By Rex Bone The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
Kim Bolufé, fashion entrepreneur and owner of Bolufé in Boca Raton, credits work ethic for 22 years of success at Mizner Park -- tied for the longest of any in the plaza. And now, she's not resting but reinvigorating with a new venture, a location in Delray Beach.
"I'm not an absentee owner," Bolufé explained. "I'm a hands-on, present entrepreneur. I have conversations with my customers and stylists and staff. They are all trained well, by me. I'm on the sales floor because I absolutely love it."
Bolufé has a pretty interesting story to tell.
She emigrated to New York City from Hong Kong at the age of 4. She said she was constantly exposed as a child to the American dream as displayed on TV, which sparked her initial interest in fashion.
While early exposure to American culture, such as watching celebrities on the red carpet, influenced her career choice, Bolufé says her greatest source of inspiration was always her mother, Choi, whom she described as both business- and fashion-oriented as a worker in big manufacturing fashion houses.
"I begged to be by her side. I wanted to learn all I could about the industry and fashion," she said. "I watched her completely put garments together from the initial visualization. I learned everything about threads, fabrics, silhouettes and color just watching my mom."
When she first arrived in New York in the '90s, Bolufé had $267 to her name.
Soon that $267 became $257 as she shelled out to buy a table from Home Depot, which would serve as her first foray into the business of apparel: a stand for handmade jewelry.
Bolufé set up shop outside a subway entrance near 44th Street, where "people would have to pass me to go in and out." She created pieces out of semiprecious stones, forgoing sketches and designing the visuals while she worked with the onyx, jade, hematite and sterling.
She quickly branched out to the Staten Island Mall. Weather and ambition brought her to Aventura Mall in South Florida and, soon enough, to Mizner Park in 1993. Bolufé was confident her style would be "refreshing" and "exciting" for Floridians.
It's all part of a vision, a design, of success in her mind, she said.
"It is crucial to know how to change with the times. Fashion is never the same, it is constantly moving," she said. "So that is really the formula."
Ignacio Diaz, a developer with real estate company Group P6 in Boca Raton, recognizes that the success of boutiques such as Bolufé is difficult in an era of big-box retail companies and chains.
"In the boutique market you are competing with large national organizations. It's more difficult for a boutique development than a large company to raise money," Diaz said.
But Diaz acknowledges a certain appeal to smaller, more personal stores.
"There are many consumers who do not like to be put in a box, or feel like they are part of a mass. They want to be recognized as individuals, be called by their names," he said. "No matter how hard they try, that marker is hard to tap for the massive projects and stores. That is where the boutique comes in."
Bolufé's long-term success in Mizner Park has led her to expand; she opened a new store on Dec. 19 in Delray Beach, at 326 E. Atlantic Ave.
The entire building, which commands more than 2,500 square feet, has been renovated from the floor up. According to Bolufé, it will be "alive with music and Champagne and espresso," and decked out with French décor of chrome and wood, in a clean Saint-Tropez style.
The clothing will remain in the same American contemporary style as the Mizner store. Bolufé targets professionals in the age group of 35-55, who want to maintain a look of success, after 9-to-5.
Bolufé's attributes her success, both as a fashion entrepreneur and a long-term retail business owner, to her childhood. "Failure is never an option. It's my upbringing. If you start from the bottom, you don't miss a step."