“Bula” literally means “life” in Fijian, but it’s used to express much more. Good wishes, wishes for good health and happiness. It’s a greeting and a farewell. It’s the happiness vibe that co-owners Brandon Rader and Julia Ford want customers to feel when they walk into Bula Boutique, opening later this fall at 133 South Gay Street. Whether a customers spends $20, $200 or a little time inside the store, they want them to have a good time while visiting.
I met with Brandon, Julia and intern Rachel Dubois to talk about their backgrounds, plans and hopes for the new store. They are excited and the excitement is infectious. They are young, but they have surprisingly extensive experience in the fashion field and big ambitions for what they want to bring to Knoxville.
Julia was born and grew up in Sulphur Springs, just outside Jonesborough, Tennessee. She moved to Knoxville in 2011 to attend Paul Mitchell School of Beauty. She moved to Franklin for a year and a half, working with at Dion’s South Salon, but also making connections in the fashion world. While there she and other stylists worked with designer Jeff Garner, designing the hair styles for his 2013 Paris Fashion Week doing his hair for Fashion Week in New York and Paris. Julia personally did all the makeup for his 2014 Nashville Fashion Week show.
Brandon is from Clinton where he grew up on a farm. While he was telling me this, I was having a hard time picturing the guy across the table from me growing up in Clinton, which he acknowledged with a laugh. After high school he moved to Atlanta where he studied business at what is now Appalachian Tech. He worked at Hammers in Clinton starting in high school and running through college, working retail, accounting and management. He continued working there after returning from Atlanta, but soon realized he wanted something different.
He did photo shoots for Salon Visage and with the short-lived Bliss in the Old City, eventually deciding to attend the Tennessee School of Beauty and then working for two years at Salon Visage. He set as a goal attending Fashion Week in New York City and, after changing to Salon Aquarius, he got his chance, interning for the week, doing hair and makeup and, perhaps more importantly, networking. He interned with Misha Nonoo and, as a result, was able to work with Bobbi Brown (that’s fashion Bobbi, not R&B Bobby), and with jewelry designer Georg Jenson.
He’d hoped to make connections related to hair and makeup, but it wound up being with fashion and design, which brought him full circle back to his dream of owning his own boutique. Once back in Knoxville, he asked Julia, a long-time friend and current co-worker at Salon Aquarius what she would do if she didn’t do hair. She said she’d own a boutique.
That set the dream in motion. They approached their boss, Shannon Roberts at Salon Aquarius and he has been very supportive. They will continue to work for him until they open the store. They also consulted with Zaina Boudayr, who is from Maryville but works in the industry in New York City. Brandon and Julia, as well as Rachel have worked with her. She told them, “Knoxville needs East Coast/West Coast fashions.
They seem to be a good pairing. Julia told me, “I’m not a risk taker. I’m a planner beyond plans. I’ve never really reached for the stars.” Brandon effused, “I’m a dreamer. I’m all over the place.” Both personalities might serve them well in their new venture. The two are fast friends in addition to being business partners. The friendship has led to travels, which have deepened their shared love for culture, whether it be food, art or fashion.
Brandon had traveled very little growing up, while Julia had routinely gone to Asheville for weekends with her family. She took Brandon to Asheville for the first time and he fell in love with much of the vibe. I asked him where he gets his clothes and ventured a guess it wasn’t locally. He said he mostly shops in Nashville, though when he’s in New York he tends to bring large quantities of clothes back with him. He loves Two Old Hippies boutique in Nashville.
Following Zaina’s advice, East Coast and West Coast fashion will be the core of the style at the boutique. I, as you might guess, had no idea what that meant. As I understand it, (from the article I just found on the Interweb)West Coast fashion is more casual, creative and flowing, but still chic. East Coast fashion is more fashion-forward and polished with a structural sophistication. Apparently, these styles are in short supply in Knoxville.
Brandon described the feeling of finding similar styles in an Asheville Boutique and talking to the owner who said that she had customers from Knoxville who plan monthly trips there to do their shopping. He and Julia feel Knoxville can support these styles and they are ready to deliver. In a small way they hope to bring some of the shopping experiences available elsewhere to our city.
The initial plan is to focus on a small number of lines they know well and to expand with time by going to market in the spring. They plan to offer clothes, jewelry and other accessories at three distinct price points. They want the teenager looking for something to be proud of using her allowance money, the college student and the classy professional. The shop will be amply stocked, but not crowded, offering more quality than quantity. The presentation will be simple, not overwhelming They want girls and women of all ages and shapes to feel comfortable shopping there.
They hope to open by Thanksgiving and plan a grand opening event when that happens. Tentative hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM on weekdays and 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM on weekends.
It may be that design is destined to play a large role in this portion of downtown – the 100 Block and just around the corner. Whether web, home and office furnishings, print or fashion design, it’s all going on there. It’s a nice fit for the art galleries nad maybe it’s the mix that will finally allow the block to take off. I’m looking forward to seeing what this pair can do with their new boutique.