Jana Ezerina and Madam Bonbon shoe boutique
It is a romantic sight: in the middle of Riga you can walk into a splendid apartment where a Soviet lamp complements an Art Nouveau armchair. In all the nostalgia and coziness, beautiful shoes surround you everywhere.
When you receive a kind smile from Madam Bonbon, you know that you have come home to a friend – and this is exactly what makes Jana Ezerina’s boutique so unique.
Who is Jana?
Jana Ezerina is the CEO of Madam Bonbon Ltd. that has two stores, or rather to say, sisters: Madam Bonbon and Miss Bonbon. Both of these stores have their own story and life but in all, they are connected by the sense of home, style and love for quality shoes.
PR Fashion Room loves concepts that are bigger than just a product; boutiques and designers who have a “why” and for whom their work is also their lifestyle. Jana is definitely one of these people – and straight from Latvia, here is her story.
Jana, where did you start from and how did you make it here?
I was born far away from Riga and I grew up in deep countryside. Gradually, I moved towards the capital – I attended secondary school in Ventspils and then studied journalism and public relations (PR) in the University of Latvia in Riga. In 1990s the idea of PR, advertising and marketing was still unfamiliar, a new concept. When I graduated, I was not even completely sure of what I had studied! It all happened in the messy times after gaining independence from the Soviet Union when ways of communication started changing and modernizing. So I started my career on a path that no one had really walked before here, there was very little background and knowledge around me.
I spent 17 years in PR. This industry really suits young people who are just starting their careers and want to understand what they want to do in life; you get familiar with all kinds of business spheres. It is easy to find out what is really yours… However, after a while the moment comes when people burn out because they just do and work too much. I have seen this critical point many times – people get ill, they are not interested in anything anymore. Enough means enough. I have since left the PR business but I now use what I learned back then every single day.
What made you create Madam Bonbon? What have these years taught you?
Madam Bonbon was founded when I was at the peak of my career in PR. I was the managing director of my own company that I created with my a business partner at the age of 24. It was one of the top PR agencies in Latvia and since I left, it has become number one! I am very proud of what they have achieved.
My life has however changed a lot because my family has become the utmost priority to me. In general, I think my personal intentions and goals have changed a lot. Madam Bonbon is very tiny compared to what I was doing years ago but it gives me a lot of happiness and satisfies my ambitions. I can earn enough while I am now not over-working.
Madam Bonbon was established in September 2007 – we will be 10 years old this year! Our first store opened in April 2008. That was also the year of the economic crisis but thanks to our government’s efforts, we eventually got through it. The next three years were a nightmare for small enterprises, the tax system and the population in general. I think we have forgotten how terrible these days were: everybody was trying to save money, companies did not even organize Christmas parties and people avoided spending as much as they could.
I remember how in December no one even opened the door of Madam Bonbon – this beautiful boutique with beautiful shoes, standing completely empty. It was very hard for us and we lost a lot of money. In February 2009, we sold out everything for mere cents of the collection’s actual worth. Next years were difficult and I now cannot even explain why and how we did not end up closing the business. It was probably due to my lack of experience and my character that I kept it up and running. I could not bear the idea of investing a lot of money into a business that would close only after a year. We had to try harder! Therefore, we got creative – I found some more money to invest to a new collection to present to our customers.
From a marketing perspective, it was all just perfect. We designed the boutique for a specific group of people, we had an opening party to create friendships with a pool of clients, we had designed business cards, had a good visual representation, even packaging – everything was done in the most professional way possible. The economy was a pressure for everyone of course; when people have trouble getting food on the table, luxury shoes are not something one considers.
We had to find all kinds of alternatives to survive, from creating partnerships with Latvian designers and PR companies to bringing jewelry and clothing to our store. Only in the third year did we start earning a profit – I still remember those first 1000 euros! If I started a business again, I do not know if I had persisted for so long, it is very tough. It is definitely not a business to get rich but rather something for heart and soul. Somehow, it really satisfies me, gives me calmness, inner peace and allows me to be a woman, not a workhorse. Having a business gives me a lot of freedom and brings out my femininity – the beauty of the things we have in the shop never gets boring or tiring.
I am also a divorced mother of three: my oldest son is 20, my daughter is 15 and my youngest son is 8. My youngest is autistic which is one of the reasons I need more freedom to organize my time. I talk about my family because my philosophy says that for women, family is the most important thing. I really do mean it. There is nothing more important to us than the relationships and happiness in the family. If something is wrong in personal life, our professional lives suffer as well. I have asked all my colleagues to invest enough of time into their families: it is not easy to maintain this balance but it is vital to keep yourself happy in all spheres of life.
Madam Bonbon is unique – coming to the boutique feels like visiting a good friend, it is so intimate and cozy. Tell us a little bit about the idea behind it.
The aim of Madam Bonbon is to create an environment where women feel good – in this case, it is at home where they are surrounded by their shoes. When other women come to Madam Bonbon’s apartment, they will also feel happy and inspired because Madam Bonbon can share with her friends. This is the reason why personal service – even private or intimate service – has a lot of importance in our boutique. It is hard to translate it to English; in this context, you would use the word “you” in the non-formal form in Latvian and Russian, implying that Madam Bonbon is a friend who cares about you. This is the kind of atmosphere and service we want to create.
