Inside Bless Couture, a fashion boutique decorated in hot pink, black, and white, customers can find everything from sundresses to sequined tops to lavender jeans.
They can also find the store’s cheerful owner and president, Carmen Torres. A fashionista and recent graduate of BMCC, Torres co-owns Bless Couture with her sister, Monica.
“This was initially a clothing store called ‘Peach’ that we really liked. When my sister and I heard it was closing, we thought, ‘Our favorite store is dying! We must save it!” laughs Torres. “I told the previous owner, ‘I want this store.’”
Fast forward two years, and Torres’s wish was granted. In February 2012, Bless Couture opened its doors on Nagle Avenue, just off Dyckman Street.
“The store has a real downtown vibe. It’s something you might not expect to see in this part of the the city,” explains Torres. “It’s neat and clean and pink and young women own it…many customers say they like the store’s ‘SoHo’ feel.”
Runs in the family
Owning and operating a shop was familiar territory for Torres. Her mother sewed children’s clothes and owned boutiques in the Dominican Republic, where Torres was raised.
“My mother also operated a daycare center, which was one of the reasons why I majored in Early Childhood Education,” explains Torres. “I enjoy educating children, and have a young daughter, but in my heart, I love fashion."
While attending BMCC, Torres worked at Nordstrom department store and at various retail stores.
“I told a customer at one of my previous jobs that I’d love to go back to school,” says Torres, who has a degree in marketing from a college in the Dominican Republic. “She suggested I enroll at BMCC.”
Torres adds, “That’s why I love little boutiques—not only do they have a real community feel, but you never know who you’ll meet and what advice that stranger will give you."
“It wasn’t easy to balance class with life and work, but I did it," says Torres, who set a positive example for her daughter by carefully explaining "why Mommy is doing homework."
Torres is grateful for BMCC's ESL classes and COPE program.
“My ESL tutors helped me with time management, grammar, and writing,” says Torres. “As for the COPE staff, I call them ‘my angels.’ They help you when you are struggling, and provide you with options so you don’t have to leave school.”
Right now, Torres is enjoying her time at Bless Couture, and toying with the idea of pursuing another Bachelor’s degree. She admits, “the wheels in my mind are always spinning.”
“I think, hmmm, I want to open another store, maybe sell baby clothes, too, and go back to school...I have so many ideas,” she laughs.
Listening and doing
Torres’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to “manage money carefully, and understand what your customers need and want. For example, when a customer tells me about a designer they like, I'll look into carrying that line."
Recognizing the importance of first impressions, Torres keeps her boutique organized and tidy, and frequently changes her display windows.
The store also teaches Torres’s daughter invaluable life and business lessons.
“She waves to the customers and says, ‘Thank you for coming,'" says Torres.
“I want BMCC students to please stop in anytime, introduce themselves, and represent BMCC uptown,” says Torres. “After all, it was right in this neighborhood where I first heard about the college.”
Torres credits BMCC with giving her the confidence to pursue her dream.
“After a few personal struggles, I went back to school and got back on track,” she says. “I thank BMCC for making me brave.”