Q&A with Nadira & Ryan
In celebration of Vert & Vogue's 10 year anniversary, local writer and V&V friend, Jamie Williams, sat down with co-founders, Nadira & Ryan Hurley, to talk about their chance encounter in Paris, living in the suburbs of New Jersey, and how they chose Durham, NC as the birth place of V&V and their new home.
Part I: A chance encounter in Paris
Nadira was supposed to be working at a different store. Ryan was on his way to the Picasso museum. But, that October morning in Paris' Marais neighborhood, the fates intervened. Something caught Ryan's eye and he decided to duck into a small men's store. Nadira popped out from behind a curtain to assist her customer.
Ryan soon had designs on becoming much more, but Nadira would take a little convincing.
Ryan, raised in New Jersey, was working in London at the time and visiting some friends in Paris for a long weekend. Nadira was Parisian through and through. The cosmic longshot that brought them together would seem more improbable if it were not foretold.
See, months before, Nadira spoke with an elderly woman who laid out what she saw for Nadira's future. There was a man. He was coming from across the ocean. His name would start with 'R.' You will open the door and immediately recognize him.
Still, with all that in the back of her mind, Nadira made him work for it. She didn't date customers and that's still what he was. Ryan tried, asking her to join him for lunch that day. She said 'no.'
Rules are rules.
As his long weekend in Paris was drawing to a close, Ryan needed to head back to the store. Nadira wasn't there. But, as he was leaving, they passed each other and she gave him a huge smile. Still, with that initial rejection fresh in his mind, Ryan didn't press the issue and boarded the train back to London.
But, he'd be back.
His friends in Paris invited him for New Year's. So, another morning in Paris, another stroll through the Marais. He had to go see that girl. Though he'd thought of her often in the months since they first met, there was a slight problem: he couldn't quite remember her name.
Still, he found the store, walked in, and there she was. Again, as they talked, the connection felt strong. There was just one test.
"Do you remember my name?" she asked slyly.
Ryan thought for a moment, "Of course, Nadira," he replied. No sweat.
With that out of the way, he told her of a recent trip to Italy, about his New Year's plans. And he asked her out to dinner. She said no. How about a drink? No, again.
No, she didn't have a boyfriend. She just had rules. She didn't date customers.
Ryan didn't know it, but as he was absorbing rapid fire rejection, those rules were beginning to bend.
Finally, one last try. "How about a lunch?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
Nadira gave Ryan her number and he promised to call soon to make plans for that lunch.
But when he did, no answer. No call back.
Had she rejected him again? Or, had she just listened to the message and accidently deleted it?
Something told Ryan to try again. This time she answered, confessing that she'd inadvertently erased that first message.
And after all those attempts, they had a date.
At that lunch, the same energy was there, the same obvious connection. But, Nadira had one observation about this new American guy: "He was so loud!" She tried to talk softly, hoping he'd catch the hint. No luck. The Parisians at the surrounding tables turned to stare. It didn't matter much to either of them. It felt right.
They finished eating and decided to take a walk. Although early January in Paris is normally cold, wet and gray, on that day, the sun was shining.
As they walked, Nadira gently put her arm through Ryan's. After all that rejection, he thought, is this really happening?
They boarded the metro and were soon crammed together, surrounded by packs of tourists. Crushed together on the train, they shared a quick kiss.
Yes, this was really happening.
Still, Ryan had to leave that day and go back to London. But they wouldn't be apart for long. They spoke by phone nearly every day. And Ryan was back and forth from London on weekends.
And then, 10 months after that morning when Nadira was supposed to be at another store and Ryan was supposed to be admiring Picasso's works, they were married.
Part II: The start of Vert & Vogue
Ryan and Nadira were living in New Jersey. He was commuting into the city every day, feeling uninspired at work. She, the Parisian now confined to the suburbs, was bored.
Soon enough, a lifelong dream of opening a business was starting to become more tangible.
For years, Ryan had been interested in environmentalism, and Nadira had managed men's boutiques in Paris. They decided to combine those interests, a fashion boutique focused on clothes made ethically and from natural, sustainable fabrics.
As they considered locations, friends insisted they visit Durham, North Carolina. They remember eating delicious meals in packed restaurants.
If Durham could support these terrific restaurants, perhaps it would also support their idea for a store.
They moved their young family to Durham and opened Vert & Vogue in 2008.
As the store celebrates its tenth anniversary, Ryan and Nadira discuss what has changed, and what hasn't.
What was the initial vision for Vert & Vogue?
Ryan: I have always been interested in environmentalism and environmental advocacy and I wanted a business to reflect those values. And then, of course, Nadira had an extensive background in fashion. We noticed that there were more and more upstart designers focused on sustainability that we thought we could put a collection together with that focus.
What were some early challenges?
Ryan: In the beginning, when we really led with the 'green' element of the business, it threw people off. They just assumed we were selling burlap yoga pants, or something, and didn't realize that we were a contemporary fashion boutique that just happened to sell clothes made with natural, sustainable materials. So, we had to reconsider how we were communicating about the values of our collection. We learned to emphasize the aesthetics, the cut, the fabric, the styling, and, for the cherry on top, we could say that these clothes were made ethically and of very high quality.
And then, of course, we opened in 2008, just as the economy was crashing. We had these upstart designers, and after the recession, a lot of them just went away. So we had huge holes to fill in the shop. It forced us to really thread a needle of being true to ourselves and the values we founded the business around, while at the same time fulfilling the needs of our customers.
What about early successes? What do you think drew people in?
Ryan: In the beginning, it was all Nadira. It was her enthusiasm for the clothes and her willingness to go above and beyond for everyone who came through the door. It would be years before there was enough foot traffic downtown to support a business like ours, so we had to do everything we could to make ourselves a destination. And that meant going above and beyond with the service, as well as creating a compelling collection that people couldn't find anywhere else.
Nadira: People really made an effort to come in and support us. Many of our customers travel, they can buy clothes from wherever they want, but they made a point to support us. That is what is so amazing about this community. I really don't know if we could have been as successful somewhere else.
And now you've introduced plenty of customers to favorite designers that they may not have even heard of before they saw them at V&V, right?
Ryan: When we started, we weren't carrying brands that people recognized, and when they came downtown they hadn't even planned on shopping. We knew that. So, we also knew we'd have to put on one hell of a show. And that's why it was so critical to build a team of people with passion and enthusiasm for what we were doing.
Ultimately, though, it goes back to our community and the people who support us. They want to support small businesses. They want to support these small designers, these renegades in the industry, most of whom happen to be amazing women.
Nadira: And you can buy a dress from us and know that no one else will have it. And you can know that it is made with the best materials and comes straight from the designer's heart.
How would you sum up your feelings as Vert & Vogue celebrates ten years?
Ryan: I am thankful for all the people who have walked through our doors over the last ten years and the amazing relationships we have built with our customers and our community. The people who shop with us and who have become our friends over the years are incredibly accomplished and interesting, yet very humble. Even better, we work with a remarkable team that inspires and uplifts us everyday.
Nadira: After ten years, the passion for what we do is still there and growing as we continue to learn and take on new challenges. But, even as we continue to evolve, we have stayed true to our foundation and the vision we had back when we first started.