Madam Bonbon is situated in an apartment in the Art Nouveau district of Riga that many tourist come to admire. A lot of the interior of the apartment is in the same style – the era of Madam Bonbon’s grandmother. Consequently, Madam Bonbon’s mother grew up in the Soviet times, which is why we have many items that remind us of those times. By now, even these have become romantic!
The modern Madam Bonbon is a stylish woman who is familiar with what is important nowadays. She is well educated, speaks many languages, travels a lot, she is friendly – ultimately, she is one of us. But in times where masculinity and femininity is more and more mixed, she still holds on to these romantic symbols and is in a way an old-school girl who likes pearls, red lipstick and high heels.
Miss Bonbon is our other store that was established three years ago. She is the younger sister of Madam Bonbon who has just come back from a big city like London and is a representation of a more youthful, modern, urban and even hipster lifestyle. She is always active, runs around in flats, she is more emotional and loves doing extreme things like kiteboarding, skydiving, surfing… She has many love stories, plenty of people in her life and she is always looking for exciting career paths.
Madam Bonbon is the calmer and more sophisticated of the two but this is how the Bonbon sisters live – different but still connected. The two stores are therefore geared for two segments of clients but our aim this year is to connect and unite them even more.
That brings us to the question: who are Madam Bonbon’s customers?
People who come to my stores are mostly women who work and earn a medium or high income. They usually live in bigger cities and are between 25 and 55 years old. The “serious” customers are between 30 and 50 years of age. They have agreed to pay higher prices and therefore expect very high quality and excellent service. Latvian women are very demanding! And I really love it – not to say that I do not like working with tourists and foreigners but Latvian women really take care of themselves, more than women of other nationalities. They are very fashionable, follow trends closely, are well educated and put a lot of effort to maintain their image and appearance. They have a good sense of style and colors; I really value and respect them. This is how I think of our customers – with deepest love and highest honor.
Among others, Madam Bonbon offers a good selection of shoes from Latvian designers. Seeing this industry from the inside, what would you recommend to people who aspire to become designers or create a business like yours?
Latvian designers are represented in many stores in Riga and designers sell their creation also in their own studios. The competition is therefore quite high – our boutique is amongst the ones spreading interesting ideas. Unfortunately, I cannot say that many of Latvian designers have become “real” businesses. What starting designers need to understand is that fashion business is tough; having good ideas and selling 10 items as a collection is not enough. It requires an “iron” approach – not only two but four collections a year with a complete set of clothing from gowns to accessories and trousers. I do not see actual collections in many Latvian designers’ work or if I do, they lack a sustainable business model including plans for distribution and production. Fashion has to be affordable and competitive – if people do not wear your design, it is not a real business.
The biggest problem is the production process that is exclusive and expensive in Latvia. All designers face the issue of not getting their production costs down in addition to relying on insufficient starting capital and investments that are vital for long-term business management. Every week I meet someone who says that they want to create their own collection – I am not persuading them not to but I have seen so many failed tries that I can reflect on how difficult it is to make it.
Ah, I forgot the importance of marketing! The way you sell your collections is so important. All collections have to be advertised and that is a complicated process. Some people have the endurance and strength to achieve and become proud Latvian designers. No doubt that they have all experienced high levels of stress though!
What do you like to read?
There are periods when I read a lot and then there are periods when I do not read for months, even years. My favorite authors are the Japanese Haruki Murakami and the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez. I have read everything these two have ever written. I think their style is called magical realism – a mix of fiction and real life. I love them because we all love to dream and to be in illusions. When these shatter, we feel sad but until we maintain them, we also feel very much alive.
Which Latvian designers’ creation do you personally love and respect?
I have quite a few favorites. Anna Led is someone I can call a great designer, someone who is leading a great business and is also a good friend of mine. Another designer I love is Alexander Pavlov who has a very romantic and feminine style. Also Natālija Jansone and a friend of mine, Kaita who has a degree from St Martins College in London. Today Kaita is mostly working in theatres designing costumes but she definitely knows how to provide quality service to her customers. I also love Cinnamon Concept – they mainly produce scarves, pullovers, gloves, etc. but from time to time, they have some very nice fashion collections as well.
Jana is wearing a red dress from one of her favorite Latvian designers Anna Led. Anna Led is a leading Latvian designer clothing and accessories brand and all her items are made from high quality natural materials. This outfit matched perfectly with the feminine and pure atmosphere of Madam Bonbon and with our photo shoot’s concept. In addition, we chose jewelry from New Vintage by Kriss, a well-known Estonian handmade gemstone jewelry brand. Thank you, Arttu Karvonen, for capturing the moment so well!
|PERSON||CREATIVE DIRECTOR||PHOTOGRAPHER||FASHION STYLIST||HAIR/MAKEUP||EDITOR|
|Jana Ezerina||Pille Aasa||Arttu Karvonen||Alli-Liis Vandel||Eva Strautmale||Carina Paju|
|Madam Bonbon||Anna Led|