By April Warren Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.
From the outside, Lydia Anne Siyufy's clothing couture line emanates sophistication and class with a healthy dose of dainty expressions. But peel away the fabric, and underneath lies a story of family, life-altering experiences, and a young college student determined to give all women the tools they need to succeed.
"I hope that we will be a well-known brand, not for our quality but for our value," said Siyufy, 25, sitting at a table inside her 17th Street workplace in Ocala. "What I mean by value is what we bring to the world."
Lydia Anne Clothing, a subsidiary of Siyufy International Inc., is marketed toward recent grads, career women and on-the-go moms.
"These women are women who have a drive to be successful; they want to have a purpose in life. I feel all women have that," Siyufy said.
She began the company two years ago with the financial help of her dad, Fred, the sewing skills of her mom, Donna, and the marketing and sales knowledge of sister Nicolette, who is a jack-of-all trades.
"It's a family affair," said Nicolette, 30, sitting in the office while her mom and sister discussed their work in another room.
The company has taken advantage of the digital age, with an online-only storefront instead of bricks-and-mortar space. That cuts overhead costs. The clothes also have popped up in some local stores including Jezebels and a window display at Greiner's.
Sales are a mix of retail from the online site and wholesale from boutiques that have carried the line. When they aren't selling, the Siyufys are at different fashion shows, like the MODA Manhattan Trade Show, the 2014 Ocala Style Bridal Expo and the 2014 April Atlanta Trade Show. Two of their selections have been on display as part of an exhibit at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, and at one trade show the Siyufy booth attracted the interest of Nordstrom.
"They came back twice," said Donna Siyufy, who pointed out her daughter's company is still small. "I think we're being watched, so that's exciting."
Sherri Meadows, a mother of three who has been in real estate for 34 years, has purchased the entire line, which she says consists of about six staples and then a mix of jackets and skirts.
"It's more contemporary," Meadows said. "You can wear different pieces together; the look is always different."
Meadows knows the Siyufy family through both business and personal connections. She recalled wearing the line's tuxedo pants during her installation ceremony as the president of Florida Realtors, a professional trade association. Meadows said she has had many opportunities to wear the clothes while fulfilling her duties as president.
Lydia Anne Siyufy is in her last semester at the University of North Florida, where she is set to earn her bachelor's in international business.
Siyufy was born and raised in Marion County, attending Shady Hill Elementary School, Belleview Middle School and Belleview High School, before moving to Jacksonville at age 18 for college.
She was born with Lymphangioma, a rare benign lymphatic malformation that affects the clarity of her speech.
She says her family has always looked out for her. In college, she decided she wanted to study abroad in a place where she would have to stand on her own two feet.
She chose southeast China.
"I thought people would speak English, but no one spoke English," said Siyufy, who now speaks enough Mandarin to return to China and shop for fabrics.
In talking with Chinese women her own age, Siyufy learned how different their lives actually were.
"It was inspiring for me to see their point of view; as women the same age as me, probably a lot more emotionally stable, a lot more far ahead, but a lot more issues holding them back," Siyufy said, explaining men are more desirable in the workforce than women in China.
Her overseas experiences influenced the company. She hopes to use her online presence to create a digital conversation among women from all corners of the globe.
She also hopes to create a social media component to both empower women and allow them to share their experiences. "What do women care about in this generation?" Siyufy asked.
The company also bridges the gap between worlds. While prototypes are made in Ocala by the Siyufy matriarch, the pattern and prototype are sent to China for production.
All three women are quick to point out that the fashion industry is not an easy one to join. Siyufy is still paying her dues, even though she estimates she sold a few hundred articles of clothing last year.
"We're breaking even, not making a profit yet," she said. "That's one of my goals for this (upcoming) year."
Siyufy said if a major department store decided to carry her clothing, she would certainly not object.
"I think we're going to make it," said Donna Siyufy of the business. "I think it's going to be great."
But Nicolette Siyufy says no matter what happens, the company's headquarters will remain in Ocala. "We love Ocala," she said.