Schooled

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Chapter 34

We’d had the green light to start working on distribution for Travesty for barely a month, and my Fridays and weekends were filled with visiting boutiques in LA. Ava and I tried to go together, but sometimes only one of us could. So far it’d been harder than I’d imagined and my enthusiasm was waning after we went zero for four. The lone upside was that it had given me a crash course in merchandising. I had learned more than one could ever wish to about consignment, wholesaling, and keystoning.

Browsing through the merchandise at one store while I was waiting for their manager, already envisioning the possibility of another strikeout, an idea hit me.

I pulled out my phone. Had the number even made it into my contact list?

It had, and a minute later I was dialing.

“Hello?” A man’s voice on the other end, answering after two rings.

“Blake! It’s Lex—Alexis Caine. We met at the fall fashion show in San Diego. I’m not sure if you remember me.” Suddenly this seemed like a reckless idea. But it was worth a shot if it could help us in any way. Pride was not something new entrepreneurs had the luxury of enjoying.

“Alexis. Of course. How are you?”

“Great. Listen, I told you we were launching a new business. Can I get your advice on a couple of things?”

“No prob. How’s tomorrow?”

We setup a time to meet and the next day I was sitting across from Blake on a street-side café. He looked every bit the designer at rest, wearing denim and a fedora.

“Hi gorgeous.” He kissed both my cheeks and I sat down across from him. “I was hoping you’d call.”

“Well, that’s sweet of you to say. But I’m not sure you wanted me to call about this.”

He shook his hand like he was brushing off my words. “Nonsense. It was meant to be. I just happened to have a fitting cancelled today. How can I help?”

I explained our plans to launch and our uphill battle getting into stores. He nodded sympathetically.

“First, let’s make sure you’re ready. Show me what you have.” I pulled Ava’s portfolio out of my bag.

Blake paged through it while I fidgeted. Finally he nodded approvingly and looked up at me. “This is good work. It’s young and fresh.

“Listen, retailers are tough. Breaking in the first time is especially hard because there’s a lot of overhead involved in adding a new designer. It’s a lot cheaper for a store to pick you up after a couple of great seasons when it’s lower risk. Why don’t I take you to a couple of my vendors?”

I gratefully agreed. He took out his phone and started dialing. By the time my coffee was done, we had three meetings lined up for the next weekend.

* * *

“Guess what: Vintage loved the pieces you sent over. They’re going to call you to talk rack space next week.” Blake’s voice crackled over the line.

“That’s amazing! But I can barely hear you—where are you?” I asked. I had setup an impromptu workspace in my library study room, though admittedly I spent less time studying and more time booking meetings, calling manufacturers, and sending budget quotes back and forth with Lisa.

“Where LA residents spend three-quarters of their time. Traffic. Just going under an overpass, it should be clear soon.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“You deserve it, babe. Talk soon.”

Finally it felt like things were moving. And in Blake, we’d stumbled across another smart and generous supporter. Unlike Kirsten, who was the business brains, Blake knew who liked what, and seemed able to say the right thing to make his point. We’d also bonded over a shared love of those teeny vanilla bean scones Starbucks makes. It was our ritual when we went to see boutiques that I provided the coffee and carbs—an infinitely modest price to pay for his backing, contacts, and expertise.

Kirsten and I were having monthly check-ins to talk about the launch. By late March Ava and I already had a name, a logo, and were legally established as a partnership under the name Travesty Designs.

Ava was looking after the fabric sourcing and identifying some New York boutiques to which we wanted to pitch. Blake and I had already secured six in LA, and at this point anything more was gravy.

At the end of this month’s call with Kirsten she agreed everything was in order. All the items on the checklist I’d circulated in advance of our meeting were ticked or brought forward.

The one thing that still loomed was the website. In all honesty, I’d been putting it off, but it was on the list for next week. Any further delays would hurt the rest of our work.

Then Kirsten changed topics. “Alexis,” she started thoughtfully, her styled brows drawn together. She looked perfect even through Skype. Her blond bob was shining and set off by her knit camel-colored top. A gold knot that had probably come from Tiffany’s hung at her throat. “May I give you some advice?”

“Of course. You know how much I value your perspective. On anything.” It was true, though I didn’t know where this was going.

“The job is important. Building your business, your brand, is important. Most people I have to remind to focus. But with you I might have been wrong. When you pursue something so single-mindedly—when it’s your life—it can get in the way of other things.

“You’ve already learned how to work hard, and you’re the kind of person who will persevere until they succeed. You’re a bulldog, Alexis, in the best possible way. But there are other things to learn too. You won’t wake up in two decades and wish you’d spent more time at work.”

My gaze had fallen across the floor as I listened to her words. I didn’t know where this had come from. Had she noticed me distracted? Upset? I’d been so careful not to let any of the fallout influence how I presented myself professionally.

My next words were carefully chosen. “This is my life. I want it more than anything else in the world. If I haven’t seemed excited about it lately, it could just be the stress of working through the final details.”

“Mhmm. And how much time do you spend with other people? Ones that have nothing to do with business,” she added before I could jump in. “Who else is important in your life?”

I thought about it for a moment. The list was short, but that was the way things had to be.

“What I’m saying is this: don’t forget to enjoy life. As loathe as we in the fashion industry are to admit it, clothes aren’t what make life beautiful. People make life beautiful.”

“Maybe,” I said, the words spilling out before I could stop them. “But they also make it messy.” My eyes went back to hers on the computer. “What about when people you care about get in the way of your dreams?”

“Then you have to decide if they’re worth it.”

“Which, the people or the dreams?”

She smiled. “Both.”

We clicked off a few minutes later. I sat in my task chair, spinning myself around slowly like I hadn’t done in years. The trick was to do it fast enough that you didn’t have to keep pushing off, but slow enough that you didn’t make yourself dizzy.

What if Kirsten was right? In the past two months activities with the label had been taking off like a rocket. But two months being away from Dylan seemed to make things worse, not better. I kept telling myself things were fine, using Travesty to keep myself busy. When I found time to admit it, part of me felt a bit broken, a bit less. And I seemed to be compensating, rather than fixing it.

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