Francesca Levin {sample sales maven}

Francesca Levin, aka Franki, is a big city girl at heart. An Indianapolis native now living in Chicago, Franki made it her business goal to bring affordable, cutting edge fashion to Indy and the Midwest. Having made many deal-hunting trips to Los Angeles and New York City through the years, it didn’t take Franki long to figure out how wonderful (and lucrative) sample sales could be.

A Trend Worth Trying
There’s been a recent resurgence in the popularity of the sample sale, especially in Indianapolis. Used by clothing labels (who traditionally sell only to brick and mortar stores) as a way of clearing out excess merchandise, sample sales give the average shopper to access premium merchandise at wholesale prices.

Leap of Faith
Franki recently took a big risk, making it her mission to bring that one-of-a-kind, big-city-sample-sale experience back to Indiana, establishing Franki’s Collections, LLC in February 2012.

Franki works exclusively with a handful of showrooms in the Midwest and LA., curating the best of the best from labels such as 525 America, Alternative, Bella Dahl, Sanctuary, Bobi, Threads 4 Thought and a couple of high-end denim lines, bringing her hand-picked collections back to Indy every month.

Franki’s Focus
Franki spends most of her time collecting women’s apparel, but her collections also boast jewelry, accessories, and men’s apparel. Franki’s styles are available through in-home events and at the French Pharmacie in Broad Ripple. Salon manager and hair stylist, Todd M. Shrider, recently sat down with Franki at the French Pharmacie to dish on fashion, moms, and SUV’s.

Todd M. Shrider: Where did you come up with the idea for your business?

Francesca Levin: Having always enjoyed picking through sample sales in LA and New York, and knowing what a huge draw they had, I thought, why not?  As far as I knew there was nothing like that going on in Indianapolis or any of the surrounding areas, and I saw it as a huge opportunity. I thought it would be a great opportunity for shoppers in Indianapolis – I knew they would enjoy the experience as much as I did.

TMS: What first drew you to bigger cities like LA and New York?

FL: My mom – she’s a great bargain hunter so sample sales were right up her alley. I guess you could say I grew up going to sample sales – I learned a lot from my mom. Besides that I’ve been involved in fashion and consignment since I was a teenager. I took time off to get my college degree, but that just reinforced the idea that I had to be involved in fashion.

TMS: How do you translate all that into a business plan?

FL: Well, when I moved to Chicago, I got a chance to work for a pretty well known showroom. Unfortunately, they ended up closing their doors. I stuck around and helped them liquidate which reminded me a lot of sample sales, only this time I was on the other side of the counter. I wasn’t left with very many options and as I started to form some relationships with other fashion showrooms, it didn’t take long before I decided to start bringing my own vision of sample sales to the Midwest.

TMS: Did the networking and subsequent relationship development come easy? Were the salerooms pretty accepting of your ideas?

FL: Well, not at first. I really felt like a bit of a pest in the beginning. It seemed like I was at the showrooms on an almost daily basis trying to convince them to let me resell their samples. To be honest, I think the first show room gave me some items to sell just so I would leave them alone, but that got the ball rolling. Once I started successfully selling the samples, the word got out. It snowballed from there and pretty soon I had showrooms calling me. As of today I represent 12 showrooms and I have the opportunity to be a lot more selective about who I work with and what lines I represent.

TMS: How do you decide what’s worth carrying?

FL: I pay a lot of attention to what is going on in fashion — both on the runways and on the street. I definitely have a personal style that informs what I like as well. That being said, I look at three main things. The quality of the garments build, the quality of the garments fabric and the price. I work with a wide variety of showrooms, which allows me to carry a wide variety of styles and prices – anything from $5 cotton t-shirts to $200 designer dresses – all at wholesale prices of course.

TMS: Your collections seem to cover a wide range. How would you describe your client base?

FL: Wow, they really do vary. Just today I had a 90-year-old woman stop by to pick something up, but there are the 14-year-old girls who love being able to fit in the extra smalls.. They really do run the gamut, but I think all of my customers just share a love for fashion.

TMS: How has your client base reacted to your collections?

FL: I thrive on knowing what my clientele think of the samples I pull. If there’s a style they’re looking for that I’m not carrying, I want to know. My collection is about telling a cohesive story and my clients are as much a part of that story as the fashion designers on the other end.

TMS: So I’m guessing with the nature of sample sales, you get styles ahead of major retailers?

FL: On any given day I have styles with me that span the range of a couple of seasons. I’m also getting fashions on the same schedule that buyers from boutiques and department stores are. For instance, during this visit to Indianapolis I’ve brought a couple of pieces from the fall 2012 preview. My clients are getting items that won’t hit the racks at Saks until September.

TMS: What sort of unexpected obstacles popped up when getting Franki’s Collections off the ground?

FL: Ha! Well, for instance, when I started I was driving a Honda Civic. It’s kind of amazing how many clothes you can actually fit into one of those things, but I quickly outgrew it. During an average visit I’m carrying anywhere from four to six racks of clothes with me – not to mention the actual racks, hangers, jewelry, etc. That didn’t leave a lot of room for me in the Civic so my first obstacle was upgrading to an SUV. I guess equipment in general has been a big investment – that and getting a website, learning how best to use social media, it’s a work in progress – a lot different than selling clothing from a store.

TMS: Where do you see Franki’s Collections heading in the next year?

FL: I’d love to free my schedule up more – to devote 100% of my time to the company. Have a solid week of showing in Indianapolis and then hit some other Midwest cities – Cincinnati, Louisville, etc. This requires me getting the word out, letting as many people as possible know that fashion like this is available at wholesale prices.

TMS: For someone interested in entering a career in fashion industry, what advice would you give them?

FL: Just follow your dreams. Not to sound cliche but, the fact that I’m only 26 and I’ve been able to make a career out of my dream – I’m making it happen. I’ve been blessed with a supportive family, boyfriend and friends.

TMS: What’s your favorite fashion trend right now?

FL: I love bright colors. The neon trend. I’m really into the mixing flirty and rough. The leather and floral mixes really get me excited. It’s fresh!

TMS: So when and where will you be in Indianapolis next?

FL: I have a couple of private house shows here and there, but my next public show will be at French Pharmacie in Broad Ripple on May 16th and 17th. I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in following my schedule to check out my website (www.frankiscollections.com) and sign up for my newsletter.

Images courtesy of Kimber Shaw.

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