I got more than I bargained for.
I knew that sisters, Tia and Carmen Ellis, were co-owners of Couture At Your Door—a boutique located in the Sherman Mills Business Complex in East Falls. What I didn’t know was how absolutely hilarious they are. Some might find it impossible to work with a sibling—hell, I can only imagine what my sister and I might be like if we were in business together—but the two have demonstrated otherwise. Together, they took a mobile boutique that they launched in 2008 and expanded it to an online store. As of January 2012, the duo has since expanded their reach to include “brick and mortar”.
I traveled to Sherman Mills and was immediately enthralled by the feel of the old mill nineteenth-century buildings. As we chatted at the front desk (which allows for multiple seating) I got my first dose of the stylish Ellis sisters.
Damn me for starting with their ages of all things.
“I love telling my age, that’s your hold up,” replied Carmen with a smile and shake of the head, “I’m 40 weirdo.”
The two had been going back and forth about whether Carmen is really 40.
“I’m 42,” reiterated Tia. I love her voice, it’s a dead-ringer for Tasha Smith and she’s got the spunk and spice to match it.
“And I’m 40. So what age are you telling me I am?” Carmen shot back.
After originally thinking that Carmen was 41, Tia finally realized that that won’t happen until she turns 43.
“Oh yeah, okay because I’m like if you’re going to lie, don’t go one year away, you may as well say you’re 38,” said Tia, her face slightly screwed up at her sister with a sarcastic grin, “okay so she’s 40 and I’m 42.”
PSA: Carmen is 40 everyone.
“Oh, well once you get past 40, you will forget,” quipped Tia as she glanced across the desk at me with a smile.
I laughed and involuntarily shook my head.
Sherman Mills is in a semi-discreet location and comprised of both businesses and lofts, catering to residents and “creative entrepreneurs”.
“Creative entrepreneurs” is precisely the term that describes the co-owners of Couture At Your Door. After growing weary of working for others, Tia approached her sister with the idea of starting a mobile boutique with a then-“corny” name called “Mobile Mall”.
The two had always been stylish and revered for their ability to style others. Carmen was a social butterfly and always discovered new opportunities in event planning, styling, and other areas related to the fashion and entertainment industries. Tia worked diligently in her human resources position only really experiencing minor fractions when it came to—of all things—her wardrobe choices.
She swears it was because she had “too much swag”.
Their parents are mainly responsible for the women’s unteachable swagger. Their mother, a naturally stylish woman who was always dressed to impress, and their father a “sharp” man with flawless taste, were living well and had moved their daughters outside of Philly to the suburbs. Determined to give his daughters all that he never had, their father often bought them luxury clothes and accessories. At any given time, the two could be spotted walking the halls of their schools wearing fur coats with a luxury hand bag resting on their arm.
Fashion has always been at the forefront of their outlook on life.
“I always took fashion to be a culture…I love the culture,” said Tia slightly starry eyed. She was the epitome of someone “in love” with fashion.
With that passion and desire to be their own boss, the two decided to move forward with the mobile boutique idea. Backed with Tia’s technical training, slight OCD and task-oriented mentality; Carmen’s natural inclination to attract and interact with people; and a change of name, Couture At Your Door was started.
“The mobile aspect was our baby. It was something that was unprecedented in the Tri-State. We tried to bring indulgence to them so we pulled out all of the bells and whistles. We served wine and chocolates and set up a rack and they could shop in the comfort of their own home,” explained Carmen.
“We wanted to do it where you and I could be able to afford to do it. I think everybody should have star treatment whether you can afford it or not. If you put it on a platform where it is affordable, people will be interested…and it just happened to work for us,” added Tia.
Oh, it definitely worked.
The CAYD truck traveled frequently delivering luxury shopping experiences to women and men. Business picked up as corporate businesses and even radio stations got wind of the unique services the women offered. Eventually, the need for an online boutique developed.
“An online store can be very difficult when you’re just starting out,” explained Carmen.
There were hours of sitting with the web and graphics designer in addition to still running the mobile boutique as they worked to get the online store off of the ground. There was no marketing company hired, no writer contracted to draft the company’s messaging—everything from start to finish (not including the website) was of their own doing.
