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FashioNation rises through the pandemic thanks to TikTok

//Paul and Pam Italiano, owners of FashioNation on South Broadway, stand at the counter with their daughter Sydney on May 14. Sydney started the TikTok account after seeing a customer-made video of the shop go viral. Photo by Madeleine Kelly | mkellyindependent@gmail.com

Over the past year there have been many inspiring stories of businesses finding creative ways to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have relied on community engagement, carry-out food and drinks, or hand-delivering their products to customers. For FashioNation on South Broadway, the popular video app TikTok was their secret weapon. 

The shop’s TikTok feed flaunts the products that have made the store a goth, punk and alternative haven since Pam and Paul Italiano opened its doors in 1987: thick-soled Doc Martens, pleather crop tops and fishnet stockings.

As with other fashion retailers, the store found itself struggling to convince customers that niche clothing was a necessary purchase during the pandemic. After temporarily closing in April 2020 during the safer-at-home orders, the store reopened 62 days later. Despite the limited capacity restrictions, it was a sigh of relief considering the bulk of sales are in-person. Shortly after returning, the Italianos’ oldest daughter Sydney, who works alongside her parents, discovered that several customers came across the shop through a customer-made TikTok. 

“This girl made a video about us and all these kids started showing up,” Sydney said,  “They will drive like six hours to get here, it’s crazy.” 

Inspired, Sydney saw a way to help the strained family business and made an account to promote the store. The channel was an immediate success. 

“She walked from the backroom to the front and said ‘Mom, I posted a TikTok and it’s already at 16,000 views in two minutes,’” Pam said. 

These videos have been such a proven success that the Italianos saw a nearly 400% increase in foot traffic due to their TikTok engagement. Initially, many of their customers were people who had been shopping there for decades or the children of previous customers who came in with their parents. Now, the store sees many faces of a new generation of music fans who found the store through the app.

“We went from zero followers to twenty thousand in two days,” said Sydney, “My days off are spent filming, it is literally like my life.” 

The shop’s TikTok now sits around half a million followers, with much of the consistent growth attributed to Sydney’s dedication to the FashioNations videos. 

To increase foot traffic, TikTok became a daily part of the FashioNation team’s schedule. The viral content shows family photos, independent artist Saturdays and skits like which Tripp pants Ron Weasley would wear. 

Their videos regularly go viral, as foot traffic continues to grow. After talking to customers, Sydney has noticed an uptick in visitors from all across Colorado and surrounding states who came to visit after seeing one of their videos. Leah, a Colorado Springs local who declined to give her last name, drove to Denver after finding the TikTok account. 

“They’re always very friendly when you come in, even with everything [like the pandemic] going on,” Leah said. 

When owners Pam and Paul opened FashioNation it was originally located in Capitol Hill. Their plan was to sell music-based fashion, but sales didn’t cooperate at first. 

“We essentially just hung out with our friends,” said Pam. “We made no money forever.” 

While working full time and selling her handmade clothes to other stores in Denver, Pam and Paul decided to try their hand at running their own store. The Italianos both worked full-time jobs in addition to running FashioNation until the store gained its footing and took off.

The couple relied on Pam’s talents as a clothing designer and maker to create the fashion sold at the store back in 1987. Their big break came after a trade show in New York City brought their first set of shoes to the store. Slowly, their brand began to grow, opening the door for Doc Martens and many other exclusive shoe retailers. After building their brand and relationship with Doc Martens FashioNation became one of ten independent retailers in the country licensed to carry certain exclusive promotional lines of classic punk shoes. 

The family-owned and operated small business setting coupled with the lively fashion wares draw faithful customers across multiple generations. This welcoming environment is reflected in their staff. Twenty-two-year-old Sydney has been a full-time employee at the shop for two years.

“You don’t ask to work here, it asks you,” Sydney joked.

Eighteen-year-old Mia helps out at the store between her studies and preparing to leave for her freshman year in college. The Italianos jokingly refer to Mia as the “white sheep” of the family due to her pursuit of a traditional education. Playful banter aside, Pam and Paul fully support Mia’s vision. 

While many retail jobs have a high turnover rate, FashioNation prides itself on maintaining a strong work culture. The Italianos not only employ blood relatives, but think of their other employees as an extension of their family. Over 34 years, Pam and Paul have only hired 30 staff members, ensuring that each one is the perfect fit. 

“It is always all family that works here,” Pam said. “The people that are employees are part of family, long-term friends and their kids now. They don’t let you down”  

Many of their younger employees have been patrons of the store or have parents who have been long time customers. Employee Eri Norwood had a strong connection to the store as a fan of the unique fashion long before she was hired. 

“I used to go here a ton before I worked here, and really wanted to get in and I finally did,” Norwood said. 

Although their way of getting new customers into the store may have changed with the digital age, their approach to business hasn’t: Provide the same family-friendly and service-based approach that made FashioNation a staple of the Denver community for the last 34 years.

 

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