In Focus: Lisa Raja, Iniam Boutique

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
You know that girl? The one who is effortlessly stylish? Who walks around town looking like really great light is always following her, has children who eat vegetables, knows people to call if she wants to make a custom dress? Yea. That one. Even she has nothing on Lisa Raja, the chic mother of two and owner of Iniam, an upscale clothing boutique in Oakland, California.

Iniam--Lisa's maiden name spelled backwards--is a one-stop destination for fabulous contemporary style. Lisa's well-edited selection of on-trend labels makes you feel like you are getting the best choices of everything that is available in department stores and online, with the added bonus of some seriously sophisticated customer service. Lisa and her staff will tell you when the coat you loved on the mannequin isn't doing justice to your curves, or that the skinny jeans you picked might be a little bit too skinny. She also will somehow magically produce the perfect shoes, necklace, earrings to go with absolutely anything you show her--and she will always, always keep your price-point in mind.

To boot, the girl is an amazing mother. She somehow manages to full-time parent her 2 1/2 year old, nurse her 4 month old round-the-clock, and run Iniam--from the buying, to the storefront, to the finances--full time.

In the interest of full disclosure, Lisa is a good friend of mine. I am still trying to figure out how she has that good lighting wherever she goes (and how she got her 2 1/2 year old to eat vegetables, for that matter...). One day she will let me in on her secrets.

So many women talk about opening a boutique: How did you actually make it happen?

I had been itching for so long to do it. It had taken ears for me to finally quit my job and take the plunge. I wasn't scared of the risk, it was just finding the right time to do it. My dad was my biggest supporter and really gave me the extra boost to go for it.

It's an untraditional career, especially for an Indian. Did you meet resistance from your family?

My parents never pushed me to do any particular career. I'm sure they would have loved it if I had become a doctor but they wanted us to pick careers we were happy about. At my University, fashion design was under the school of natural science. Taking chemistry classes was a requirement because we were expected to learn the chemical makeup of the textiles. Of course that scared me off--and I didn't pursue what I should have. It took ten years for things to come full circle for me.

What's the hardest thing about being a boutique owner?

I know it seems so glamorous on the outside and I wouldn't trade it for a minute. But all the budgeting and financial work can become very tedious. It's the biggest part of the business; running and analyzing reports is a huge part of my work.

And the best thing about being a boutique owner?

Is it terrible to say the clothes?! Ha! That is definitely a perk, but the best thing, at this point of my life ,is the flexibility it has offered me and my children. It's because of Iniam that I am able to be with my kids as much as I am. Beyond that I have met and made friends with so many talented and wonderful people! With all the ups and downs, this has been one of the best experiences of my life and I can only hope it continues to remain so.

What about your children makes you laugh?

What doesn't make me laugh? I have two boys. The eldest is 2 1/2 and pretty much everything he does makes me laugh. The latest segment in his comedy act goes like this: “Mumma, let’s talk about it! If you do poo poo in the potty, you get ice cream?” My second child is 4 months and is just sweet and cuddly. It's nice because the oldest won't sit still for a second.

What's your favorite family ritual?

Saturday mornings. My husband and I get coffees, my eldest grabs a chocolate milk, and we all head to Noah's for bagels. Simple, but great.

Most frazzled mom moment?

Oh my god, are there moms out there that have non-frazzled moments?? All of mine are frazzled.

What do you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about?

I often wonder and hope that I'm raising my kids right. There are so many books and methods on how to raise kids. Before I had my children, I thought about all the things I would and would not do so that they would grow up "perfect." There are so many things to think about: Organic versus non-organic, daycare versus Montessori, time out versus spaking. The list could go on forever I pray that I will make the right decisions in raising them...

Do you worry about raising your kids to be "Indian" or with "Indian values"?

I never really thought about it as two separate things. I want my kids to refer to being Indian because of their Indian values. I am already a diluted version of my parents and their history/heritage. My kids will be far more diluted. It's not enough for me to say I am Indian because of being born into a family who's grandparents and forefathers came from India. I feel that today in the multicultural country we live in it's those values, tradition, religion that really allow us to refer to ourselves as "Indian."

How do you try to inject Indian culture into your kids' lives?

I guess every little bit helps. I make every effort to teach them about religion and prayers. I sing them Indian lullabies, we eat Indian food, and between the grandparents and my husband and I, we try speaking in as much Hindi and Gujarati as possible. I will make every effort to celebrate holidays such as Diwali etc. I must say that here in the Bay Area, I have found to it to be very difficult to give them the culture I had growing up. Of course my mother was the conduit for Indian religion and culture in our home when I was growing up, but there were also so many mundirs and social Indian functions and gatherings. On top of that, we traveled back to India every summer to see family. It is something that I often worry and wonder about.


