One of the most amazing parts about living in Houston – and something that was a pleasant surprise to me when we moved here – is the incredible community of talented women. I met designer Elaine Turner shortly after moving to Houston and I was immediately struck by how warm, inviting and fun she is. Her playful-yet-sophisticated fashion brand is a direct reflection of her personality. Elaine started her company in 2000 with a line of handbags and has since grown her company to include jewelry, apparel and shoes, a beautiful e-commerce site, and three brick and mortar shops. This past month she launched her first book titled Breaking the Glass Slipper which explores various challenges we face as women, and encourages women to let go of fears and pursue their dreams. We were excited to sit down with Elaine to talk about her book release and about the growth and future of her fashion line. Read on below for the full scoop!


You have known since a very young age that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion, and you were inspired by your mother and family trips to the Caribbean. Tell us a little about that initial process of turning your dreams and vision for the brand into a reality when you launched in 2000.

The company launched in 2000, the same year I became pregnant with my oldest child Harrison (not sure what I was thinking!). At the time, I was full of hope and ambition about what was in front of me! I come from a family of entrepreneurs and starting my own company had always been a dream of mine. Initially, I knew I wanted to launch the brand with handbags. In the late 90s/early 2000s handbags were taking off as an important item in the fashion industry. The so-called “it” bags were hitting the scene and I thought handbags would be an effective way to create and cultivate a brand aesthetic that could set me apart from the crowd. I also loved handbags personally and felt like they were the easiest way to individualize your look and the outfit you were wearing.

I spent the first 6-9 months researching the market and traveling to leather shows sourcing materials and meeting with factories. Once I found a factory, I started producing small runs of handbags and shipping them out of my living room in Houston. My very first customer was Tootsies (a high end specialty store in Houston) and they offered to carry my bags on consignment. After that, I started to build up more confidence and expanded my collection and eventually got into Neiman Marcus. Over the past 18 years, the brand has subsequently expanded into shoes, jewelry and apparel. Today, we are a direct to consumer brand with a new focus around our digital platform. Much like a human being, companies evolve, grow and change and we are now embarking on a new phase of transforming our company’s focus away from brick and mortar towards a more digital strategy. We have seen a fundamental shift in consumer behavior moving away from shopping brick and mortar stores, therefore, we have reacted by investing more in our online business.

Each season you have a muse and destination that inspires you. How does this approach help you throughout your collection design process? Do you have a favorite collection to date?

In the past, we would choose a muse or a destination that carried us through each season. This was a great way to tell a story and reference a certain look or feeling. Our goal in doing this was for the customer to be able to go on a journey with us each season by indulging her senses through texture, color, silhouette and imagery. However, in the midst of our current change, we are also seeing a shift in how and why women want to buy. Women today are inundated with too many choices and too much information. Her values have shifted away from consuming just for consumption sake— she is valuing deeper experiences and as a result, she is being more conscious about what she spends her money on. In response to this, we are focusing our energy more on creating wear-now, transitional and versatile pieces. We are refining our collections to become more capsule collection-inspired based on building core, essential items that can take women from season to season with ease. We are still talking about what inspires us— whether it be a person, place or thing but we are also focused on educating women about what she needs and why. What I’ve learned over all these years is it’s always about finding a balance of appealing to her emotions while also speaking to her in a practical way by offering her pieces that perform for her in her everyday life. This balance is often hard to find, but today more than ever, it’s essential to develop.

Your husband Jim Turner is your business partner. How do you keep a balance between work and personal? What are the most significant benefits and struggles to working with your spouse?

It’s ironic, this is one of my most frequently asked questions and my answer is simple: I feel so lucky to have him in my life and especially as my business partner over all these years! There is no one in the world I trust more so I guess it feels right to have him by my side especially as we build something so personal and meaningful together. I know for so many women (and men) working with your partner would be a challenging dynamic. I completely honor and validate that. I do NOT recommend working with your spouse unless you feel that your two skill sets are complimentary rather than conflicting. What makes our situation work is Jim and I don’t do the same things. I do the creative and he does the numbers— he’s the left brain and I’m the right brain —so it’s rare for conflicts to arise. Don’t get me wrong, we do experience conflicts, but it’s usually over experiencing the shared, overall stress of owning a business together than something he or I did that day. The key is self awareness and knowing and understanding what you both bring to the table, and most importantly, it’s about respecting and honoring one another.

