How Lisa and Laura Anne Lamprou built their fashion empire from the ground up.
By Megan Douress
Photography by Melissa Kelly Photography (melissakellyphotography.com)
If you took a brief glimpse into what life was like five years ago for sisters and owners of LILA Fashion International, Lisa and Laura Anne Lamprou, it was a far cry from the world of fashion. Lisa was working in medical research at the University of Pennsylvania and Laura Anne was with a marketing and advertising agency that specializes in luxury hospitality. Both had a lifelong appreciation for fashion, at least as far as shopping for a new wardrobe goes, and on occasion, they even entertained the idea of one day owning their own fashion company.
“Laura Anne’s plan was to do it when she was 40,” Lisa said. “Back in 2013, she was only 25, so I told her, ‘That’s a long time to wait. We have to speed it up!’”
“I’ve always wanted to get more involved in fashion as a career because it’s always been a life-long passion of mine,” Laura Anne explained. “It’s always been the end goal. I felt like I needed a change in what I was doing, and when Lisa made the proposition of starting a fashion company, I thought, ‘I’m never going to get an offer like this again.’”
Lisa left the medical industry in 2014, and the two began building their fashion empire — slowly but surely. The sisters were heavily influenced by their upbringing in Greece and Saudi Arabia and wanted to focus on international fashion designers. So, the first step was to launch an online shop where they would sell items from a few of their favorite designers from overseas.
“At first, we got ‘no’ a lot because designers would say, ‘We don’t know who you are and we don’t know how you’ll represent our product,’” Laura Anne remembered.
“We couldn’t have an e-commerce site without having product,” Lisa added. “We had to pitch who we were without a storefront, without a website, without a tangible business.”
After much negotiating and a handful of designers behind them, the sisters were able to build their brand over the course of nine months and with the launch of their online shop, LILA Fashion International was born. Though they had a newly established online presence, Lisa and Laura Anne also wanted to connect with customers offline to continue to build their brand in the Philadelphia region. The opportunity to do retail pop-up events throughout the area came up and they didn’t hesitate at the chance.
On Mother’s Day in 2016, LILA Fashion International held a pop-up at Pineapple on Main and the two fell in love with the immense energy of the Manayunk business community.
“I remember Lisa saying, ‘Manayunk is like Stars Hollow!’” Laura Anne laughed about the Gilmore Girls reference. “Everyone knows everyone!”
The charm and support of the district immediately drew the sisters in. On June 24, 2016, LILA Fashion International found a home in Manayunk at 4386 Main Street. The space was little and quaint, but perfect for their small start-up boutique.
Over the next 18 months, LILA Fashion International thrived in its tiny brick and mortar, but Lisa and Laura Anne’s dreams were much larger than a 300 square-foot storefront. So they thought about what made other Manayunk businesses successful — Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar, Bendi Jewelers, Nicole Miller, and The Little Apple — all owned the real estate their businesses were in. If they were going to make their dreams into life-long careers, they would have to take a leap of faith and invest in the future of their business.
“It just seemed like people who stuck around were the people who invested in the buildings their businesses were in,” Lisa recalled. “Shortly after our first anniversary, I thought we should buy a building. I told Laura Anne we needed to do it because our customers knew us, because Manayunk knew us, and the time was now.”
The building that formerly housed The Bazemore Gallery seemed to be the perfect fit. It was more than twice the size of their current storefront, move-in ready, and the interior met their aesthetic — from the exposed brick, beautiful wooden accents, the opportunity to have large window displays, and the live green wall you can’t miss behind the register. By March 2018, LILA Fashion International found a permanent home at 4339 Main Street.
Since moving in earlier this year, Lisa and Laura Anne have been working to build upon their already successful business. Customers can still find the designers they know and love, but with more space brings more opportunities to bring in additional designers and products.
“There is definitely a need to order more to accommodate a growing customer base, which we acquired when we expanded our retail space and changed our location,” Lisa said. “I think we’ve expanded our demographic, too. We’ve departed from some of the original lines we started with to bring in new lines that we felt were more representative of the LILA brand and the LILA customer.”
One being Greek designer, Karavan, who brings bolder prints and bohemian looks to the LILA shopper.
“We also brought in Anna Beck, whose entire line of jewelry is made by hand in Bali using traditional Balinese techniques.” Laura Anne explained. “Most of the designers we work with are small batch. There is definitely a revolution of moving away from fast fashion, and we want to embrace that.”
With the endless options in their new space, Lisa and Laura Anne are diving deep into this movement by creating a whole new experience for the LILA shopper.
