Tribeca’s 145 Hudson Street is home to My Little Sunshine, a multi-brand children’s store owned by partners and longtime friends, Robert Plotkin and Tara Figotin. To say that the two entrepreneurs work well together would be a massive understatement. In less than four years, Rob and Tara have created an establishment that moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and kids themselves constantly flock to. “We’re keen on detail”, Rob explains, “You’ll see that we tend to buy miniature versions of what we would wear, and that’s essentially our approach to the children’s market.”
As we wander inside their TriBeCa space, The Black Keys’ “Howlin For You” plays softly in the background. The rock-infused blues track, though catchy, is not something you’d expect to hear in a children’s boutique. But in truth, there couldn’t be a more fitting way to set the mood for its laid-back atmosphere. “My Little Sunshine has that old school charm. You come in and you want to hang out – it’s not a cold experience,” Rob aptly puts.
The store is a definite hit, but the business isn’t without strain. Earlier this month, a vehicle smashed into their Chelsea location, leaving plenty to fix but fortunately only a small portion damaged. Things like these seem to happen only in the movies, though rest assured Rob and Tara are handling the mishap with grace. We sat down with the fun, warmhearted duo to talk about the continuing success of their boutique:
Rob, Tara, how is everything at your Chelsea store?
Rob: It’s a little better! It’s boarded up in plywood but it’ll be fixed up.
Tara: It’s dealing with all the insurance stuff now. It’s time consuming since the windows and the frame are custom made, so everything is a 12-week lead-time. So in the meantime, we’re just waiting.
Rob: We have three beautiful windows and one third of the store is blocked off in a sense, but it’s manageable to go through. The store is up and running.
That’s good to hear! Going back in time, can you tell us about the beginnings of My Little Sunshine?
Rob: My wife Natalia and I have been really close friends with our now business partners, Tara and Danny [Figotin]. We were just hanging out one evening a little over 3 years ago – I had already had two kids, two boys, and Tara had a son and was pregnant with her future little daughter. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to do a business together?” Then Tara had the idea to do a kids’ store. She was saying, “We’ve lived in Chelsea for 10 years and see the change coming into this neighborhood. Maybe we can build the store in Chelsea?”
I kind of blew [the idea] off at the end of the night, but then the next day, after my hang over [laughs], when I came into realization I thought “You know what, that would be kind of cool”. So I called them up and said, “Hey Tara. Let’s do this.”
Tara: It happened so organically.
Rob: Exactly, organically and we just dove into it. We all come from backgrounds of adult fashion and business, but we just never did a retail space. We honestly just jumped in with it, with knowledge, but no cold feet. We went headfirst, got the space, and moved forward. We built the Chelsea store and that was a hit, and then less than three years later we opened up our second location in TriBeCa.
And that was in May of this year?
Tara: March! March 27th to be exact. It’s easy for me to remember because the first store was the day after I gave birth to my daughter. The second store was my husband’s birthday!
You mean to say throughout the process of building your Chelsea location, you were pregnant?
That’s incredible. What was the process like to put up your TriBeCa branch? Was it easier than building your first?
Tara: It was certainly a faster process. We sort of knew what we wanted and we had gone through it once before so it was definitely easier. But, it’s always a process. I mean just to open one store…
Rob: It’s like having kids – now we’ve got twice the headache!
How do you go about selecting which labels to offer at My Little Sunshine?
Rob: Numerous amounts of time you hear people – mothers and fathers – come into our store saying, “I wish this came in my size,” or “I wish this brand made adult clothing.” You’ll see that we tend to buy miniature versions of what we would personally wear. Tara and I do the buying so we try and pick out brands that are more or less what parents feel comfortable in for their kids. I mean you’ll see, in our stores there aren’t any pink tutus or that kind of thing.
Tara: We try to be different. We try to get brands that are not mass market, but more boutique-y.
Rob: I like to call us the children’s version of say, for men’s clothing – Odin, or Opening Ceremony, or Kirna Zabete. That’s our approach when we cater to the kids’ market. We’d like to think of ourselves as a one-stop shop, a modern day mom-and-pop shop. You come in and you have the whole caboodle.
We love the vintage feel and welcoming atmosphere of your stores. Just look at that little red plane you use for your haircuts!
Rob: We love it. We wanted it to be like an old-school plane, nothing too modern. I mean the whole store has that…old school charm, like you said. You want to come in and you want to hang out. It’s not a cold experience. Coming into a store as a person who wants to buy, we’ve got it across the board – we have parents who have kids, we have women that have just became new aunts and don’t know what to get, we also have the gay community – they’re adopting kids and aren’t sure what to buy. Regardless of who comes in, it’s always a happy occasion.
Tara: Except when a car crashes in! [laughs] But the kids love to come. We always give out lollipops. Once they’ve been here, you know that they’re just coming in to collect the lollipops and say hi 😉 But that really makes our day.
Rob: We’re teaching them to take candy from strangers!
What’s next for My Little Sunshine?
Rob: We have a website that we’re building. That’s a whole ‘nother beast so we’re working on that. As far as what’s next, hopefully it’s to create more My Little Sunshines across the state.
Tara: Maybe to create our own brand too, we’ll see.
We can definitely see that happening! What do you think is the secret behind your success?
Rob: Us being parents. We’ve got four heads including our spouses. The kids are our influence, our inspiration. You know it’s funny, as our kids are getting older, so is our store – we’re catering to older kids. We use to go up to 6 years old. My oldest son is 7, turning 8, so now we’re going up to 8 years old. Who knows, we might eventually go up to tweens. There’s an open market for that too, but we’re not rushing.
Tara: Yes there’s definitely no rush. We like things to happen organically. We feel like that’s been working for us.
Rob: We’re taking baby steps. But the thing is we’re keen on detail. This is a business – we have to make our customers happy. It’s a different ballpark for women’s wear and kids’ wear, but everything – from the seam-work to the fit to the head – we take all that into consideration.
There’s also that growing business with our vendors and the designers themselves. We know how their garments fit. A lot of the brands we carry haven’t been around for say, 10 years. Like us, they’re also fairly new. It’s interesting because most of the vendors we work with started at around the same time as we did. It works great for both us and the designers, especially because we’re in New York City. It’s a nice “mecca”; it’s the thinking pot.
Tara: That’s true. We’ve been growing together. Also, going back to your question, I think it’s important to note that we’re good partners. That’s an important thing.
Rob: I would have never done this by myself, you know?
Tara: Me neither. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. We’re good friends and we get along, and I think that helps [us succeed].
Last but not least, what do you love most about being parents?
Tara: Oh, that’s a really hard thing to pinpoint.
Rob: When my parents take the kids out for the weekend!
Tara: That’s a dad answer right there! [laughs] It’s a hard question because there’s so many things I love about them.
Rob: I’m still sticking to what I said…
Tara: I’m the opposite. I actually have a hard time leaving them.
Rob: Seriously though, I think just watching them grow…
Tara: or watching them together. It’s just…
Rob: She’s going to cry right now. She’s going to tear up!
Tara: I might just tear up! Actually I have to tell you about my son. We put up some Halloween decorations in the room and my daughter, who’s three, got really scared. So he hopped in bed with her to make her feel better! He sang my little sunshine for her, without me saying anything.
Those moments are the best. When you witness things like that just happen, it’s beautiful.
By Katrina Yap
Photographs courtesy of My Little Sunshine
My Little Sunshine is located at 177 Ninth Avenue and 145 Hudson Street.
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