What do you wish you had done before you had kids?

I really wish my husband and I had more time to travel. We took on a lot of big projects right after we got married and flew right through the "honeymoon" stage. I wish we enjoyed being more carefee. I wouldn't trade my kids for anything but I would have loved to have had more time with my husband, just exploring the world.


What's your:

-Guilty pleasure?


Dessert. Multiple times a day!

-Ideal get-away?

Ideally I would like to visit one of those health farms in India where ou eat fruits all day and then enjoy yoga/meditation, body massages, scalp massages and body wraps. In between all the pampering I would sleep or read.

-Favorite clothing item?

Right now I'm obsessed with my Gryphon trench coat. It has a faux fur trim. It has been cold and gloomy in the Bay--the perfect excuse to wear it all the time.

-Chocolate or cheese?

Please, both.


What's the biggest mistake women make when buying new clothes?

I often hear my friends and customers say they bought something because they got a great deal on it. It wasn't necessarily something thy loved or that filled a void in their wardrobe. Those items usually end up buried in teh back of their closet.

Any specific issues you see in Indian women and how we dress?

In general, I feel that Indian women don't take as many risks with their style. we tend to stay a bit more conservative.

Do you have 5 key pieces?

1. SKINNY JEANS

2. TUNICS

3. WHITE BLOUSE/WHITE TSHIRT

4. BLACK WIDE LEG PANTS

5. LONG DRESS

6. BONUS – JEWELRY. LONG LAYERING NECKLACES AND I LOVE FUN COCKTAIL RINGS

Where to scrimp and where to splurge in this economy?

In my opinion, if you spend a little extra on a nice handbag and shoes you can fudge everything in between.

When in doubt, put on a___________.

DRESS. It's a complete outfit. You don't have to worry about coordinating pieces. Throw it on and you're done. Especially if it's a solid color dress--then you can keep reinventing it with heels, boots or flats. Add some sensational jewelry and change the dress from a day to night look. Most importantly: Learn how to dress for your body.

What are the trends for this season you're most excited about:

1. METALLICS - Add a little something to anything you wear.

2. NUDE COLOR PALETTE – I find clothing in the natural/nude tones soft and romantic.

3. SHEER FABRICS – The best way to feel sexy without having to have it all out there.

4. BLACK ON WHITE PRINT – What's not to like about black & white!

5. GREAT ACCESSORIES –A girl can never have enough. It's the easiest way to change your look without changing your outfit.

What's in your purse right now?


*wallet
*makeup bag
*checkbook
*half eaten banana
*tangerine
*1 unused breast pad (glamorous!)
*pen
*headband
*3 hair clips and 2 rubberbands

What's something somebody who met you now would be surprised to learn about you before you were married/a mom?

Now that I am a mom, it's hard to do things on a whim. Everything has to have a plan and even then I seem to be late or a little off the mark. Before I was married, I had this inclination to move away from my home in Houston. I traveled and studied away from home, but I always came back to Houston. I needed to leave so I could spread my wings so of speak. So I did. I packed my bags and shipped my car to San Francisco. The crazy thing was I didn't have a job and I didn't have friends to lean on. I stayed with a friend of a friend and 5 days later I found a room on craigslist . I took a bunch of temporary jobs till I found a real one. A few months later I met my husband and BAM...here I am.

If you could have one magical power what would it be?

I wish I had fairy dust to sprinkle on my kids so that they would both sleep through the night AND in their own beds!

If you weren't a boutique owner, what would you be doing?

I would definitely be in this field somewhere and would love to do some combination of the following:
1.Design and produce a clothing line.
2.Freelance as a consultant that helped young retail businesses thrive.
3.Manage a boutique that had 3 to5 stores in which I would do the buying/merchandising.

What's new for Iniam in 2009?

Obviously we are aware of the economy and we understand that everyone is tightening pursestrings. We hope to continue helping our customers feel confident and taken care of, within their budgets. We've also re-launched our website and our blog--we would love to hear from your readers, and are always happy to answer any style questions or dilemmas!

Iniam is located at 5902 College Avenue, in Oakland, California. Lisa is happy to field any questions you guys have on all things style so feel free to ask her about everything from skinny jeans to how to find that perfect mom-on-the-go outfit in the comments section, or on the iniam blog.

20 comments:
S. Patel said...

Great interview! Who makes that dress?

nivi said...

Nice to "meet" you Lisa! Any clothing suggestions for nursing? I am so sick of the tank/cardigan combo.

Cat K said...

