LELE TRAN, 44, of Cherry Hill, is a fashion designer and part-time professor at Moore College of Art & Design. Tran operates her business out of US*U.S., a co-op boutique in Old City. Tran, who is Vietnamese, came to the U.S. in 1980. She studied fashion design and graduated from Drexel University.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for US*U.S.?
A: I had my own boutique I started in 1997 in Old City but closed it in 2007 to spend more time with my son. I got a part-time teaching job at Moore in 2010 to help seniors finish collections for their spring fashion show. I talked to students about organizing a co-op where we worked together, split rent and responsibilities. We began with five designers in 2012.
Q: That's the biz model?
A: Yes, we currently have six designers. Each runs her own business and has to be at the co-op one day a week to take care of customers. So if a customer comes in, the designer handles the sale and each of us has our own Square [credit] card readers that plug into our mobile phones.
Q: How would you describe the Lele brand?
A: It's elegant, sophisticated, classy and simple.
Q: Who's a typical customer?
A: A woman who's a professional, takes care of herself, knows and understands fashion and quality. She can be 18 to 60. I think they like to be noticed but without putting in a lot of effort.
Q: Fashion is constantly evolving. What's in today is out next year. How do you cope?
A: I'm still figuring out what direction to go. If I make the same thing over and over I get really bored. I'm also doing some technical design work for Lobo Mau, a sportswear designer.
Q: It also looks like you're branching out to accessories.
A: Last year, I designed a convertible zipper scarf on which I have a patent pending. I've sold about 400 of them. It's something I'd like to get out to showrooms or trade shows because it's multifunctional, attractive and makes a statement.
A: Women can wear it as a scarf, poncho or skirt. In silk, it could be a halter top or beach wrap. Men can wear it as a scarf.
Q: What do they cost?
A: They range from $50 to $140 and are made from silk or fleece or wool blends.
Q: How much do custom dresses cost?
A: They range from $400 to a wedding dress that could be $2,500.
Q: Where do you see the biz headed in a few years?
A: Definitely wholesale, getting into the big department stores, maybe talking to some companies to license the scarves. The thing about the zipper scarf is it works with any material. It's very fashionable in silk but at the same time very sporty in fleece.