Fancy a one stop shopping experience in London that caters to the erotic and alternative? Say hello to Le Boutique Bazaar.
Just a few days before their ‘Dirty Valentine’ event, co-Founder Alexandra Houston gives an insight into the who’s, what’s, and why’s. And a bit more besides.
BRIAN GRAY: Let’s get started. How and why did you decide to launch Le Boutique Bazaar (LBB), and what was your own background before this? Had you previously been involved in erotic retailing or erotic fashion or was this something new for you?
ALEXANDRA HOUSTON: Realising how many of London’s unique young fashion labels had been pushed out of brick and mortar spaces due to the increasing rents (and were forced to sell online-only) I had already set up Wasted Chic, for young designers and vintage brands. Being an active member of the Torture Garden fashion scene (and a total outfit obsessive), it only seemed natural to approach them about creating a space to showcase our community’s creativity and give people a place to shop for those incredible looks!
Your events feature a variety of erotic or alternative subsectors: lingerie, latex, jewellery, accessories and so on. Do you go out searching for brands to approach, is it the other way around, or a bit of a combination? What criteria do you have in place vis-à-vis selecting appropriate brands to exhibit?
Originally Charlotte and I had a big list based on our own experience in the scene: being fashionistas ourselves we already had contact with a lot of amazing brands, so that was a natural start. Since then we have maintained a lot of that original list as regular traders, as well as approach people we find via social media and consider applications from those that approach us. 2017 was the first year we saw designers flying in from other countries to participate, which was very exciting for us!
I’ll appreciate if you don’t have any hard data on this, so your own gut feel (or feedback you get from sellers) will suffice. Give us some insight on the attendees. Are they coming in specifically to see or buy items from a particular seller, or do they purchase from multiple sellers?
It really is a mixture. There is definitely a big contingent coming to see favourite designers, or to try on something they have seen online. We know that the ‘in the flesh’ element is a big part of the success of our events. Latex especially is a tricky thing to buy without seeing it in real life. With an actual event you can try things on, get measured up by the designer, and see the colour swatches. We think that because so many sample garments are made in standard black / red / pink etc, people just tend to buy what they see online rather than risk picking a colour, or colour combination, from a little thumbnail colour chart. As you will see at LBB, latex comes in a huge variety of colours, patterns and textures, so it’s really worth coming along and pushing the boat out with a custom option, so you can have something that really reflects your personality. Aside from that, we do have a lot of ‘scene-sters’ who come down to socialise in a non-club environment, as well as more discrete shoppers , stylists, performers, models and fashionistas all passing through the doors looking for something different and unique.
There’s no shortage of talented erotic entrepreneurs around (some of your sellers already feature on the LM website) across these different sub sectors. To what extent do you think there’s the possibility for sector-specific (e.g. purely latex one month, lingerie the next, etc.) events to be held?
We think the allure of LBB is that there is always something to discover, and it’s always a real mix. Luckily for us, in terms of applications to trade, about 25% of the line up is usually first time vendors, which keeps it fresh for everyone. That saying, we have noticed sales trends over the years and do curate a bit more specifically to accommodate those – say lingerie at Valentine’s, Latex around Halloween, Festival Fashion towards Spring. We also occasionally host brands with synergistic products such as homewares or beauty items, though we keep it limited as we are primarily a fashion market.
What three adjectives would you want your attendees to associate with your events?
A few adjectives…. inspiring, glamorous, unexpected, friendly
A well-positioned company seeks to ‘own’ one word in the minds of consumers (i.e. Volvo and ‘safety’). What would be yours?
We aim to help people discover new products within favourite brands, discover new brands in general, and for total newbies to discover a curated selection of the best in alternative and erotic fashion.
Customer feedback is vital for not only the individual brands present at your events, but for yourself too. What have been the most important things you’ve learned so far from attendees?
We definitely wish we had a clearer way to measure this, though we do know if we could wave a magic want we’d have a fourth room to fill with seating (and maybe a few more brands as we are always packed to the rafters!), and an attached venue for an afterparty!
Good marketing is important for any company, not only to thrive but just to survive. What have been your key marketing learning points and observations so far?
It was very important for us to create our own identity within the alt / fetish community, but not limited to. We have opted for a more ‘fashion’ than ‘fetish’ approach, being inclusive of subcultures and mainstream fashionistas alike. The number one thing about our branding is that we shoot our own artwork, showcasing talent we work with and the unique people within our scene. Our ‘cover girls’ are all artists of some kind in their own right, they are more than just pretty faces! The fashion we aim to support is more about creativity than sex, and so while we do occasionally use the word fetish, we try to not overuse it. The best thing about where we are placed within the market is that it is based on community, so luckily being in a niche means that there is a high potential for plenty of word of mouth business coming our way.
One of the most noticeable things about LBB, is the absence of a dedicated website, relying on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. What’s the rationale behind this, and will there be a website in the future?
As we exist in an event form only at the moment, it’s not essential right now, as the bulk of our info is more easily accessed online than from a traditional website. In my experience, more and more businesses are forgoing the hassle of creating a website that needs constant updating, just directing traffic to social media sites where the latest info, images, listings, reviews etc can be found, plus a place for the community to meet and chat in cyberspace. We do feel there is a real difference in the social outlets though. Many discover us via Instagram (@leboutiquebazaar) which is mostly a ‘moodboard’ page, where we repost works that inspire us, and occasional event photos. Facebook tends to be more information based, event listings, questions answered etc and Twitter…well, we use it, but it doesn’t account for a huge amount of our reach. This all saying, there has been a LBB e-commerce site in the works for a while, and we’ll hopefully be making further progress on it this year.
Time is our most precious commodity, especially for entrepreneurs. How do you maximise yours, and what tips have you picked up along the way?
Having systems in place is essential, both for keeping things organised for us, but also keeping it clear for our brands. As the bulk of our vendors are repeat traders, they kind of ‘know the drill’ by now, which keeps everything running smoothly. Another thing I’ve learned the hard way, don’t drink the night before the event!
And what do the next twelve months hold in store for Le Boutique Bazaar?
Another 3 events as standard (Springtime Soiree, Fetish Weekend, Evil Xmas) and hopefully another edition of our outdoor summer pop-up (Taboo Bazaar) in conjunction with Satanic Flea Market. Last year we did it at Old Spitalfields Market and it went down a treat! This plus focusing on getting our ecomm site of the ground, now that we have a bit more time to focus on it properly. Personally I’d like to take LBB on tour, but we’ll have to wait and see if that can become a reality this year!
If you’re London-based (or fancy a good excuse to visit) and you’re keen to come along to Le Boutique Bazaar, then head to their social media accounts. You can find them on Instagram and Facebook.
As earlier mentioned, some LBB sellers have already graced the pages here at Lascivious Marketing: Persephonie Ncredible, Yummy Gummy Latex, and Innocent Sex Toys. Why don’t you get further acquainted with their wares too!
ARE YOU AN AMBITIOUS, MARKETING-LED, COMPANY IN THE SEX TOY, LINGERIE, FETISHWEAR AND EQUIPMENT OR DATING / EVENTS SECTORS?
If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrepreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!
Until next time!