We first came across the concept store CouCou via our good friend and contributor to our blog, Jessica Dickinson, who adores the store and in the past has featured a few of her favorite pieces from CouCou in her beautiful editorials.
Concept store CouCou is based in Boston, Massachusetts, and has a complimentary website stocking a wonderful array of independent clothing labels, lifestyle, toys, kitchenware, and gifts, as well as a small selection of beautiful womenswear labels such as Emile et Ida, Sisters Department, and Louise Misha.
In this week’s episode of Chit Chat Tuesday we feature the lady behind CouCou Boston, Astrid Motsenigos, and find out more about what led her to start the concept store CouCou, Astrid’s love of film and photography and her plans for the future as well as her favorite Instagram accounts.
Scroll down to read our Chit Chat Tuesday interview with Astrid…
What was the impetus for founding CouCou Boston? My motivation for CouCou was complicated and based on the perfect storm coming together. Firstly, I had my first child. I had moved from London to Boston a couple of years earlier and felt quite disconnected from my team there. I was also burnt out and having a hard time with the global travel my work demanded. My new role as a mama, in a new city, confused my perception of the way things were and made me dream up all sorts of alternatives. But because of my travel and European roots, I was also discovering that Boston had very little to offer in the world of children, and certainly nothing as beautiful as I was used to from my childhood. I’m extremely nostalgic when it comes to materials and design, and I also love style. So, I started thinking of sentimental business opportunities, and, one that would keep me closer to home. It started as a children’s shoe shop and kept growing until I opened the doors to what is now CouCou. I don’t seem to do ‘small’ very well.
What is your background? I majored in Broadcast Journalism, but quickly moved into the independent film world and later photography. Before CouCou, I was the creative director for the World Photography Organisation and the Sony World Photography Awards for nearly a decade. I loved it intensely. Working with some of the world’s most renowned photographers and sharing their vision of storytelling was definitely the highlight of my career thus far. Documentary especially moves me and I try as much as possible to thread it into CouCou.
What part of Boston are you in? Do the locals have any favorite designers? What seems to sell the best in the brick-and-mortar store? And what are the best sellers in the online store? CouCou is in the South End neighborhood of Boston – objectively one of the most, if not the most, beautiful parts of the city. It’s often compared to SOHO in New York and I can see why. Some of our locals’ favorite designers are Emile et Ida, Búho, 1+ In The Family, Piupiuchick, and Misha & Puff. For non-fashion, RICE Denmark is a huge seller in the shop, as is Maileg, Victoria Shoes, and Candylab Toys. For online, Misha & Puff and Soor Ploom lead for fashion sales, RICE is also a big seller, Frida’s Tierchen and Konges Sløjd. And our little Sonny Angels are in constant demand somehow!
What is your approach to buying for the store? There are so many amazing labels and kids’ lifestyle products I imagine it’s somewhat agonizing to choose while walking the trade show aisles and seeing all that gorgeousness. Ha! Yes, it can be, so I don’t go to Tradeshows. I find them overwhelming. I prefer to find small brands on my travels or via the Instagram rabbit hole.
What can visitors expect to find when visiting your concept store? They will step into quite a magical space. We are very fortunate to have a large space with high ceilings, old wooden floors, and beautiful vintage details. People who come for the first time often gasp and are taken by surprise and how lovely the shop is and how inviting and warm it feels. For us, it’s our ‘happy place’. You will find a large selection of international brands, from fashion designers to toy makers, kitchenware, crafts, some decor, and special gifts for ages 0 – 12. And there is even a small but lovely women’s section with brands such as Emile et Ida, Sisters Department, and Louise Misha. There is always music playing and always a friendly staff member – all of us are mama’s of little ones, except my own mother.
What do you love most about working in the kids’ fashion space? What is the biggest challenge? What is a professional goal you are working towards? I absolutely love the passion all of our designers have. We work with almost all independent labels that produce in small batches. Their focus on design, choosing textiles, and packaging is just beautiful and it creates such a joyful space for CouCou. The biggest challenge is inventory management and turnover. Our shop isn’t small and there is a huge amount of inventory. Because we carry such specialty brands, our margins are super tight, and having products go on discount can hit our bottom line pretty hard.
I want to create a bigger universe around childhood. The joy, the nostalgia, the stories. And I want to connect it to my love of photography and film. Hence the little film we produced with Elizabeth Alison and “Ain’t No Man” by the Avett Brothers – more to come in that space! We have also just formed a partnership with Mootsh Photos to bring more of that printed story back into our lives.
