BIRMINGHAM — If you thought that Tender’s 20 years of success began around this time in 1993, you would be wrong. It began long before that, when the luxury boutique’s owners, sisters Karen and Cheryl Daskas, were just little girls.
“Our mother was a model, but even our dad — they both had so much style,” said Karen. “(Our mother) dragged us to every boutique growing up. You have no idea.”
Cheryl Daskas did some modeling, herself, from the time she was about 14 years old. Needless to say, a passion for fashion was instilled in the pair since they were very young. And as their careers took them in different directions, and to different cities, they knew downtown Birmingham was the place they wanted to come home to.
“This is where our parents dropped us off when we were young to walk around. Other kids went to the mall; we went to Birmingham,” said Karen.
The sisters opened their store in November of 1993, stocking the most current looks. There have been some hits and some misses over the past 20 years. The sisters look back now at some of the trends they hope won’t make a resurgence.
“When we started, everything was shrunken. Shrunken jackets, shrunken T-shirts — everything was very tight and closely cropped to the body,” said Cheryl.
Cheryl is a fan of the Bohemian look. The self-proclaimed tomboy thinks her affinity for the ’60s style can be pinned on her parents, who wouldn’t allow her to wear “hippie” clothes when she was younger. Cheryl said Karen’s style is a bit “prissier.” Karen said she’ll always favor a great party dress. It can be done up for an evening affair, or dressed down with boots and a leather jacket to give the feminine frock a bit of edge.
With their different styles and different business talents tucked into their arsenal, the ladies opened Tender as a simple but chic boutique. But soon, customers started asking for designer lines that they couldn’t find at chain retailers. Then, they wanted shoes. The fashion-forward sisters were happy to oblige.
“We were the first to carry a lot of designers, like Simone Rocha. We were one of the first to carry her collection, and now she’s become the darling of the fashion world,” said Karen.
Cheryl agreed, saying that all of Tender’s merchandise is exclusive to the shop and isn’t carried anywhere else in the state.
Karen, Cheryl will tell you, is regarded as one of the most respected buyers in the business. And Karen is happy to boast about her sister’s styling skills. In fact, Cheryl was named one of the top stylists in the nation by Town and Country magazine, Karen said.
“She can just look at someone and know their size,” said Karen of her sister. “She gives clients her cellphone (number), and they call her to ask about which shoes or which hose they should wear with an outfit. And she helps them, because we want them to look perfect.”
Shopping with a stylist at a boutique store is a far cry from perusing the selection at the mall, according to the sisters.
“We’re a small business, so you have to be in the store and you have to know your clients — what would appeal to them — but also push them out of their comfort zone,” said Karen.
“We want our clients to feel like (shopping) is stress-free and lots of fun,” said Cheryl.
The most notable obstacle for Tender came around 2008, when the global recession hit and the economy fell into a downward spiral. Karen said she remembers the very moment she realized trouble was on the horizon.
“I was at a meeting in Paris when the crash happened. And there were all these buyers from department stores, and you just saw it in their faces. They got on their Blackberries, and they were all dumping merchandise,” recalled Karen. “It was not a fun five years. The luxury goods market tanked. And people said, ‘But your clients are probably OK.’ It affected everyone in one way or another.”
Tender’s revenue depended largely on tourist shoppers during that time, Cheryl said. It’s only been recently that the sisters have seen many of their former loyal customers return. It’s a welcome homecoming for the ladies, who said they vowed never to leave downtown Birmingham, despite the turbulent economy.
“We love Michigan, and we love Detroit. We have pride and faith in Detroit, and we’re glad to be here and hear about other places (doing well), whether they’re here in Birmingham or on the east side or west side,” said Karen.
They believe that dedication to the community can be seen in their contributions of time and funds to local causes. Cheryl has long sat on the board of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, working to help her fellow business owners thrive in the city’s downtown area. And, they said, they’ve always made sure to donate generously to charities. It’s just being a good neighbor, in their book.
“We’re very involved in the community, and we’ve made a ton of friends through the years,” said Cheryl. “People have embraced us and what we’re trying to do.”
Where will fashion trends take Tender in the next 20 years? It’s hard to say. Karen said she’s already buying for spring 2014, while Cheryl is looking even further ahead. She hopes that trends will turn in the direction of her childhood, when people dressed up for the day, and left the workout clothes and jeans at home for other occasions.
“In that era, people dressed up. It was a whole image. That’s what we learned from our parents,” said Cheryl.
Tender celebrated its 20th anniversary Nov. 20 with a party in their downtown shop at 271 W. Maple Road in downtown Birmingham.