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What We Wore | Bunny Shapiro

 

Bunny Shapiro is a jewelry designer who is as vibrant as her beaded creations. After an impressive 10-year career in the fashion industry, Bunny moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where a whole new chapter unfolded.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Bunny Shapiro, so happy to have you on the podcast, and I'm actually so excited to have you in Charlotte soon.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Thank you for having me, I'm so honored.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

I'm in Charlotte and you're in Mexico. Tell me where you are.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I live in Puerto Vallarta, which is on the West Coast.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Tell me where you're from. I don't know where you're from. I don't think you're from Mexico, originally.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I was not born in Mexico. I was born in Windsor, Ontario

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Tell me about being Canadian, and tell me about Windsor.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I remember growing up as a kid, I liked it, but my grandmother had a condo in Florida, and we got off the plane in the middle of December and there were palm trees and it was hot outside, and I was so confused and excited [at the same time].

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

How would your family describe you as a young person?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I wonder if my mom would say this, but I think I always had a very unique sense of style. I remember going to pick out... I love those floppy blossom hats... they were very popular in the '90s. I was born in 1982, so that was... It was very neon and Koosh Ball earrings and New Kids on the Block, logo Ts, and I definitely had no shame about wearing all of those things altogether all the time.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What came first, your interest in fashion or your interest in retail?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

That is a really good question. I would say... I think they kicked off simultaneously. I used to watch this show called Fashion Television.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

So, Windsor, Ontario is the border city with Detroit, Michigan. We would call it the States. "Oh, we're going to the States." And we would go over the border and I would save all my money and then convert it into American dollars, which was never enough to get anything.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

And we would go to this mall called Somerset mall in Michigan. I can't even express to you walking through a Nordstrom's. I would walk through a Nordstrom's like it was an art gallery. Standing in front of the cases and seeing the bags in real life and seeing the window displays. It was like a spiritual experience for me. And then, we would see Gucci and Prada, and then we'd go into Abercrombie because we would only see these things on TV and in magazines.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And so, did you study that in school in college?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I went to university for art history. I studied art history and then I went to New York City after that to study fashion merchandising.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And where did you study in New York?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

At the Fashion Institute of Technology, FIT.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

We've had so many FIT grads on the podcast in the last several episodes. Tell me about going to New York for the first time and what that was like. And tell me about FIT.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

It was probably the most exciting 10 years of my life. I moved there with... two suitcases. I think that was it. And I didn't know anybody there. I couldn't believe that I had been accepted and convinced my parents to loan me the money to go, because I had so many temper tantrums about it. I was living in Chelsea, in one of those New York city apartments where the elevator opens up into the apartment and you can see the Empire State building. I was like, "What is happening? This is crazy."

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And then, from there went on to work with some greats of the time as well. Calypso, Theory. Tell me about that time.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I started my career at Bloomingdale's actually, which is so iconic in New York. So, I was working at 59th street in Lexington, the Bloomingdale's.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Yeah. Amazing.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

And before that, I did an internship at Chanel on 5th avenue, which was unbelievable. I don't have words to describe how my jaw was mostly on the floor for all of that time. I'm in the windows in Chanel on 5th avenue steaming couture. This is a dream.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And so, Bunny, it was always visual merchandising you were doing?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I was always doing visual merchandising.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Thank goodness you had a degree in art history, don't you think? I mean, didn't that inform, it sounds like, your career?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

We would sit in hour-long lectures and just look at the canon of art history with these incredible professors. And they were describing and we were critiquing. And I mean, I think I sharpened my eyes so much in that time. I wasn't even visual merchandising yet, but we were always talking about color and form and shape and what's good and what's weird.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

After FIT, you were in New York for how long? For 10 years?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I was there for 10 years. Yeah.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What was your most fulfilling role in that time period?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Oh, that's a great question. I was hired by... Actually, my supervisor at Chanel, then was hired by Calypso. And he brought me from Bloomingdale's to Calypso. And that was a really special time for that brand, which I'm sure you know the history of-

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Oh, yeah. We carried it. Right in the heyday. And just to be able to work with color, I would imagine, at a place like that, was just extraordinary.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

At the time the president was Stefanie DiRienzo Smith and she came from J.Crew and she was one of the most talented women that I've ever worked with. She taught me everything about the fashion business, about marketing, and about color. She literally knew everything about everything at the highest level, the most sophisticated level. Stephanie, if you're listening, she's probably blushing. But she taught me everything and I owe a lot of my education and success now to her and her teaching. She gave me so much responsibility, I became the director of visual merchandising there and we opened stores all over the world.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Wow. Yeah, you did. In fact, Bunny, our store in Brentwood is in the old Calypso store.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

