Wearing Prada boots, skinny jeans and a Uniqlo bubble jacket, Lele Tran walked down to her workstation in her co-op boutique, sat down at her sewing machine and finished the last few stitches of her zipper scarf.
When she was done, she lifts the scarf up, gave it a final stare and then focused on the conversation.
Tran explains, [my style] “is simple, elegant, exclusive, sexy and effortless with a twist on edge,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
At 44 years old, Tran is the girl to go to when you want to really feel special and have a dress that’s custom made and one of a kind, because honestly, what girl want to wear the same “ready-to-wear” dress that another person simply just picked out at a store? No woman wants to be caught wearing the same dress as another person, at the same event. (Ahhh, that would be embarrassing) And even better, her dresses are made locally right in the basement of her co-op boutique.
“What I have, if you look at my clothing, there’s a classy line for it. It’s definitely a simple classic look to it. Because some of the stuff I have are years and years ago but it still withstand the time. You look at it and it doesn’t say like, oh this is so 80s or 90s,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
In business since 1997, Tran designs and construct custom dresses, sportswear and menswear. Her work is available at her co-op boutique as well as online (www.leletrancollection.com). Tran makes her customer feel special when she listens to what they want and execute it in a way that makes the garment exclusive to the person wearing it.
“Nobody was doing this at the time and everybody was like oh my god you’re a designer, you make all these clothes, they’re very wonderful,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
Known for her custom dresses, Tran’s styles really emphasize simplicity. Even though each dress has its own silhouette and style, the overall look is simple yet unique. Tran uses warm colors such as deep red, navy blue, beige, gold and grey. Tran also use a lot of silk chiffon in her dresses and a lot of the dresses have sex appeal. They’re tight, show off curves, features see-through fabrics and show a lot of skin such as a plunging neck or plunging back. Each dress has a fun and cool-girl edge to it, even though they’re so simple.
“Simple is not something that’s easy to do but once you’re able to perfect simplicity its very beautiful because I know how to execute it. I think simple clothing is really wonderful and then of course you accessorize it and then make yourself unique,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
Opened since 2011, Tran first introduced the idea of a fashion co-op store, which is the first of its kind in Philadelphia. Right in Old City, next to a fire station is the 450-sq feet retail space that’s shared by seven local designers. Named US*U.S., the designers in this boutique really emphasizes, “Made in America.”
During Tran’s third year teaching at Moore College of Art and Design, the idea of a co-op boutique was brought to her attention. Tran missed the interaction and involvement she had with her customers. She thought that if a co-op works in an educational environment, it should work for the boutique as well.
“Even though I still operated, I operated at home and it’s a different atmosphere. People started to forget me and that’s not cool,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
The designers at the co-op boutique all have their own sections in the boutique and merchandise it in a way that connects to their collection. The designers spilt the rent and take turn managing the boutique.
“[The co-op boutique] “cheapen expense and allow us plenty of time to take turn to manage the store. It provide a safer place for people to test their business,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
In 1993, after graduating from Drexel University with a degree in fashion design, Tran partnered up with one of her classmates to create a clothing line called “Choixi,” which means choices in French. Her partner’s father was the investor in the clothing line but it only last three years and the two designers decided to part ways.
“When we split up, I said oh my god, I have a lot of skills, and this is what I want to do. You know I went to school for this and the best thing for me to do is open up my own boutique,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
Tran’s boutique (named Lele) was located on 2nd street between Market and Locust Street. She had two seamstresses and another partner. Tran merchandised the entire store and she made everything. Her customer started to request customs so Tran decided to focus only on creating custom dresses, including wedding, prom and party from the year 2000 to 2004.
Tran gave birth to her first son Lucas in 2002. While still working 12 hours a day and seven days a week, Tran was very busy catering to her boutique. During the time, Tran realized that she was spending too much time on her boutique and not enough time with her son. Tran thought her business was not worth it during the time because the economy was changing and people were spending less on party and prom dresses. Therefore, in 2007, Tran decided to close her boutique while still keeping in contact with her loyal customers and working from home.
In 2008, Tran got a call from Moore College of Art and Design for a “design studio” teaching job and she decided to take it. The job only required her to teach two days a week and allowed her plenty of time to spend with her son. Tran realized that she really love teaching and passing on her knowledge on fashion design.
“I discovered that I really enjoy teaching and I really enjoy passing on what I know and all the tricks that I know to my students and whatever to help them create and it makes a really good connection,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
Besides from designing custom dresses, sportswear and menswear, Tran also provide her service with fitting and sewing.
“Anything you need to look good and feel good,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.
For the near future, Tran’s goal is to have her zipper scarves market correctly to have them available all over the U.S. She will continue to work on her business plan for her scarves while continuing to do custom dresses. She wants to take some time now to do freelancing work for other designers and continue to teach.
“I think I love the freedom being able to do what I love and I discovered that since college,” said Lele Tran, fashion designer.