Cecile Tanguis, owner of NOLA Couture, started her company with 10 brightly patterned ties and a desire to celebrate New Orleans’ icons. From ties, to dog collars, to prints, to a new women’s ready-to-wear line, Cecile and her team’s vibrant patterns are as recognizable as the icons on her pieces. We sat down with her to discuss the story behind the brand and how she continues to grow NOLA Coutures’ diverse offerings.
Name: Cecile Tanguis
Store: NOLA Couture
Since: Founded 2006, 528 St Peter St. opened in 2012, 3308 Magazine St. opened October 2017
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
I grew up in New Orleans but lived in San Francisco for a while working in design and merchandising at Gap’s corporate headquarters. After Katrina, I decided to come home and help out. Those few months turned into much longer, and I ended up quitting my job out west and moving home. At that point I was trying to figure out how to do something good for the city—I went to local grocery stores and bought from local shops trying to help our businesses come back.
The following summer, I took a trip to the East Coast and saw many companies had these beautiful, iconic New England motif prints—sail flags, golf clubs, lighthouses. The only thing similar I could think of in New Orleans was the Perlis crawfish. There are so many iconic images in our city and I knew something similar could work here.
I started NOLA Couture in 2006. My friends helped with the graphic design, I found a tie manufacture, and used my savings to produce our first line of 10 ties that we pre-sold to Perlis and Feet First. The “spark” was wanting to do something fun for New Orleans that was memorable for people who had left and was a way to celebrate the city.
Describe your business in a few words.
We’re a New Orleans based and inspired clothing manufacturer and retailer. We design all of our prints in house and manufacture the majority of the products at our own factory on the West Bank. As much as we can make here, we do.
Your prints are so iconic. Who comes up with the designs?
My team and I come up with the ideas and we also always listen to our customer’s ideas.
So you just moved to a new location at 3308 Magazine Street. What changes have you noticed?
It’s very different for being just four blocks down the street from our old location. There is a ton more foot traffic here from the restaurants. We bought a factory across the river two years ago and launched a women’s ready-to-wear line but didn’t have enough room in the old location for those pieces nor dressing rooms. When this space became available we knew it would be a good business move!
Who are your customers?
Our customers are wide ranging! We have items for toddlers, to college kids, to ladies and men of all ages. Also, our customer base is 50/50 locals and tourists. I think people visiting the city love being able to take something back with them that is different that they will use regularly and remember New Orleans.
We see you also sell online. How has that impacted your business?
We just redid our website and saw a significant jump in sales after we re-launched. I love watching our online orders come in because they are from everywhere—Maine, Arizona, Old Metairie, Baton Rouge. I see these locations and I’m like, “How did this person find us in Minnesota?!” My guess is a lot of people have been to New Orleans or have some connection to the city.
If your shop was a cocktail, what kind would it be?
My favorite is sparkling Rosé. I think it’s fun, bubbly, vibrant, and a little elevated!
Since you started with ties, what led you to wanting to expand into different clothing markets?
Our customers! Always listen to what your customers want because they are the ones buying your product. From the beginning, I learned at Gap, you always listen to your customers. Even though I worked at Gap’s corporate office we would still go to the stores to talk to the customers and the managers.
NOLA Couture went from adult ties to kids ties to bow ties. Then we did ribbon items for belts and people started asking for dog collars. Our female customers kept asking for women’s apparel so we started with scarves and now have a whole clothing line. Our expansion has been very organic.
With adding so many different lines and pieces, what do you find is most helpful in keeping your brand consistent?
Always keeping it New Orleans inspired. Our pieces are vibrant and fun, and there is definitely a preppy aspect to it. We know our customers and keep them at the center of our designs.
How do you define “success” in your business?
Being able to stay in business with all the ups and downs over the past 11 years! Another measure of success are the jobs and work environment we have created. I’m proud that NOLA Couture employs over a dozen people and that it has a positive impact on their lives. It’s important to have a happy, healthy work environment, and it brings me joy to see my team succeed.
What are your current or any upcoming goals for your business and/or community?
We just bought a fabric printing machine! I have been looking to buy a machine since 2010 and we finally pulled the trigger. It just arrived two weeks ago and we have to have people fly in to set it up and train us. It is a monster—two of the delivery palettes were 944 lbs and the next palette is over 1000 lbs. We are so excited to be able to print our own fabrics for ourselves as well as others.
What’s your favorite local business in your area?
Poke Loa (wink, wink)!
What advice would you give a new business owner?
I would say get as much experience as you can in the industry you want to go into. Let people give you advice and really listen. Any bit of information coming from anyone with experience in your industry is valuable. Also, don’t ever give up if it is what you really want to do.
While drainage system improvements and road construction make “shopping local” a bit more challenging in the short term, the critical improvements mean our city will be safer and stronger for generations to come. We hope you are inspired and continue to shop small and shop local—even if it takes a little extra time!
The Shopkeeper Stories are brought to you by StayLocal, the Greater New Orleans independent business alliance, in partnership with Uptown Messenger. Learn about their work or become a member at www.staylocal.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.