Elena Brennan, owner of Bus Stop, on living out her entrepreneurial dreams of being a boutique retailer and burgeoning designer.
Dear Elena, Who would’ve thought as a young child living in London that one day you’d move to America, switch careers after 27-plus years in the advertising world and pursue your life-long dream of becoming an entrepreneur—a leap of faith that you are so happy to have made!
You started your professional career in 1979, working for the international advertising agency J. Walter Thompson in your hometown and continued to do so for another 15 years after moving to Philadelphia in 1985 for love. Alas, it was a short-lived love as your marriage lasted five years, but your desire to switch gears and start your own business never wavered. You have retail in your blood—your parents owned two boutiques in London near St. Paul’s Cathedral. The seed was planted early on, and you often dreamt about owing a shop one day. You patiently waited for the right time to strike out on your own. As a single mother, you needed to be sure the timing was right for your family and the market.
After years of careful research, Bus Stop came into being on Apr. 14, 2007. As fate would have it, you signed the lease on your son Colin’s 18th birthday. The shop itself came together rather quickly—it only took you a little over two months to get it up and running. (Once you know what you want, you make it happen!) Your mission from Day One has been to make women feel different and stand out in a crowd. You’ve answered a need and have offered something that wasn’t there before in Philly.
After five years in that original location, you moved into a much larger space located on the same street. But the move wasn’t without its risks. Your expenses more than doubled. In fact, your new landlord romanced the idea for at least a year before you finally signed the lease. It’s a decision you’ve never regretted. You needed a larger, roomier setting to showcase your growing curated “shoe gallery.” Bus Stop carries shoes by designers you wear and love like Coclico, United Nude, Miista and P. Monjo as well as unique brands such as yuko imanshi+ and Antonio Barbato that you’ve discovered on your extensive travels around the world. You’re always on the search for up-and-coming designers not sold in the U.S., or at least not in Philadelphia. You are a true merchant, not a middle(wo)man trafficking meaningless merchandise. As part of that endless pursuit, you carry your own label, Bus Stop X, designed by none other than yourself!
You love your new gig as a burgeoning shoe designer. You’ve always been driven to do what you haven’t yet done. You relish a creative challenge, to learn a new craft and start a business. (That’s that burning entrepreneurial spirit inside you.) In 2015, you designed your first, limited-edition, exclusive capsule collection with All Black. You jumped at the opportunity to work with the boutique brand that’s long been loved by you and your customers. As fate would have it, you met Marty Rose, head of All Black’s U.S. distribution, at a Sole Commerce show before you even opened Bus Stop. You’ve carried the label every year since opening, having introduced its unique and effortless design aesthetic and incredible comfort to Philly shoe lovers.
Bus Stop X’s first two collections were a hit. A series of 12 classic oxfords inspired by Hollywood starlets followed by The New Rule Breakers—a daring, bold, hypnotic collection of 12 oxfords inspired by opulent French perfumes. While you promised yourself you’d never repeat styles, your customers begged, so you caved—something you rarely do! Your fans didn’t let you down. Your expanded third collection, “Elements,” included shoes, boots, handbags (made in Italy) and sterling silver rings. And your latest collection this spring, Afar, is bigger and better: 27 handcrafted couture pumps, kitten heels, Chelsea boots and what is now considered your signature oxfords—all with a twist.
You have officially caught the shoe designing bug. There’s no stopping you now. (Why did you wait this long to create your own styles? But that’s another letter.) It’s a journey you are continually fascinated by. You love to explore new cities, countries and continents, and your passion for shoe design is a true calling. You’re currently looking to grow your brand. You already have a loyal following–the Bus Stop X Collectors!
Of course, no career path is without a pothole or two. You’ve made mistakes, but you’re only human. As long as you learn from them and don’t repeat them, you’ll find a way to keep driving forward. Like, for example, your decision to shift gears on trying to compete with online behemoths. It’s a dead end. What Bus Stop offers is a personal, intimate shopping experience—something that isn’t attainable online!
Your business mantra is to, “Sleep on It.” It’s always steered you in the right direction. The road ahead often looks clearer in the light of a new day. While it seems like only yesterday when you opened the door to your very own shoe boutique, your patience and passion has made the journey a pure joy. Enjoy the ride!