Owner, Kay’s, 5419 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70115
Kay Charbonnet’s edgy, yet spunky personality sets the tone for her Magazine street store, Kay’s. Every time I enter Kay’s, I feel like the really cool big sister I never had has invited me over to play in her closet. The chokers, rock star worthy earrings, and cool rings are laid out in the most inviting way, and before I know it, I’m picking up a new lipstick and lifting some earrings to my ear. A girl power anthem or the hottest dance song is playing through the store and without even noticing I’m dancing as I exit the dressing room in an oversized shirt and fishnet stockings. It’s outfit I never would have put on, but am now convinced I can’t live without. I ask Kay for the pants she’s picked out for me to rock with this outfit.
“You don’t need pants!” she says giving me an odd look for even asking. “I’m going to grab you some thigh-high boots.”
KAY ALWAYS KNEW SHE WANTED TO BE IN FASHION
“My abuela – my mom’s mom- my grandmother, they are Cuban, so that’s why I say that… she was a seamstress. I was always into fashion. She made everything for me. Growing up, I was on the heavier side, so a lot of the times, I couldn’t fit all of the clothes my friends could fit so I would just create – like draw something and my grandmother would make it for me.”
FINDING HER WAY IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY
Kay went to school for fashion design at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Her resume includes a stint in London working for a wedding dress designer, a program in Paris at the American Paris Academy, and couture fashion week. Then, she came back to the U.S. for a year of grad school at Drexel in Philadelphia.
When Kay got out of school, she toyed with several jobs in the fashion industry. She moved to Austin, Texas and began managing a BEBE store. She also started her own design company doing custom work like making debutante dresses, bridal gowns, and cocktail attire. But it just wasn’t enough.
“Austin felt a little stale so I decided to move, ” Kay explains.
She came back to New Orleans and started her own resort clothing line, which consisted of caftans and other items you'd typically wear during beach vacations. Then one day, she wanted to shop and couldn’t find the right place to go.
“I feel like a weirdo when I go into a lot of the stores here. It’s New Orleans but you would be surprised at how conservative a lot of the stores are. For me, I just felt like I was getting kind of depressed. I didn’t feel welcomed back home. I didn’t feel like there was a store that encapsulated my fashion sense and style."
CREATING HER OWN FASHION PARADISE
Since the store Kay wanted to shop at didn’t exist, she thought maybe she could create it. At one point, she was managing a Blink store on Magazine street. She looked up the square footage of the store and found more than the measurements she needed. The building was for lease.
“Let me discuss this with my family to see if I’m crazy right now, and then I just kind of did it.”
She had some money saved, took out a loan, got some help from her dad, and got her sister to help too. By December of 2014, Kay had leased the building and the store was up and running.
“When I first opened, I opened during Christmas time and the theme was ‘Come Steal My Style,’ so we had a window with a Christmas tree flooded with a bunch of gifts underneath and two mannequins in the second window with ski masks that I bedazzled. It was during the time the “On the Run” tour was going on. So I bedazzled all these ski masks, and the mannequins had all these bags with hangers coming out and the whole point was they robbed the tree and were stealing my style. Some people loved it, and a few were up in arms, telling me it was disrespectful and I was pushing theft. It was crazy.”
“It’s been an interesting ride,” she says. ”Then, I have people walk in who are like, ‘Wow this is my favorite store.”
A GIRL BOSS NEEDS HELP TOO
Kay is claiming the title, girl boss (a reference to Nasty Gal founder, Sophia Amoruso’s New York Time’s best selling book). She’s running her own business, standing up for her vision, and getting through the daily grind it takes to keep everything on point. But Kay proves that being a girl boss is not about being perfect.
“Sometimes I don’t even check my email,” she admits. “You learn there are some things you are just not good at. I have to delegate or some things won't get done.”
And delegating means that her staff needs to understand her vision. At first, she was hesitant to say anything when her employees would post things on social media that didn’t really reflect her style.
“I’m actually like a really nice person and I want everyone to be happy, so initially it was hard for me to say I don’t like this. That’s not me. Take it down. I was afraid I would offend people, and now I realize I just gotta do it.”
“When I first opened up, I remember if I was going to be late or had a meeting I would call the store and be like, ‘Hey guys, I just want you to know I’m not going to be there until three o’clock because I have this, this, and this to do. I would explain everything because I didn’t want people to think I was not carrying my weight and then I had to realize,’ Hold up, Kay. You pay them and you pay yourself nothing…”
Eventually, Kay started getting more comfortable being the boss, but she says it’s still not as glamorous as it sounds.
“Everybody wants to be a girl boss until they have to do girl boss stuff, and its' at that point when many are like 'you know what, I’d rather just be an accountant,” she jokes.
WHY KAY'S PLUS SIZE RACKS ARE POPPIN'
Sometimes Kay thinks it would be nice to just have a regular 9-5, but at the end of the day she loves her store and her plus size section is part of her daily motivation. One day, she walked into the store, looked at the plus size section, and started crying.
“I was fat growing up and it sucked. All my friends were skinny white girls and I was the different one who was already ethnically different and to top it all off, I was pleasantly plump."
She wants to give women that space to feel good about themselves that she didn’t have.
“I was always wanting to be something else and it wasn’t until much later in my life I realized this is me and if you don’t like it …I don’t know what to tell you …don’t hate…”
That’s why you’ll see that slogan on a lot of Kay’s items. She realizes people are always judging her without really knowing her.
“They think they know who you are. They want to be you and they don’t realize all the struggles you’ve had to tackle to get to this spot.” Kay’s own weight loss journey started when she was 18. Her older sister started losing weight first. “I can’t be the fat sister,” she thought. I gotta get my sh** together.”
She says that journey continues today.
SWINDLED BY SOCIAL MEDIA
Kay’s instagram is full of great pictures that show off her amazing life, but she says it’s difficult to keep up her image on social media and deal with real life. Last year, she went through an insane break up.
“I had to deal with his crazy and run a store at the same time, taking selfies on instagram…then minutes later….I’m dying.”
The store was her saving grace. She had responsibilities. Looking back, the terrible breakup made her better.
“It was probably the best thing that ever happened because I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not embarrassed of anything because nothing could be worst than that. That situation, just as a businesswoman, made me a better girl boss. I’m not as concerned about what everyone thinks about me anymore which is kind of freeing.”
Kay is not immune to the misleading images on social media.
“I get fooled too. I bought the flat tummy tea.”
Of course, it didn’t work.
KAY'S GIRL BOSS WISDOM
Kay has lots of great advice for young ladies dreaming of carrying out their visions.
“Keep your ideas to yourself…People like to say everything is their own, so if it’s something unique and special, tell the people that you really trust. And then think about the people you really trust and tell less than those people because probably some of the people you really trust, you can't and shouldn’t trust. I’ve learned that the hard way….I used to have a ton of friends and I can honestly tell you I now have like three.”
And Kay knows that some young ladies think social media fame is the key to success.
“It’s not a popularity contest. It’s about hard work. You need the popularity on social media. That’s important for your brand and business, but if that’s not producing money in the register, your 15,000 followers mean nothing.”
Kay is eager to talk about what she’s learned as she moves forward in her own journey. And she’s moving forward one day of hard work at a time.
“I don’t really have an ultimate goal. It’s just to continuing doing what I love to do, and not to sound cliché, but to keep building my empire and it doesn’t have to be a Kardashian empire. That’s really big. It’s like buying a really big house. It’s great, but if you don’t have a maid, then you have to clean all those rooms... and I don’t want to do all that cleaning.”
Need a show-stopping outfit, shop Kay’s:
5419 Magazine Street
New Orleans, La 70115
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