Several months ago, one of my closest friends asked me to be her wedding coordinator. Not only was I honored and flattered, but I was so excited. I’ve had a blast riding along with Tina to scope out wedding venues, experiment with floral arrangements, and shop for dresses — especially shop for dresses. =) In the process, we discovered Ava Clara — a local bridal boutique, and the shop where Tina found her perfect wedding gown and beautiful bridesmaids dresses.
Ava Clara is a darling little store, and the owners — Karen and Alex — are gracious, friendly, super stylish, and dedicated to helping every bride find her dream dress.
Over the summer, Tina invited me to an evening anniversary party at Ava Clara to celebrate their first year in business here in Virginia Beach. Local wedding vendors (caterers, photographers, musicians, lighting technicians, etc.) set the scene for a festive cocktail party, complete with delicious hors d’eourves, a signature martini, and the most amazing chocolate cake pops on the planet. While I was there, I had an opportunity to take tons of great photos and set up an interview with Alex and Karen (pictured below).
Lisa: How did you two meet?
K & A: We met when Alex was engaged and shopping for her own gown and bridesmaids, and Karen was her bridal consultant. There was a definite “click” between us, and we began working together shortly after Alex’s wedding. Sharing a common dream of owning a bridal store, it was definitely a case of fate that brought us together!
Lisa: What made you want to open your own bridal shop?
K: I’ve been in the bridal industry since college (I’ll date myself here by admitting that it was in 1996), as a manager and buyer for other stores. It gave me a lot of time to learn the ins and outs and think of all the ways I’d like to make things a little bit better if I could. So many brides shop in New York or D.C. Why couldn’t we bring those styles and level of service to Virginia Beach? I like to believe that we did.
A: Having planned my own wedding in the Hampton Roads area, I believed that there were plenty of things missing. With only one or two shops to choose from locally, I felt there was plenty of room for new ideas, offering designers not seen anywhere else and a fresh perspective on the bridal gown experience.
Lisa: What has been your most rewarding experience running your business over the last year?
K: It has been so fulfilling to see so many happy brides! The amount of trust and support that people have placed in us, as a new business, has been truly amazing! We had no idea how many brides we might meet the first year. To have been a part of almost 150 weddings and to already be getting referrals from our brides is a pretty great feeling! Seeing wedding pictures on photographers’ blogs or on our Facebook page always gives us a little chill!
Lisa: What is your favorite thing about what you do?
A: I love that I’m able to be a part of such a special time in a woman’s life. Every girl dreams of a wedding; to see such a happy time, and play a role in that is a dream job!
K: Bridal gowns are the ultimate game of dress up! Seeing a bride put on that dress that makes her feel giddy and completely beautiful is the best feeling ever. I could not ask for a better environment than a bridal store! We also love the bridal market, where we get to see all of the latest bridal trends, and choose which gowns we think our brides will love to wear.
Lisa: Any advice for aspiring business owners?
K & A: Dream big! Do what you love, and don’t let the naysayers get you down.
Lisa: Do you ever get inspiration from the web? What are some of your favorite sites?
K: All of the traditional sites, such as theknot.com and weddingchannel.com are great. It’s also really inspiring to stumble upon brides’ personal blogs. They give a ton of insight into how women feeling as they go through their wedding planning- what stages were stressful, what did they not want to have end? We love the real, unvarnished stories!
Some of our favorite photography sites, like Echard Wheeler Photography and Ramone Photography Studio, are always good indicators of how a bride likes to stylize her day. We love to see all of the little details the pictures capture!
Lisa: Do you have a favorite wedding dress or bridesmaid dress right now?
K & A: Our favorites probably change everyday! Right now we’re loving working with the Modern Troussaeu collection. They are true couture gowns, custom patterning each bride’s gown individually. Each piece is one-of-a-kind, and made to a bride’s measurements. Gowns like this don’t really exist anymore!
We carry a range of designers, including James Clifford, Augusta Jones, Wtoo and more, with prices from $850 to about $5500. Our bridesmaid collections include Amsale, Alvina Valenta, After Six and Alfred Sung. We have worked hard to ensure that there is a gown for every bride’s style and budget, and that every bride can be an Ava Clara bride!
I hope you enjoyed my first interview! Thank you so much to Karen and Alex for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can visit Ava Clara in Virginia Beach at Renaissance Place Shopping Center (401 N. Great Neck Road). Appointments are recommended, and you can reach Karen and Alex via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (757-962-1466) to set one up.