By JOHN T. WARD
They’re the store’s ‘tween customers, girls aged 13 to 16, the age “just before they start shopping at Urban Outfitters,” says shop owner Debbie Mishan. And a spot in the boutique’s frames has become one of the hottest tickets among adolescent girls on the Green and a marketing boon for Mishan and a local photographer.
Mishan opened the River Road store three years ago, after selling a building across the street where she ran What A Doll, a doll shop, for a dozen years.
Soon after she opened, in wandered Rumson photographer Avery Brighton, who asked Mishan if she might display some of her work in the store to generate portrait business.
“I said, ‘How about we put some of the customers in the window?'” Mishan tells redbankgreen.
They did, and soon, “customers started coming in and asking, ‘How do you get in the window?'” Mishan said. “It mushroomed.”
That’s evident in the the large glass vase on the store’s counter. It is stuffed to overflowing, mushroom-like, with hundreds of clothing tags, each bearing the handwritten name and phone number of a girl eager to be among the eight chosen for the new monthly display.
“It’s been phenomenal what’s happened,” said Brighton, who posts the latest crop of photos on her blog.
Winners are treated to a free photo session at Brighton’s Shine Bright Studios, complete with hair-blowing fans and a stereo system pumping out Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and other cohort-appropriate ear candy.
The girls find the experience thrilling.
“Debbie has amazing clothes,” said 12-year-old Charlotte Kaye, a recent transplant from Rumson to Allenhurst who was featured in the January display. “I was really looking forward to it.”
“They’re beside themselves when they come in,” said Brighton, who notes that the process of selecting clothes for the shoot, and the shoot itself, is often “a bonding experience between the girls and their mothers, who sometimes see a side of their daughters they’ve never seen before” once the music starts playing.
“The moms are like, ‘I had no idea she could dance like that,'” Brighton said.
“It’s a huge self-esteem booster, especially for girls this age,” said Jennifer Kaye, Charlotte’s mother. “These girls are just so fragile. Anything that helps them feel good about themselves at that formative age is wonderful.”
The posters are noteworthy in an era of increasingly sexualized youth for their unforced, naturalistic depiction of girls having the time of their lives in the latest fashions.
“These girls have just gotten their braces, they have freckles,” said Brighton. “These are real kids.”
The pictures “have a lot of personality, and they’re very age-appropriate,” Kaye adds.
The shoots have become so popular that one donated by Mishan and Brighton is said to have raised more than $1,2000 for a local charity, though Mishan said was unable to confirm that.
The effort has generated more sales for Skye Blue than any type of advertising Mishan has ever tried, she said. But she admits that what now looks like a bolt of marketing genius was actually inspired by a far more pedestrian aim.
“The god’s honest truth is that I did this to keep the sun out,” she said, pointing to the store’s south-facing windows.
The parents are under no obligation to buy any pictures. But the arrangement has been a fruitful source of referrals for her as well, Brighton said.
“We’re taking two small businesses and working together, using both our strengths, to do something nice for the community and to help our businesses,” she said.