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How Respice Miami is Putting Quality Back into South Miami

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Images via Ashley Brozic

You may have found yourself slowing down while passing Respice on Sunset Drive; it's bold single letter signage catching your attention, a small bench stacked with Hershel Supply newspapers sparking your curiosity. We encourage you to step inside, where the store becomes less retail space, more curated collection of artisan products from across the globe scattered on unfinished floors, wooden shelves, and reclaimed stadium chairs. "We want to believe we sell stories," Alejandro Orestano confesses, as he tells us the individual tales of each brand he carries, from L.G.R.'s Italian-made eyewear to M.Hulot's U.K.-designed, oddly shaped triangle purses.

Just as each product inside sprouts from a love for quality and good design, so did Respice for both he and his wife Gisela Balassa , who have just celebrated the store's one year anniversary. For a store more traditionally suited for an area like Sunset Harbour, or Design District, Respice has slowly been attracting a legion of brand savvy fans from as far as West Palm Beach, which is perhaps a sign that Miami's retail landscape could use some feather rustling. That our city is ready for, if not slightly curious about a new legion of stores focused less on designer names, more on quality lifestyle brands. But if the Orestanos sell stories, than surely they have an interesting story themselves, so scroll down to read how the concept came about, how they've been making their role as business partners work in the home space and why they think concept stores like this could work permanently in Miami.


What is the concept behind Respice?
Alejandro: The concept of the store is to introduce new brands, new designers to Miami. Not necessarily because they are new but that they are not mass produced. We've been living in Miami for five years and we were surprised at how slim the offer was for these types of concepts, these kinds of stores. We were really inspired to bring something to Miami that represents what's going on in other cities, in other parts of the world.

What made you want to create a concept store like Respice?
Alejandro: For some reason we thought if we don't do this now we're never going to do this. We've always had the passion or the idea to do something. Gisela has been a lot more passionate about having her own store and I was not necessarily that enthusiastic about it. But life kind of pushes you to a point where you say either you do this or you don't, there's no other way.

How do you feel about the Miami retail scene?
I keep criticizing Miami, but a lot of what you see is that people open something just open it. I don't want to generalize, but there's not a lot of thought behind the majority of stores and restaurants. You go to places like New York and L.A. and because there's so much competition, if you're going to do something, you better do it right. Do something different, something great, and if not you're going to fail.


In general, Miami shoppers are big on name brands, less so on independent brands. How do you go about promoting them in your store?
Alejandro: We want to believe we sell stories, not products. So every product you see in the store, there's a story behind it. There's a story about the product itself, of the founders, of the family who holds the business, of the designer, of the girl who decided to design hats because she had to cover her head. That's the part we're very romantic about. We try to make people fall in love with products the way we fell in love.

Some might say a concept like this could fit better in other areas in Miami, like Sunset Harbour or Design District. What made you choose South Miami?
Alejandro: It was about finding the right spot both from a business perspective and also from a market or audience perspective. There's a lot of people who live in South Miami that came from places like New York and were exposed to these types of stores, to these types of products. We thought we had a pretty good concentration of those types of people and enough traffic to make it a successful store. We want to keep growing and already see the store in other places, but we thought that Wynwood and Design District weren't very good. Two years ago when we walked through Wynwood it was a completely different place, just like it's going to be a completely different place two years from now. At that point, it was not necessarily what we wanted for the store.
Gisela: We liked the idea of having our first store in a place that feels like home. In Wynwood they broke my window twice and being alone in your own store you want to feel safe. In this area you feel like home, you feel safe. We even moved to this area from Brickell.

How has your first year gone here?
Alejandro: When you mention there's a lack of these types of stores, a lack of these types of products, it's because maybe there's not necessarily a big market for them. We knew that we were kind of going against the tide. We knew it was going to be a challenge to get the word out there and expose ourselves to all the people as a store, but it's been good. We've slowly been building our clientele and I think our biggest challenge is to get people through the door. Once they walk in they fall in love with the store, with the concept, with the products, so really our biggest challenge has been to get the word out there.


You mention you sell stories, but what are your stories?
Alejandro: I was born to a family of entrepreneurs who had been involved in fashion retail industry in Mexico and Italy. Fashion, clothes and accessories is what we would talk about during dinners at home. We had the opportunity to travel so I was exposed to fashion at a young age. I pursued a career in banking, got my MBA, moved from Mexico to the U.S., and was working in financial institutions until now.
Gisela: My family is from Chile and Hungary, and we lived in Mexico for 20 years where I studied textile design. We lived in Milan after and then when I came back to Mexico I had the opportunity to work at Elle Magazine as a fashion coordinator. They would open the storage doors for us at Chanel, Hermes, Loewe and we could take everything for the magazine, but I wasn't overwhelmed with that like every girl would be. I started to call my university to ask which one of their industrial designers was a new jewelry designer, and I would put them with big brands. For me was the most amazing thing, and that's what we wanted to create in the store. [Alejandro] said let's do some new brands and known brands and I said no, let's just do all independent designers.
Alejandro: We moved to the U.S., to Los Angeles, and that influenced us a lot as a city. You see so many evolving places, so much going on. Then we got to Miami where it's a smaller city, and you don't see a lot going up. It got us fired up to say let's do something.
Gisela: We are also married and have three kids.

How do you make your marriage work while working together?
Alejandro: It's been tough as a couple but you learn to deal with situations. We have very different personalities. Gisela cannot stop talking about the store and about what we have to do and I'm the kind of person who gets home and I'm home. I want to take care of my kids, spend time with them and kind of forget about my professional life. You get to the point where you say now we're not going to talk about the store, we're not going to talk about business. We're going to talk about family and we're going to spend time together talking about other things.


And now for the fire round!
8am or 8pm?
Gisela: PM.
Alejandro: AM.

Tequila or vodka?
Gisela: Tequila.
Alejandro: Vodka.

Board games or video games?
Gisela: Board games.
Alejandro: Video games.
Gisela: Really? You never played video games.
Alejandro: You never played board games either.

What's your favorite area in Miami?
Gisela: Sunset Harbour.
Alejandro: Sunset Harbour.

Dream city to live in?
Alejandro: Melbourne, Australia.
Gisela: New York.

Favorite brand in the store?
Alejandro: Monocle. We carry the magazine, we carry the book.
Gisela: Now? Claire Vivier.

What's the most important lesson you've learned as new business owners in the last year?
Gisela: Patience!
Alejandro: For me it's just a confirmation that you're always going to have to overcome obstacles. Some people have a lot of luck from one day to the next but for most people it's more about hard work, putting in a lot of effort and doing your best, and eventually things will be about what you expected.
· Respice [Official Site]
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