Earlier this year, Hayet Rida launched a jewelry studio in Bucktown that defied the typical rules of brick-and-mortar retail. She poured her savings into a store design that evokes an art gallery, decided to only open her doors on weekends and zeroed in on a small-batch, hand-designed limited edition collection she designs herself on her iPad.
Then the layoff notice came: The same month she opened KHOI, she was laid off from her corporate job as a creative strategist at the social media giant Meta. For a moment, things looked grim.
A regular Instagram user, Rida documented her emotions about it all, sharing the highs and lows of entrepreneurship to the large Instagram following she cultivated over the years by sharing lifestyle content and creative strategy advice. Her community of nearly 130,000 rallied behind her with moral support; some even attended the grand opening of her studio in May.
“The best way of protecting my mental health was to allow myself to crumble,” said Rida, who is a self-proclaimed “failure advocate.” “A lot of times when people get hit with big pivots and challenges they want to be strong. But there were days we’d be working on the studio and I would go sit on the sidewalk and cry. I didn’t pretend everything was okay.”
By the end of summer, her prospects had improved. She was invited by the Black in Fashion Council to be one of 10 Black designers to exhibit in a discovery showroom at New York Fashion Week, which starts Sept. 7.
In the span of a year, Rida, 34, has gone from an e-commerce designer to a boutique owner to a featured name at New York Fashion Week, a timeline that would be enviable for anyone in retail. But she said she has learned from all of her experiences, including two prior ventures.
Still, the decision to open a brick-and-mortar business in Chicago has been her biggest leap. That decision meant she had to hire contractors, secure permits and figure out zoning details. Despite having a tight budget, Rida found peace of mind in her strategic planning skills to keep pushing the business forward.
She said she has also learned that, sometimes, money isn’t the sole challenge of opening a business.
“I thought having enough money and resources and planning would be the challenge but really it’s about having trust in the process,” said Rida. “One day everything could be going according to plan and the next day a contractor can call and say something happened and now we’re 10 weeks off schedule. A lot of things that happen when opening a business are unforeseen no matter how ‘prepared’ you are.”
Despite the proliferation of online retail ordering during the pandemic, the retail market now is extremely strong for brick-and-mortar retailers, said Meredith Oliver, senior vice president of CBRE Global Commercial Real Estate Services.
“People rediscovered shopping to an extent after getting frustrated with the delivery side of things as a result of supply chain issues for a long time during COVID,” said Oliver. “If something isn’t available online, shoppers will just get it from a store instead.”
At Rida’s boutique on Damen Avenue, the pieces aren’t locked away behind glass counters or hanging in rows on swirling jewelry towers. Instead, they’re intentionally positioned on mannequins similar to the way a visitor would view a marble bust at an art museum — like an exhibition on display.Rida, who employs 10, specifically designed the store to be an experience — and for her Ghanaian roots to shape the decor. Editorial-style photos on the wall of models adorned in her jewelry designs were taken by a creative team in Ghana.
“I wanted to create a space that delights and invites the guest to linger, and play,” said Rida, who sells her jewelry in limited edition collections. She also wanted to incorporate her passion for luxury design and branding, complete with a custom signature KHOI store fragrance and the use of Rida’s signature neutral color design palette. Pieces range from $30 on up.
Rida says that the bulk of KHOI’s sales come from online business, as the brand’s reach isn’t limited to Chicago. “Our retail footprint has become a new way for our guests to experience KHOI in a tangible way and get to know the brand on an intimate level,” said Rida.
Rida’s mother was an avid art collector who beamed with pride that she was the only one, or one of few, who owned a particular piece of art. Rida wants owners of pieces of KHOI to feel that they too are in possession of something extraordinary.
“People are proud when they own something that’s vintage — from a specific era or something that will never be made again,” said Rida. “That was one thing I wanted to bring into KHOI — for the customer and also for myself to serve as a reminder of the pieces of my artistic journey.”
Designing her pieces in small-batch collections that come and go, Rida says the feel of the store changes as the arrangement of the pieces change. It’s an experience that, for now, can only be felt during the weekend. Rida said that the limited operating hours encourage people to take their time in the store – not just popping in and out on a lunch break or on the way home.
Oliver says that many digital native retailers that open a brick-and-mortar often limit their hours to keep labor tight and that it isn’t as risky as it may seem.
“They can get away with it because they have what we call a captive audience — somebody specifically looking for them,” said Oliver. “They must have an internet savvy customer base who’s going to go online and check the hours of the store to make sure that it’s open.”
Rida said she’ll continue to share the story of her retail journey online. “My followers are more than metrics — they show up for me from a place of connection,” said Rida. “Some entrepreneurs just pop-up successfully but that’s not the reality. I think it’s important to share at all stages so people can see that everyone struggles.”
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.