“This was hard work. What you see,” said Carmen as her arm swept over the store in its entirety, “is everything that we’ve done. This is not a franchise. It was a heck of a process trying to do all of this by ourselves and not hiring other people to do this for us. We’re pretty happy with the outcome and the product that we have for our customers. We offer them a unique experience and it’s an absolute indulgence,” said Carmen.
“We never even thought about a brick and mortar store…and then it was like a light one day went off,” said Tia.
The sense of luxury and indulgence is instantly felt in the store. The shell of a multi-functional space that they acquired in January of this year was renovated—in large part—by the duo. The two essentially wanted the store to be “visually appealing as well as comforting”. They built the stage that the fitting rooms rest on right across from the deejay booth. The wall space between the two is used for a screen projector, which is often used for the watch-parties of popular reality TV shows and in just a couple of short weeks, the presidential election.
“We wanted to give them a lounge experience where a woman could come and feel comfortable like she’s at home…because that’s where we started. So, [we figured] let them come here and be comfortable like they would over their best friends’ house,” said Carmen.
I love the concept but I’m sure my best friend isn’t in a rush to tend to my event styling needs; a much needed wardrobe renovation; the convenient in-home shopping experience; or to be my personal shopper—all services that CAYD provides. And while I love our makeshift club moments via iPod, it’s not the same as being in Sherman Mills at C-Lounge, the name for the chic boutique space. With a 100 inch cable ready projector screen, state of the art deejay equipment, stage platform and “the hottest decorum in town”, all adjacent to a beautiful court yard, the space is perfect not only for shopping but for any intimate event that one can think of. Everything from a pole dancing party to the recent launch party for fashion designer Crystal Nicola have been thrown at C-Lounge for a unbeatable price.
Even with the growing amount of responsibility–and risk–the two sisters are determined to stay on the same page with one another.
“It’s difficult because everyone has a stigma—older [sibling], younger [sibling]—and those carry over into the business and it’s hard to separate the two,” said Tia.
Tia rolled her eyes and chuckled, “Working with your sister is hard. It is difficult, if anyone tells you differently, they are lying. The good thing with us is that we can get into an argument and when it’s over, it’s over and we’re back to business, immediately.”
When the women of CAYD are in business that means you have access to pieces shipped in from as far as LA; a shopping experience that’ll have you feeling like you’re an honorary member of the silver spoon club; the valid right to laugh as you yell in Nicki Minaj’s voice, “YOU CAN BE MY PERSONAL SHOPPER!!!!”; and to enjoy complimentary wine and chocolates as you do it all while watching the latest episode of Real Housewives, Basketball Wives and more.
All of this to create a one of a kind couture experience because in essence, CAYD wants customers to be able to “afford couture” as they say. The highest priced dress is $200 and you’re guaranteed to find one for as low as $65–IF it hasn’t been snatched up already. They’re able to keep the price point so low for their garments and services in large part because they went against one of the golden small business rules: “location, location, location!”. Since they bypassed South St. and Center City in general, they gained [and saved] more in the end: the exclusivity of the location sets the tone for their customer’s experience.
“People are looking for exclusive attention and we don’t [strictly] stick to trends. Carmen handles our men’s line and I handle the women’s…and we [sell] what we like,” added Tia.
“It’s all about Fabulosity here, Syreeta! It’s ALL about fabulosity,” quipped Carmen with a bat of the eyelashes and mega watt smile.
And not just fabulosity and all things couture…all things affordable too. Now that’s my kind of bargain and my kind of luxury treatment.
I may need to schedule a wardrobe renovation in the near future.
Couture At Your Door, anyone?
This Friday, CAYD will be having a “Light Sherman Mills & the C Lounge Pink“ event. The event is in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month and customers are invited to light a candle for the Breast Cancer Survivors in their lives. Also, CAYD will be offering customers shopping discounts, cocktails, and a free fashion show that displays their fall line.
Check out the CAYD Facebook page for more details and stop by C-Lounge located at
|3502 Scotts Lane, Bldg 19, Studio 1914, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19129|
Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. or contact them via phone at: (215) 317-1230.
– Sincerely Syreeta