It totally is. And I got to travel and see the most unbelievable places in retail. I mean, Brentwood Country Mart, we opened Marin Country Mart. We opened a shop in Hawaii. We opened a shop in Montecito.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

For somebody who loves retail as well as merchandising, that had to be heavenly. And so, was that the pinnacle of this part of your career? I mean, is that the height of where you would've wanted to be? Or what was the goal?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I liked traveling and I liked being the boss. I liked being the director. And then, I got hired as the global director for menswear at Theory in the Meatpacking district in New York. And I think that was probably the... On paper, probably was my most impressive role.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

You had a lot of success. Do you have a favorite failure during that time?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I would say that I didn't jive creatively when I was at Theory. It was a very different aesthetic than I was used to. And so, as a result, I was laid off. They were downsizing all of their departments. And at that time... I don't know if it's really a failure?

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

It's an opportunity, really.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I  had taken this trip during that time with a friend and we were in Tulum in Mexico. We were walking through the little town and there all these girls just... They were smoking cigarettes. The stores there had no ceiling. The girls were sitting in hammocks, just chatting. They would just gesture to the rack of clothes. This is what we have. You want me to ring you up? "Don't bother me. I'm having a nap." Basically.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

And I was like, "Wait a minute. This is an option?" Oh, my goodness. I got on the plane after that trip. And I said to my friend, "I'm moving to Mexico." And she went, "Oh, no." And then, at the same time, they were doing the layoffs at Theory and they said, "You're going to be laid off." And I said, "Well, that's actually perfect."

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

"Good. I was planning to move to Mexico." What did you do when you got there? Did you go with two suitcases again? Or did you actually just move?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I sold all of my stuff in New York and I dropped a few special things off at my parents' house. And I brought my dog and a suit... Yeah. I think it was a suitcase and a half this time. I was moving to Mexico, I didn't need leather pants.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

You got down there and what did you do when you got there? You didn't work for the girls with the ciggs. You did something else first.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I did. I came here and I took a course on how to teach English. ESL. And I really did think that I was going to just hang by the beach and teach a few hours of English. I did that for eight months, but during that time... It was very fast. I had stumbled into a bead store here.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I don't know if you know this, but I actually had an appointment with an intuitive, basically a psychic. She's a world-famous intuitive. Her name is Sara Wiseman. And I thought, "I should just check in with someone and see if I'm on the right path and just make sure." We had this session and I said, "I'm teaching English and I'm doing this and I'm doing that. Am I doing the right thing?" And this was a few weeks of me being in Mexico. And she said, "Actually, no." She said no. And she said, "You're actually starting a business. You're starting a company. It's going to be your name. It's online. It's really big." She said, "Not Lady Gaga big, but it's big." And she said, "And nobody has ever done anything quite like it before." I cried. I was so confused and mad because I thought that this other thing... And literally, days later I stumbled into this bead store and made some bracelets for my friends.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Did you ever bead anything before?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I did always love bracelets and woven... I always had stacks of bracelets growing up and I had a loom when I was a kid. I did always love beads.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What was the first thing you designed? I mean, was it just off the bat, you just started making them and selling them? And how did you do that?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I mean, I don't know. This all happened to me. I don't have any recollection of setting out to do anything specific. I just took all these beads and these pieces of basically silk and threaded them on and tied some knots and gave them to my friends. And they were like, "Oh, these are so cute. What is this?" And I was like, "I don't know. They're just bracelets I made for you." And then, somebody else wanted one and somebody else wanted one. And then, somebody else wanted to buy them for Christmas gifts for their friends. And I was like, "Oh. I guess I make bracelets now."

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Sounds like you settled in really easily and it felt natural.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Yeah. They were my English teacher friends.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

How did you set up the business? How did you start to sell them other than giving them to friends?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I started making these beaded chokers that had a little piece of gold in the center. This was the signature. And I was starting to use Instagram at this time. This was like seven years ago. And I got an email... I'm not even kidding. I got an email in my inbox from the accessories coordinator at Cosmopolitan magazine. And she was like, "Oh. We need some samples for a beauty editorial that we're doing. "They're like, "We love these chokers. Can you send us a bunch of these in all different colors? And if you have any bracelets" And I was like, "What?" I'm literally making these in my bedroom. What are you talking about? It was the next most exciting thing that had ever happened to me in the industry. Having a magazine ask you for samples.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Did you have any tutorials or did you just figure it all out on your own?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I totally did not know anything about how to make anything. And I would go to the bead store and every time I would go, I would ask them like, "Well, what piece do you use for this thing? And what tool would you use for that?" And so, these ladies would just... I mean, the mechanics of the clasping and that stuff isn't rocket science.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I get super inspired by the material. So, I can go for hours looking at Etsy bead shops and bead places from all over the world. You've never seen me in bead shops not [inaudible 00:24:06]. I tell people like, "You don't want to go with me to do this."

