strollers from Maclaren and more.
What does Vera & Alex offer that you can’t find elsewhere on-Island?
Vera & Alex offers products starting from newborns to age 12 all in one location.
Are you selling items online?
We are not selling online at the moment, but the new website is in the works, and the online capability will likely be added probably by next season.
What are your hours? Do you expect to be open year-round?
Our hours are currently 9 am to 6 pm. Starting mid-June, we will be extending our hours to stay open until 8 or 9 pm. We are planning to stay open through Christmas, with the possibility to stay open year-round if there is enough interest and demand.
Market research shows steady growth on the national level over the next five years in the children’s and infants’ clothing stores industry. Was that a factor in your opening the store?
I read a lot of industry publications, and I have considered the fact that both parents and grandparents are spending more on products for their babies and children. The same trend applies to Martha’s Vineyard, as there are even fewer places for people to buy apparel and necessities for their loved ones.
How do you expect to keep the store fresh and enticing to visitors and residents?
I am constantly monitoring the latest news and trends in the kids’ fashion industry, working with new vendors, and adjusting the offerings to fit the customer needs. The idea is to offer varied and interesting products that would appeal to a variety of tastes and needs.
What makes owning a business on the Island unique?
Owning a business on the Island is unique because of the uniqueness of the Island itself. It is a seasonal resort community, where in a very short period of time a business owner needs to cater to various audiences from all over the country and often from all over the world, while remaining relevant to local clients. Each of these groups has different requirements, tastes, and shopping habits.
What challenges do you expect to encounter with the store, or are there any you have already had to overcome?
The seasonality along with the variety of different consumer groups here can pose a challenge for doing business on the Island. The other main challenge is gaining the trust and credibility as a new business, while raising awareness and educating customers on the store and its brands.
What are your business goals for your first year?
My business goals are to establish Vera & Alex as the go-to store for babies and children in Oak Bluffs and the Island, to grow our brand, and to evolve the business according to our customer wishes and demands.
Vera & Alex, 38 Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs. 508-693-0100, facebook.com/veraandalex.