NEW YORK — If Flying Solo, a 2,000-square-foot store where 35 apparel, footwear, accessories and jewelry designers share the costs and chores of running a retail business sounds like a Russian cooperative, it’s no accident.
Elizabeth Solomeina, who founded Flying Solo, at 224 Mulberry Street in NoLIta here, created the store in the spirit of a co-op, where each designer is required to work at the store one day a week. If a designer has the skills to do other things, such as managing social media accounts, they’re expected to pitch in. Everyone pays the same share of expenses, including rent, electricity and insurance.
“I was born in Russia, so I guess the idea of a collective is familiar to me,” Solomeina, a jewelry designer, said. “When I was young, I worked at an amazing graphic design studio in Russia. I experienced the amazing collective where everybody supports each other and helps each other learn. That was the spirit of the group. I think some of [Flying Solo] comes from that.”
The goal of Flying Solo designers is to get close to their customers.
“The way retail is structured now, it’s not about innovation,” Solomeina said. “Buyers avoid any product where the consumer has to be educated. There’s a disconnect between the consumer and designer.”
Having designers volunteer at Flying Solo allows them to interact with shoppers. In fact, Solomeina said on any given day, there can be six or seven designers in the store.
“I believe retail is broken,” said Solomeina. “Every independent designer I know feels that way. It’s almost impossible to make a living in New York. You have to make your margins so thin if you’re selling to a department store. Unless you’re doing huge volume, you’re going to be a broke designer.”
Solomeina has managed to stay solvent so far. She said she learned a lot about jewelry making from her mother, Irina, a jewelry designer. Solomeina attended the British School of Art and Design in Moscow as an undergraduate. She moved to New York 10 years ago.
Solomeina’s collection of jewelry features topaz, fresh water pearls, pavé diamonds and rock crystal incorporated into Elizabethan and Art Deco-influenced pieces forged from black rhodium-plated silver, 14-karat gold, rose gold-plated silver and silver.
Brazilian designer Jackie Barbosa’s GBGH [Go Big or Go Home] collection of bold, organically shaped chokers and cuffs is made from rose gold, yellow gold, silver or black rhodium-plated brass.
As for Flying Solo, “we have a very strict selection process,” Solomeina said. “The designer has to be a great designer. If I think a designer might be a good match for us, I ask them to come in. The designer has to have the collaborative spirit. The person could be an amazing designer and not a team player.”
Solomeina also takes care to avoid duplication.
“All of the designers are really unique,” she said, citing Ukrainian-born Elena Rudenko, who designs women’s ready-to-wear where most pieces are convertible and can be worn several ways. “You can always detach and attach something,” Solomeina said. “It’s very important that she connects with customers to explain how her designs work.”