Our biggest challenge is most definitely separating our work life from our home life, especially since we have both built the brand together. It’s a shared dream and it’s highly personal. I would say the key to managing this is, again, remaining aware that it’s becoming out of balance and prioritizing communication. You have to build in the guardrails to enjoy each other outside of work. We’ve gotten better about this, but it’s a work in progress — always. Some things we try to do to nurture our relationship: we plan staycations (sometimes it’s just about grabbing a night way and staying close to home), scheduling a glass of wine together even if time is limited, and also allowing the other to do what they enjoy doing by themselves. I like yoga, he likes fishing. It’s important to do those things — fill your soul individually so you can show up and be even better together.

It’s always so exciting to align with other female creatives based in Houston! Tell us a little about what it’s like to run a fashion line out of our home city.  How has Houston influenced your business?

Houston has been a wonderful place to build my business. I am a born and raised Houstonian so I’m naturally biased to what our great city has to offer. There are the obvious reasons why Houston is great— it’s the most culturally diverse city in the nation with great food, a vibrant art and cultural scene, the Astros. But if I’m honest, the main reason I love Houston is THE PEOPLE. The people are infectious. Houstonians possess an optimistic resilience that is contagious. They are believers in the idea of anything is possible and they love their own city like no other city. It’s a very unique place and unfortunately, until people experience it for themselves, many tend to underestimate Houston. I think what I’ve benefitted the most from by being a Houston-based business is my loyal clientele, the entrepreneurial, can-do spirit of the city and a genuine love for fashion and design. Women in Texas love fashion! They are bold and courageous with their choices. There is an individualism here in Houston that is irreplaceable.

You’ve said that the goal of your stores is to create an emotional effect for women visiting. How do you build an emotional response into a brick and mortar shop?  

As I mentioned above, the brick and mortar retail business has changed. We are finding that women come to shop in our stores for very intentional reasons; either they have an appointment, they are attending a store event or they are interested in the tactile experience a store can bring- seeing, touching and experiencing the product in person. But, as digital becomes more commonplace and people are getting more comfortable with buying items online without actually seeing it in person, it brings a whole new set of challenges to owning a store. The key question we ask ourselves is how do we get people in the door? The days of relying on walk in traffic and “shopping just for shopping sake” are basically over. Shopping is no longer a favorite past time — this is why it’s so crucial to recreate the store experience for consumers today. What we have found and seen success in doing is offering her a variety of ways to shop with us while in the stores. We are in a phase of working on how to integrate the digital experience within the retail stores more and vice versa. Women today want ease and convenience, and they want a seamless experience across all channels of how they engage with a brand. In response to this we have launched a mail order “box” program called Elaine Turner Editand we just rolled this service out to our stores as well. So, a woman can work with her “tried and true” loyal store sales associate and they can ship her items out of one of our stores that arrive at the customer’s home. She keeps what she likes and sends back the rest. We have also increased our charity events in stores. Women love coming together for a common cause and the stores are an effective channel to create intimacy in today’s digitized world. And it goes without saying that the overall store design and the products we create are vital in garnering an emotional response from our customers. I do my best to create effortlessly glamorous products at a good value that make women feel beautiful inside and out.

Your Mantra is “Glamorous. Giving. Intimate. Fun.”, and you have made giving back to the community – both locally and nationally – a core part of your business values. Why is this so important to you?

