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New York Called Kay Lee

kay-2One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday is have brunch with friends in the West Village. There are so many great restaurants to choose from and on a sunny day you'll witness lines of people waiting for a table reservation with coffee in hand. After a delicious meal and a couple bloody mary's my friends and I will make our way down Greenwich Ave. to do a little shopping. The most anticipated storefront is always this quaint and friendly spot called OTTE. From the merchandising and product to the stylish staff and customers, OTTE provides a truly enjoyable shopping experience.otte15Having interviewed the creative minds behind some of the brands OTTE carries (one of which is Joomi Lim who I interviewed here) I decided I should reach out to founder, Kay Lee, for an interview. She kindly agreed and we met at the OTTE headquarters near Chelsea. It didn't take long for me to understand that OTTE's success is both a result of Kay and her fabulous team.otte13Kay was born in South Korea and moved to New York in her twenties. "There weren't many connections to be made in South Korea and finding success takes much longer. In New York if you're talented and work hard you get rewarded faster."otte5When Kay first arrived to NYC she enrolled at Parsons majoring in fashion design. Her second job out of school was with a mass production fashion company that offered Kay the opportunity to travel. From London to Paris to factories in India, Kay gained confidence in her skills and abilities as a business woman. This work continued for years until Kay finally decided to pursue her own creative freedom.otte8"In the middle of ten years of fashion design experience for someone else I was sitting in a hotel room in New Delhi, India wondering what I was supposed to be doing. It was time for me to create my own things instead of doing that for everyone else. I wanted to make my own designs but I didn't have any money. Instead of a fashion label, I decided to open a boutique."otte2Although Kay dreamed of opening a boutique in Manhattan, she decided on Brooklyn for her first location. Wandering around Williamsburg with friends, Kay stumbled upon a spot looking for a "Creative Boutique Owner to Rent Space." This was in 1999 before Williamsburg rapidly gained popularity, but the space was affordable and the area was becoming more and more gentrified. Kay decided to rent the space - and as a 30-something year old NYC transplant, quickly found herself the owner of OTTE.otte6Shortly after opening an article ran in Harper's Bazaar labeling OTTE a "boutique on the rise." This press, along with other encouragement, gave Kay the confidence she needed to realize this really was what she wanted to do with her life. In 2002, three years after the Brooklyn store opening, Kay was ready to open her second location in Manhattan. Eventually closing down OTTE Brooklyn, Kay found her strength with OTTE in the West Village.otte12"I was afraid to open at first. This was just after 9/11 so it was a bit scary but the store was actually a miracle. It was so busy you cannot believe. People would stand in long lines and wait to purchase, and in New York no one has patience. I even had to build out another fitting room! I never expected to open a store and see such success in 6 months."otte14The success of her West Village boutique was instrumental in her expansion to an almost 35+ person team. There are now four OTTE locations including TriBeCa, 3rd Ave., and Madison Ave. OTTE NoLIta, which has just been announced, will open shortly as the fifth location. After listening to Kay speak about OTTE's continued growth, I was curious as to what she attributes her success.otte9"I have a great team and a very focused buying strategy that keeps merchandising in mind. I'm not a super trendy girl but I'm aware of the trends and I worked the floor in the Brooklyn store so I understand the importance of listening to my customers. For example, if color blocking is popular I'll buy one style with the right fit and design. I won't repeat that same style from different brands. I pay attention to colors and patterns that create a story and merchandise nicely together. A lot of people compliment the store windows. My girls [a term she used over and over to refer to her staff] do such a great job at this!otte7The whole past 15 years went by so fast. I often ask myself how it happened like this? Did I want it to be like this? But my initial goal was never expansion - it was the people around me like my sales people, assistant buyer, and our COO Nancy Zhang [who Kay mentioned played a huge role]. They pushed and made this happen."otte10After the interview was over Kay, with genuine interest, asked me some questions about myself, inquiring what I wanted to do with my life. Thinking about life goals is intimidating, but hearing Kay's story reminded me that you don't always have to have a ten year plan. Hard work, perseverance and a humble attitude will open doors for you, especially in a city that fosters success. I don't always leave my interviews feeling inspired but I found Kay's welcomeness and insight very valuable. Listening to her story had me excited for my own. I left feeling inspired and... ready for a new wardrobe made up of anything OTTE!

Follow OTTE on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and shop online here.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Cathrine says:

    I miss Otte so much. I stayed in NY for a four month period back in 2010 and I still remember the day I was city exploring and suddenly stumbled upon Otte in Tribeca :) I didn’t leave empty-handed, and I never really did any of the countless times I visited the store. Such a great mix of brands and clothes. I have revisited since 2010, and I promise will be back again:)

    No.1 fan from Norway;D

  2. Kara says:

    Kay is an amazing business women who truly understands her customer. Her taste is impeccable. The lines she carries are awesome. She is also incredibly hard working. Great article on a very talented woman.

  3. Kalyan says:

    - I love the composition and franmig of each shot! But I think 4th one down and the black and white one are my faves! Seriously amazing work keep it up, hot stuff!

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