The scoop on JUPE

It’s hard to miss the distinctive Victorian architecture that characterizes the historic business district of East Carson Street, across the Monongahela River from campus. Tucked away near the Birmingham Bridge is a small building with a painted blue exterior — JUPE boutique.

Jupe means “skirt” in French, and the simply decorated boutique lives up to its name — carrying a number of skirts, in addition to jeans, sweaters, jackets, shoes, and jewelery. JUPE has fans in all age groups, though it started out targeting a college crowd, aiming to provide affordable yet exquisite choices to Pittsburgh’s large population of college students and young professionals. This intention is evident in the lines the store carries, from the comfortable brown Seychelles boots that can easily be worn to class, to Pittsburgh native Julia Di Nardo’s line Neighborhood Teaze, featuring T-shirts with inscriptions like “Oakland: CAUTION —Student crossing since 1787.”

The owners of JUPE considered Shadyside and even the suburbs as possible locations for the store, which opened a little more than a year ago, but settled on the South Side, inspired by the emerging SouthSide Works down the road. “Pittsburgh is beneficial because it is a city with a small-town feel and things are relatively inexpensive,” co-owner Amanda Hall said. Still, the road to opening a boutique was not easy. Co-owner Cara Moody had just left a design job in New York to work as a stylist at Little Black Dress in Shadyside.

Moody and Hall worked to raise funds on their own; those, along with a strong business plan, assistance from friends, and a bank loan, provided the foundation for the boutique. “[It was like getting] a mini-MBA: We did a lot of research at the library and the Small Business Administration,” Hall said.

Hall, with a background in advertising, and Moody, a graduate of fashion design school in Paris, had one thing in common: They wanted to bring more affordable chic fashion to Pittsburgh. As for tastes in fashion, those are often less than similar. “I am more conservative, I love brands,” Hall said. “While Cara is more about fit and design, I like things that are more basic.”

The co-owners’ different fashion preferences are evident in the boutique. This season, the store’s selection includes shift dresses; silver, metallic items; high-waist denims; origami-type jackets; and chunky sweaters with lantern sleeves. Most items could be pared down for everyday wear or spiced up with jewelry for a great night out. Hall said, “It’s hard to be a buyer because everyone is so different; sometimes we buy stuff we don’t like.” To Hall, their diversity of opinions also reflects the market: “CMU tends to be more fashion-forward while Pitt is safe,” she said. “Retail is about knowing your market.”

An understanding of the Pittsburgh market and customers has been a key element to JUPE’s success. The social nature of Pittsburgh residents has been helpful to the business. “People here are really friendly — they want to tell people they bought a great shirt,” Hall said. Hall and Moody take their customers’ opinions very seriously. One of their best-selling purses, a silver quilted bag with a Chanel feel, was added to the store through a suggestion from a customer.

The boutique has been very successful, and Hall reports that sales have been up 50 percent this year. While Hall and Moody are still working hard to stay on top of the fashion community in Pittsburgh, they have great dreams for the future of the company. “Cara wants to start her own line,” Hall said. “We want to work more with labels to design for us. Down the road that’s what we want.”