Hartford’s Yseline Suarez started her first career following in the footsteps of her father, Mario, a carpenter from Cuba who laid the foundation for his youngest daughter’s life and future business with these words: Si haces buen trabajo, siempre tendrás trabajo. “If you do good work, you will always have work.” Suarez would tag along with him to construction sites, cleaning up scraps and translating estimates. It was a point of pride for her father when Suarez went to work as an estimator in the commercial construction business after college. But after 12 years, Suarez wanted a change. “I took my passion for fashion and decided to build a business in retail,” she says.
In deciding whether to launch her new clothing venture online first or establish her own store, Suarez often invoked the phrase “vice versa.” The name became so identified with her new venture that she made it the name of her business. In 2008, Suarez began raising awareness and money for by selling T-shirts out of a van parked at the Kane Street shopping plaza. After a year, she had raised enough for a plane ticket to her first trade show in Las Vegas. By September 2009, Vice Versa was up and running online, and two months later Suarez had set up her own shop in Hartford’s historic Linden building, where she cultivated a loyal customer base for two years before moving to 266 Park Road in West Hartford more than a year ago.
Vice Versa specializes in custom-made, ready to wear, contemporary and vintage clothes as well as gifts, jewelry and accessories, all hand-picked by Suarez every three months at fashion shows mostly on the West Coast. “I look for those hard-to-find styles you don’t see very much around here,” Suarez says. “We have a wide-ranging clientele looking for cutting-edge designs with a West Coast feel.”
Custom-made dresses, jackets and vests are stitched on site by Suarez and her seamstress, Anitra Orie.
While her father’s words form the foundation of her business sense, it is her mother, Maria, Suarez credits with her fashion sense. Suarez and her sisters made their own clothes while growing up in the Beacon Street home where Suarez still lives with her 8-year-old twin boys. As a girl, Suarez attended Our Lady of Sorrows and through Project Concern graduated from Conard High School in 1994. After school she and her sisters would walk to the Capitol Swimwear Company in the Parkville section of Hartford, where their mother worked putting elastic in swimwear. “To keep us occupied until her shift ended, my mother would bring us fabric and tell us to entertain ourselves,” Suarez says, “so we turned the scraps into skirts and dresses, often putting on fashion shows in the company cafeteria for the employees.” Her mother went on to work at some of the best retail stores at the time in Hartford—G. Fox and Filene’s—and it was there that Suarez learned the value of customer service, from watching her mother build relationships with clients, who would often ask for their mother by name. “For our mother it wasn’t all about making the sale— it was about valuing your customer,” and Suarez says that’s what drives the boutique today. Vice Versa is open Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday and Monday by appointment.
—Liz Grey Godbout