Have you ever experienced feelings of doubt, disbelief, anger, sadness, hopelessness and awe? What about relief, joy, satisfaction, independence, happiness, and hopefulness, all in a matter of minutes?
These were the mixed feelings of Kunflama boutique owner, Kano Branon, as he returned to his place of business on Magazine Street nearly two months after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.
“The moment I stepped out of my car I saw the windows boarded up, broken glass on the ground and a hanger in front of the store,” describes Branon. “At that moment, I knew we had been looted.”
From denim clothing and jewelry, to hats, shoes and other accessories, Branon lost about 65 percent of his merchandise after the looters completed their spree.
“Initially, I hadn’t even thought of being robbed. I was thinking about damage from the hurricane,” Branon expressed with a disheartened look. “I lost three months worth of merchandise.”
With a depleted stock, yet the will to recover, Branon was forced to discontinue a few brand name items and concentrate more on smaller, lower end selections, which he had already planned pre-Katrina. “I wanted to get rid of some of this stuff anyway.” Branon confessed. “Now I can focus more on independent designers.”
Having an independent collection of her own, less than five miles away from Kunflama, just around the river bend, lies Yvonne La Fleur. This self named boutique, adorned with elegant gowns, lingerie and fragrances, is advertised as America’s finest and most innovative ladies’ fashion store.
However, in 37 years, this is the first year that business has not been as usual. Upon returning to her store after the hurricane, La Fleur was overwhelmed. Not because of looters, broken windows or water damage, which did not occur, but because she returned with no employees by her side.
“I have no staff and it’s difficult to train people in this business because it takes a while,” explained La Fleur, in a calming tone. “I don’t have the time to train right now.”
However, La Fleur is well aware that she still has a business to run. With two temporary part-time employees, La Fleur is taking advantage of the little yet much needed assistance.
In addition to the new hires, La Fleur has a family member on board. Growing up in a house decorated unintentionally like the store, 24-year-old Elizabeth Walsh, La Fleur’s daughter, did not need the required training. “I came to work after the hurricane because my mom needed help,” Walsh said. “There’s so much to do with no help to get it done.”
Although La Fleur does not have the experienced full staff she once had, she and her family make an attempt to reflect on the positive aspects these past few months.
“We have a chance to hold on to important stuff like family and other priorities,” expressed Walsh. “Even though we lost staff, it makes us more appreciative and helps you prioritize a little better.”
La Fleur’s priorities have been placed in order and recovery is near the top of the list. “From a business point of view I lost a lot,” La Fleur said. “But I have never considered relocating because of the losses.”
Although many businesses have experienced an equal amount of hardships, it is safe to say with trials comes triumph.
In the midst of Kunflama, a store that was once full of clothing racks from the front end to the back, upstairs and downstairs, there now lies an empty space; a space that leaves room for improvement . “The hurricane was not such a bad thing,” explained Branon.
“With this extra space, I can carry out my vision to have a beverage bar and sell furniture and vintage clothing.”
In the years to come, customers predict Kunflama will be a household name. The name of the boutique is as distinctive as the clothing. “I love the clothes, especially its unique form. I anticipate the day that this will become a franchise,” said Michelle Townsend, an obviously satisfied customer. “The style and flavor of the store is definitely an eye-catcher.”
Branon agrees. “To be Kunflamaish is to be fierce,” he said excitingly. “I have to keep my venue evolving and change with the time.”
As a result of the hurricane, Branon was forced to combine living and working, but in his eyes it is a definite benefit. “I lost my home but now I live upstairs from my job. Could it get any better?”
In Branon’s eyes, the future looks especially promising. He hopes to become a brand name, establish a magazine and be self-sufficient.
Though the boutiques may have lost merchandise, clients, employees and other valuables, there is one thing they have gained; hope.