Beyond Beauty: Carlene Edwards
Natalia Oh! Contributor
"Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday." Carlene Edwards would repeat this aloud as she carefully folded her new underwear that her parents bought her. "As early as I can remember, I had a passion for beautiful underwear and shoes," she told Outlook.
Edwards' story begins in Spur Tree, Manchester, where she was born and raised in Swaby's Hope, to parents Vincent Edwards and Ada Thompson. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a housekeeper and chef to a wealthy family in the Knockpatrick district. Her mother's employers, who loved Edwards, would nurture her love for shoes very early on by occasionally treating her to new ones. "There are some little girls who loved dolls. Growing up, I loved pretty panties and pretty shoes," she laughed. She said her love of fashion began there. Having eight siblings meant that life was not always a bed of roses for her family, but because her parents were resourceful, the children's basic needs were a priority.
After high school, Edwards would begin her entrepreneurial ventures as a nail technician. She admits that, though she was good at it, it was never her passion - just something everyone else was doing. Her love of beautiful underwear led her to invest in it to sell to her clients at her nail shop. Edwards knew that there were many sellers in the business, so her strategy was to carefully select unique pieces. Though not formally trained in business, Edwards was implementing a key business principle -
What later became Karlene's Kloset started out with one dozen pieces of underwear. Almost instantly, those one dozen panties were sold and turned into two and expanded to include body splashes, perfumes, clothing and shoes. Using the strategy of buying carefully, she was able to turn over her goods very quickly. She realised that her buying-and-selling venture was doing better than her nail business, so Edwards decided to close the nail shop and continue to sell goods from her home. This helped her save on some overhead expenses.
As the business grew, so did her family. Her 19-year relationship with Commarch Pennant produced three boys. She says having children created in her an urgency to do well in her business because, as she puts it, "Children aren't cheap, and life is not easy, so I have to know how to budget and make the dollar stretch".
When her partner was home from work he would transport her around to her customers where she would be selling out of the trunk of his car. Although she was working odd hours, she didn't mind the extra work, because she was doing something that brought her great joy.
Today, the CEO who has her 'kloset' located at The Brumalia Town Centre in Mandeville, has loyal customers who climb three flights of stairs sometimes just to stop in and 'shoot the breeze' with her. Many have become dear friends who are drawn to her cheerful personality and positive outlook on life. She knows her service and reputation will lure in new customers.
She tells Outlook that, because she has been through a lot in life, she is a good sounding board for others who turn to her for advice. "I'm a genuine person. If a customer tries something on and it doesn't look good, I won't lie to make a sale. I tell them it doesn't look good, but I always show them something else that can work. And if I don't have anything that works, I will even direct them to another store on the plaza. I know that seems strange in this dog-eat-dog world that we live in, but I say, 'today fi yuh, tomorrow fi mi'. I live my life wishing good for others and somehow that positive energy always comes back to me. I give thanks to the Lord for blessing me and I never take anything for granted."
Edwards runs her business on one fundamental principle - she treats everyone who walks through her store doors with respect and greets them with a cheerful personality.
She knows that good customer service gives her a competitive advantage. "Times are not easy, especially now with the economic state in Jamaica. But I've learnt how to weather the storm and to stay the course. As the saying goes, when the sea of life gets rough, adjust your sails."
When customers are leaving the store, her parting words are: 'To be continued'.
"I want the relationship to continue with that customer so I never say goodbye. Instead, I say: To be continued." This has become her store's slogan and it is printed on the company's sign.
Edwards hopes to someday pursue a course in counselling and it has always been her dream to launch her own clothing line. When we parted after this interview, she bid me farewell and, with a twinkle in her eyes, she said, "To be continued."
How do you spend your weekends?
Now that the store is open seven days a week, I am working weekends, but before I go to the store I spend time with my family, I do chores and make sure I make the time to read to my younger sons. I believe that is one thing that working mothers should do, as it forces us to slow down and bond with the children. On some rare occasions, I go get something to eat or have a drink with my girlfriends.
Where is your favourite vacation spot in Jamaica?
My favourite spot in Jamaica is Seven Mile Beach in Negril, which has clean beaches, crystal-clear water in the day, and offers romantic sunsets in the evenings.
Where is your dream vacation spot internationally, and why?
Well, because I love to shop, it would have to be a major shopping city in the world. I have read online that Milan has some lovely boutiques and lingerie shops. I would love to see how they display their goods and try and learn from the icons in fashion.
Who is your favourite author?
I rarely get the chance to read anymore since having a business and having young sons, but I remember reading and loving Nora Roberts' books.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Aim big, try big, and dream big.
What is the charity that means the most to you?
After losing many friends and family members to cancer, I am a strong supporter of the Jamaica Cancer Society. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I urge every at-risk woman to get regular check-ups. Contact the Jamaica Cancer Society at: http://jamaicacancersociety.org.