Hi! I live in Chocago and am about to open a boutique in Wicker Park. I hope it looks half as good as the photos here. My question: What do you use to assess trends 3 months before the season hits (which is when you have to place orders)?

JH said...

I love all the maxi dresses our there and there are some great sales...but I'm barely five foot one. Won't they dwarf me?? There always seems to be too much fabric.

Anonymous said...

That necklace in the last photo is STUNNING. Can you tell us who designed it? I tried to click on it at the INIAM site but couldn't link?

Janie T said...

you carry some amazing lines! (i saw the list on the blog). can you purchase online?

Uma said...

I really enjoy these interviews and I'm sure I'm not alone in being a stay at home mom trying to figure out some foray back into the workforce so it's really nice to see all these alternate career options and paths that mothers are successfully doing. Lisa, congratulations, it sounds like you are doing an amazing job!

Anonymous said...

You are so lucky that your family was supportive! I still wish I had gone with my gut and become a journalist but my parents convinced me that it was a hobby not a career and here I am, 15 years later, trying to break into the journalism world. It certainly is one of the lessons I hope to pass onto my children: Doing what you love can become a career.

Neesha said...

Hi Lisa! Everyone is talking about "shopping your closet" which I am trying to do but I want one new thing for spring. Any suggestions on a key piece??? I am thinking a coat, or maybe a very versatile but well made blouse? I have lots of clothes, but none are very "high end". Trying to change my shopping habits. I don't shop often and don't plan to change that but would like to buy some more "high end" pieces (and stop going into H&M all the time!)

Neesha said...

p.s. Is Lisa your real name? I've never met an Indian named Lisa! Sorry if this is nosy!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Devis with Babies! Great content again! Is there a way to see more of the lines you carry?

Seema said...

I hate to say it but in this economy my clothing budget is NOTHING. Any style tips for the girl who isn't going to buy a thing?? Ugh. Feel sad even writing it. Would love to get the feeling of something new but it just isn't in the cards.

Kiva said...

I am salivating it has always been my dream to own a boutique. It's nice to hear about somebody doing it, especially somebody Indian. Do you carry any Indian lines?

Anonymous said...

love those necklaces in the image, they are gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

i love INIAM! and you're definitely accurate in your description of the owner's style!

iniam said...

Hi Ladies...It's Lisa. Thank you so much for reading Deepa's blog on iniam. I am honored to have been a part of it. Here are some responses to your thoughtful questions! Feel free to contact me at info@iniam.com if you have any additional questions.

1. Nivi, the dress is buy Trina Turk.
2. Cat, I would love to answer your question and others if you have them. Can you reach me at info@iniam.com to so we can talk in more detail.
3. JH, I don't think there are limitations to what you can wear. If you like long dresses, I recommend wearing dresses that have an empire waist. Then make sure the bodice is mainly one color or pattern. Since your waist line will be higher it will make your legs look longer. Having all the same color/fabric will lend to that as well. Add heels and you should look 6 ft tall :o) You might need to hem it to your height.
4. Anonymous, are you referring to the turquoise necklace? As far as I know it's a prop that was used in the photo shoot. I don't have any designer info on it. So sorry!
5. Janie T, we are moving towards being online. Hopefully within the next few months. I'll keep you posted!
6. Uma, thank you for your support!!
7. Anonymous, it's never too late. My parents were supportive but I just didn't follow thru till now. It's not too late!
8. Neesha, my real name is lisa...Not sure what my parents were thinking! My brother got a "real" Indian name :o) As for a key piece...I think a dress is the way to go. Where do you live? I mean if you are in the bay area (it's cool all time) you could purchase a nice trench to add to your outfit. Even still, a dress (preferably solid color) is a great piece! You can completely dress it up or down with flats or heels and simple or fancy jewelry depending on the look you want. You can add a cardigan or belt to also change the look. It's so easy to keep change your look. I think that if you only add once piece you want it to be something you can constantly reinvent. Ideally, you should be able to wear the piece you purchase in many different ways. If you buy a blouse, make sure you can wear it with jeans and trousers and a skirt - each one creating a different look. I actually have some other ideas. Feel free to contact me directly if you would like to chat!
9. Anonymous, you can see a list of our current designers on our blog.
10. Kiva, no Indian lines as of yet. I would carry any line, Indian or otherwise if it fit our look. It would be great to have an Indian designer at iniam! PS - never too late to open a boutique!

Thanks again girls!!

Anonymous said...

The clothes sound fine and good--but I want to know how she manages to look so good with two kids!!! Seriously, makeup tips????

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I don't know that girl but I'd like to know her because I've listened she has a wide styles in her boutique, I've seen many designs and I can say it's perfect I wanna get a dress made by this woman.

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