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And at this point, are they still all completely made by you?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

No. I have a team of four girls that work with me now.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

What’s it like teaching them? Was that hard? Since it was so intuitive for you.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Actually, some of the styles that we do now are stitched. And just by the serendipity that is my life, I found this amazing woman who knows this technique already, and is an amazing stitcher. Amazing. So, basically, I produce the sample and she copies it. We just did 100 bracelets for an event in Los Angeles. Not we, her. And I think she has a little team as well. All my girls work in their own homes and they're super talented. I mean, I'm so lucky. These women are so dedicated and so honest.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

How cool.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

And it's great to be able to... I mean, the best part is being able to offer them a wage that is way above-

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

And to work with all women is pretty extraordinary too.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Totally.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Did you open a retail store in Puerto Vallarta?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I did. I opened a retail store.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

How crazy is that? How exciting. And did you always know that you wanted to do that? And did you know you would have enough inventory to be able to do that?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I didn't know anything. This is apparently the theme of how I roll. My shop, which I'm in right now, I lived around the corner for a couple of years and I was making all of my stuff and I thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be so cool to have a place where I could see everything laid out?" Because I grew up as a retailer, basically.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Yeah.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

And I can see the collection, I can merchandise it, know what we need, what colors we need. And then, I walked past this storefront and it was for rent and it was like... It was more money than I could afford at the time. And I didn't have anything to sell. I didn't. I was like, "Well, here's five bracelets." And then, those ones sold and then there were 10 and then there were 20 and then there were 100.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Wow. Does the store have a place for people to make their own? Or it's all made to buy? I mean, is it an interactive experience at all?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I have a very strange business model. But yeah, it has evolved into this very custom experience. And I'm always here, so there's no sales associate. So, people come and they want this one, but no red. And they want this one, but out of this. And, "Can you make it shorter? Can you make it longer? Can you make it a necklace?" So, I do invite... Special clients come or if they want to sit and go through all the beads, I have trays and they can gather what they want to put. It's fun.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Yeah. Really fun. And has that been fun to interact with clients directly? Because, obviously, it started completely online and through social media. It's a completely different thing to work with humans.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Yeah, it is. And I just can't believe it after... I guess it's been almost seven years. It's almost five years in the store and just how many loyal special clients... I mean, I'm sure you know this. Clients that become your friend become lifetime clients. I'm shocked at how much I know about each. I remember what piece they got last year. I remember what colors they like, this one doesn't like red, this one only likes black, white and gold. This one only wears silver. And then, when I'm making things I'm like, "Oh, okay. So and so has these already. So and so has those already. This would be great for this person. I'm going to add this for so and so."

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

I love that.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

It's become such a personal one-on-one custom artisanal thing.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Which is so nice because you see beginning to end, the delight of the client, which is, I think, really rare in retail. The more successful, I feel like, the further away you get from the clients. And so, how joyful really to be able to have that experience with the clients all along the way.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Yeah. It's really nice to interact. I mean, I'm the maker and the shop girl and the merchandiser.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

I love how brave you are and how you listen to your intuition and jump into things. I don't think that's a completely typical thing. How does spirituality play into your life?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

It's a huge part. I didn't know anything about spirituality until I was probably 30. 29, 30. I was introduced to meditation and looking inward and listening for guidance and got interested in all kinds of books and spiritual teachers and things. And so, I mean, it's the guiding force for everything. And it's crazy because... Well, what I believe and what I've heard is that everybody has their own map. It's a treasure hunt. You already have the map inside.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Has Mexico made you even more spiritual? I mean, has it changed your spirituality? Or have you continued to grow and evolve in different ways, I'm sure.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

I mean, Mexico is a really healing place. I'm sure you know that. There's something about it here, especially in Puerto Vallarta, being near the mountains and the beach and the ocean. And after being and working in the fashion industry in New York for 10 years, I needed to find more of a middle ground. And so, I came here and... I mean, I was in New York. I never ate bread, so I'd fit into very small leather pants. That's really-

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

I still can't remember if it's a Canadian thing too, but did you have a prom? And what did you wear to the prom?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

We definitely had a prom. Oh, my gosh. I’m sending you the photo.

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Did go to the Detroit mall to buy your dress?

 

Bunny Shapiro:

No girl, I had that thing, that bustier custom made. A velvet with butterfly. Black and purple and other colors, butterflies, gothic loose up bustier, boobs up to here, fire engine red hair updo, bangs sweep to the side. I mean, I get there's so much more. Long silk, fished skirt slit up the back, platform flip-on Swarovski crystal.

 

 

Laura Vinroot Poole:

Thank you, Bunny. What an absolute treat to talk to you today and I cannot wait to see you in person in a few weeks.

 

Bunny Shapiro:

Thanks, Laura.

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