“It’s a totally different mindset,” Lisa explained. “A slower, more methodical way to live is what we are trying to communicate. You don’t have to have a thousand pieces of clothing. You have to have a few good ones in your closet that you can restyle.”
“LILA really is a lifestyle,” Lisa continued. “You can’t always live it because life gets in the way, but it’s a lifestyle you should aspire to live because it’s healthier to move through life more consciously and slowly than it is to just stampede through life doing the bare minimum.”
In an effort to further cater to the customer experience, Lisa and Laura Anne decided to make Junebug Flowers and Design, a small floral company that would frequently hold pop-ups in LILA’s former space, a permanent fixture as the shop’s florist-in-residence.
Owner, Lana Tang, has a romantic vision for fresh blooms that Lisa and Laura Anne saw as a must-have for their shoppers.
“We wanted a partnership where we could grow together — no pun intended,” Laura Anne laughed. “We want this to be a women’s boutique where you can come in and shop for all your needs, and that’s where Junebug fits in. She adds another element that elevates the customer experience.”
“It’s all related to a very specific lifestyle,” Lisa added. “If you come into LILA, we don’t just have soap. We have bath salts by Bathorium that are imported from Canada. We have luxury soap stones infused with Himalayan sea salt. Our konjac sponges are designed with pink clay from Paris.”
“We’re not trying to be everything to everyone — many stores have failed trying to do that,” Lisa continued. “I feel like the LILA customer is specific — an independent, free-thinking woman. She is on the lookout for the unique and special, and she doesn’t wait for someone to buy her flowers — she buys them for herself. All of our products truly reflect our vision of what LILA is.”
For Lisa, her vision for customer experience goes past the doorway to her business on Main Street. As the Vice President of the Manayunk Development Corporation’s Board of Directors, she’s hoping to put Manayunk on the map as a destination for visitors who come to Philadelphia. Just last year, she led the charge for new and improved holiday decorations on the commercial corridor, including lit poles and garland-wrapped parking meters — all in an effort to make the district more spirited for shoppers and diners.
“Manayunk should be on everyone’s radar,” Lisa said. “One day you should be visiting the Liberty Bell and the next day you should be visiting districts like Manayunk.”
Lisa is also spearheading retail-centric initiatives, such as the second annual holiday edition of Style Me Manayunk. Manayunk’s key retailers will all be under one roof for this one-stop shopping experience at The Nickels Building on December 1. Visitors can expect grab-and-go gifts, food, and plenty of holiday spirit.
“We’re trying to focus on the retail aspect of Main Street — bring that to the forefront by creating an event that is focused on fashion,” Lisa explained. “It’ll be interesting to see how it develops over the years.”
As for the future of LILA Fashion International, Lisa and Laura Anne are hoping to host more workshops that focus on fashion and styling. Adding an educational component to the experience will not only allow shoppers to refresh their wardrobes, but to also learn about their own personal style and how to successfully build a wardrobe. Laura Anne, who recently transitioned over to LILA Fashion International full time, is developing an initiative to build a community by hosting influencer events, panel discussions with stylists, and even book signings with fashion authors and photographers.
In addition, Lisa and Laura Anne would like to bring a more basic line to their shop for customers who are looking to add staple pieces to their closets. They’re even thinking of designing their own line of apparel and accessories, such as a sweater or hat, that is exclusive to LILA.
In the short-term, the sisters are focusing on making the upcoming holiday season special for their shoppers. They will have holiday tunes on rotation, they will provide warm seasonal beverages and gift-wrapping services, and they will even have little goodies tied to each bag that walks out of the store for both new and returning customers. But what’s the most exciting part of celebrating the holidays in their new building?
“Our amazing window display, which is going to be the best we’ve ever had now that we have so much more space to work with!” Laura Anne laughed.
“The thing I love the most is the energy people have,” she continued. “No matter what is going on, people are just so excited. It just puts you in this really positive mindset. People are always looking to get something special for the people in their lives, and it means so much when they come here first. When it’s the holiday season, it’s magnified.”
“It’s the one time of year we get to catch up with our male customers!” Lisa added, laughing.
All jokes aside, Lisa and Laura Anne look forward to a successful holiday season, thanks to the support of the community that they now call home both personally and professionally.
“You can’t do it yourself,” Lisa explained. “You need the support of a community — it’s a give and take. For Manayunk to be successful, we all need to work together.”
“Everything we do in here, we are doing because we love our business,” Laura Anne added. “We’re in it for the long run.”