How did the pandemic affect CouCou Boston and how were you able to navigate the challenges you faced? Honestly, the pandemic proved how strong and loved CouCou is. It was challenging on the ground, having to close the shop, rev up our online sales, and have only me manage it all for a while during the peak of it when other staff had to stay home. However, we didn’t miss a beat when it comes to sales – our customers just shifted online and supported us all the way through. We did have some big challenges in sales of items that are normally only in-store, but I can’t complain.
You’ve produced beautiful lookbooks, and for AW22 you have created The Lakehouse lookbook plus The Ain’t No Man, a film that captures childhood nostalgia so beautifully. Has investing in professionally styled and shot lookbooks paid off for Coucou Boston? It pays off for me, personally. Opening the shop was such a departure from what I lived and breathed for so long, that if I can’t stay creative in that storytelling/photography space, I starve a little I also believe that it pays off for CouCou and has created something that is bigger than a retail shop. CouCou represents childhood in more than material goods. This is all very personal to me, and I believe that our customers can sense that and it makes it more special to them as well.
What inspired you to create the film? I’ve been musing to create something bigger within the film space and childhood. I’m not quite ready to chat about that yet, but I was listening to Ain’t No Man by the Avett Brothers in the car and thinking about that bigger project and it suddenly clicked in my mind that this song needed to be a music video sung by children. And that it would be the perfect brand video for CouCou and capture the soul of who we are, and what children are. Once the idea sparked, it all scripted in my mind immediately and I knew exactly who I wanted to shoot the film for me. My kids are in it, as well as friends’ kids and it was such a fun and intimate set.
I also wanted to show some of our favorite brands collaborate. They didn’t actively participate, but I know they love the result. This industry can be quite segregated and I believe we should all play together more often. We all share a similar passion.
Where do you see CouCou Boston in 5 years’ time? Business, like life, is a journey, but what are your goals for CouCou Boston? I have no idea. It keeps me up at night not knowing and every time our lease renewal on the shop comes up, I have to fight hard to only sign for 2 – 3 years because I can’t see beyond that at the moment.
What can we expect to read and see on your soon-to-launch Mamma Diaries Blog? When will the Mamma Diaries be launching? Uff… ‘soon to launch’ sounds promising! I’m not sure when it will launch, but when it does, you will see stories. Not just by Mama’s but hopefully by Papa’s too. I’d like to launch it by January 2023, but it may have to wait a little longer.
Do your husband and children help out with the business? Well, sure, in their own ways. My children consume CouCou every day and are my benchmark for what items to stock. They are also in most of my lookbooks and tend to be my fit models. My husband helps by putting up with a business that consumes his wife so much!
As a mother and a businesswoman, you are juggling a lot. What helps you get through it all? How do you unwind? I don’t know how any of us mamas get through it all. I work a lot and often continue after putting the kids to bed. But I also have a fantastic dream team of women at the shop, including my own mama, who help me to pick up all my slack.
Unwind is at minimum a glass of wine in the evening and at best, a long weekend away with just my husband. I also try hard not to keep my phone by me when I’m home and not actively working – although I’m not always successful at that.
Let’s talk about social media. Specifically, the ‘gram. Love it, hate it, or both? Explain. What are your favorite three accounts of the moment? Both for sure! I won’t let anyone else handle it so it’s an added layer of work for me, but I love that it captures the CouCou personality so neatly.
Favorite 3 accounts –
@claireguarry – Claire is spectacular and the closest I’ve found to my work before CouCou. Documentary and especially black & whites move me like nothing else and she connects in this childhood space for me.
@charlotte.george.arthur – just discovered her and love her style.
@vertparadis_ always a favorite mama journal
And one bonus because I like things in even numbers – @thevitaminproject – just gorgeous everything
What are your favorite cultural magazines/publications? How about podcasts? What is currently on repeat in your home tv/film/music wise? I have such little time to read or listen to podcasts… I listen to NPR too much in the car and otherwise disconnect with Spotify where I’m normally listening to folk/indie rock. Spoon, Caamp, Avett Brothers, The Killers, Black Pumas, Cat Stevens, The Beatles… all those are constantly on repeat. My husband subscribes to the Paris Review and The Atlantic, so those are always in the home.
What motivational or inspirational quote inspires you most? C’est la vie. I probably have others more interesting, but right now this one is getting me through my days.
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