I believe strongly in adhering to certain principles and values as a business owner. We look to those four words as our pillars in how we want to behave everyday. No matter what we are always glamorous, giving, intimate and fun. Giving back is at the cornerstone of who I am and what I do and why I get up in the morning. There are many obvious reasons why service and giving back are important to me— I was raised with a strong foundation of generosity and giving back, I am naturally a heart-centered person who wants to help others. But, I have to say that my personal journey with my daughter, Marlie, who has special needs, is the impetus behind our giving spirit. I think our hearts grow through challenges and setbacks. It opens us up to “the other” and cracks our shells wide open. The light begins to seep through and all of our God-given grace, empathy and compassion begin to flow in. And to me, this is what it’s all about- helping others through LIGHT and LOVE.

We love that Elaine Turner offers personal styling consultations. How did you initially come up with that idea and how does the consultation work?

As I’ve stated above, we are in the midst of change and fortunately, at Elaine Turner we have reacted by developing certain services that appeal to the modern day woman’s lifestyle and needs. Out of a genuine desire to serve our customers in a more personal, customized way, we created the Elaine Turner Elite Stylist program. This program consists of around 60 national stylists that are located throughout the United States. They are basically contract stylists that can work with their clientele however they see fit. If they want an in-home consultation, an Elaine Turner Edit box shipped out to them or they simply want to strictly work via text or email- we can do that for them. Our stylists can also host in-home parties and engage in social selling as well. The customer can truly customize how they want to work with a stylist. We have a style profile on our website that the client can fill out this will tell us more about you an your style preferences. It’s the building block of how we can begin a relationship with you. And, you can also opt out of using a stylist and just receive a box or you can choose to work with an in-house stylist as well if there is not one in your area.

How would you describe the “Elaine Turner woman” in a few words?

I think she’s FUN, FREE, AND EFFORTLESS!!! (oh yes- and glamorous)

How do you balance running a company and family life? Any advice for other working moms?

Well… this is a doozy of a question and I devoted an entire chapter of my book to it (chapter 6). This is probably the most frequently asked question I get at events or when I’m giving a speech. How do I do it all? The simple answer is – I don’t.  And my advice is two-fold: don’t buy into the idea of balance and take it day by day and make the best decisions you can based on what you know, what you value and what you prioritize.

You just launched your first book Breaking the Glass Slipper — congratulations! Tell us what the book is about and what inspired you to write it.  When and where can we get it?

First and foremost, the book is about women. I have had the pleasure to work with women for well over 20 years while owning and running my company. And I have been fortunate enough to be able to walk along side them in many areas of their life- (some being very vulnerable areas)—helping them make fashion choices- i.e., dressing room moments, employing and mentoring them, and being their friend. I had been thinking of writing  a book for awhile and I knew I wanted it to be for women, but I was never sure exactly from what perspective.

Well, I met a woman in Dallas a couple of years ago and a clarity washed over me at that very moment about the stories I wanted to tell—Breaking the Glass Slipper was born a year later. Ultimately, I felt compelled to look deeper into the falsehoods we are programmed to believe surrounding the roles we take on as women and how we perceive ourselves and other women around us. I tackle some universal themes in the book about the challenges we face being a woman in the 21st century. Our innate desire to please and seek perfection, coupled with the ambiguous expectations that confront as as women, creates an overwhelming sense of lack. The book is about letting go of fear, failure and expectations. It’s about realizing we don’t have to fit a mold and we don’t have to be a victim to our struggles. It’s about shattering the myths you have been told, sold and programmed to believe, and ultimately its about finding your own truth. A truth that keeps you from ever needing a glass slipper—because why walk when the truth lets you fly?

The book is available on Amazon and my two Houston stores. We have a book signing coming up on Thursday, September 6th at our City Centre store from 4 – 7 pm!

Now for some fun details…

Always in my purse: Purell, my signature lipstick (Revlon Wine with Everything), Bobbi Brown pressed powder, Advil

Starbucks coffee order: Nonfat Grande latte

If I weren’t running a fashion label, I would be: A writer or psychologist

Three words to describe my personality: creative, compassionate, funny

Something you probably don’t know about me: I am a die hard sports fan! GO ‘STROS!