PAIRING BUSINESS ACUMEN WITH A PASSION FOR CLOTHING DESIGN, THIS GARDEN STATE STYLIST AND BOUTIQUE OWNER IS CELEBRATING 15 YEARS IN A WILDLY COMPETITIVE INDUSTRY
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Elementary school kids often daydream about their future careers. Some imagine lives as famous athletes or actors, others as doctors or detectives. But for Gina Curko, the founder and CEO of SeeSaw Boutique, with stores in Tenafly and Fort Lee, her vocational course was clear before she was even old enough to hold a pen she would pursue a career in fashion. By the time she was five, the future stylist was spending hours in her grandmother’s closet, mesmerized by the fabrics and prints hanging around her. “I used to play in that closet, and I would be in there for hours, just dreaming,” she reminisced. “My grandmother inspired me to have incredible style. She was also a very capable businesswoman. She was my icon. I wanted to emulate everything she did.”
Curko’s love of style continued to blossom as she got older, but even during formative years, the budding style authority also had a unique sixth sense, one that is crucial in her endeavors today.
“When I look at a woman, I know what size she is, what fabrics will work on her body, and what undergarments will work on her. I’ve been able to do this since I was five years old,” she explained.
SeeSaw’s first store officially opened its doors on Tenafly’s Railroad Avenue in the early aughts. While those first years weren’t without the usual challenges encountered by young businesses, the new owner was also no stranger to the demands of running a high level operation. Before branching out on her own, Curko had served at the helm of a high profile specialty fashion store, managing a $66 million business and more than 400 employees. Still, during that corporate tenure, she knew she wanted to curate her own brand one day, and after 10 years, knew the time had come to take a leap.
“Opening a new business is difficult, as it takes two years to really develop a habit. For me, it was a process, and it didn’t happen overnight. It took me two years to really develop a significant client pool and start really shopping for them. I knew how talented I was, but I also knew it was going to take time. It’s a matter of the right client finding the store. Once that happened, I had the freedom to buy the way I wanted to.”
A seasoned industry vet, Curko was well aware of the alarming sameness plaguing the field.
“So many stores are cookie cutter copies of each other, and I didn’t want to be just another place offering the same shirt in 17 different colours,” she explained. So, when building her first collection, she vowed to offer clients something different. It would be a true boutique, with hand selected items from different corners of the globe. “I wanted to curate amazing products from all over the world and make women feel really good about themselves.”
For each collection, the stylist buys every category, from lounge to luxe and classic to cutting edge, including accessories, swimwear, and shoes. Curko frequents influential fashion cities (including Milan, Paris, New York, and Miami) and pulls items fresh off the runway for customers (or her “neighbours,” as she calls them). She also brings a wish list with her on every visit, though said she is always ready for a pleasant surprise be it a fur coat, a cashmere sweater, or a pair of prismatic shoes.
“I love when my customers tell me my store is like a candy store,” said Curko. “When they walk in, sometimes they don’t even know where to look. They will tell me they never know what they are going to find and that they cannot wait to come.”
SeeSaw services are not limited to selling trendy apparel; Curko is there to offer expertise to any and all in need. Personal styling is the reason she was originally inspired to get into the trade, and so her boutique offers customized one on one styling either on the premises or in the customer’s home. From vacation clothing to an everyday wardrobe, she and her team will curate a customized closet makeover for a variety of needs and budgets.
“Being a stylist is the best part of owning this business,” she said. “I love to put looks together based on every body type and lifestyle, and then have the customer walk out of the store and feel amazing. We are a true fashion destination. We dress clients from head to toe.”
Nearly 13 years after the Tenafly store’s grand opening, SeeSaw celebrated its next milestone: the debut of a second location, in Fort Lee. In true boutique fashion, this second store has an identity all its own. Its Soho inspired design features a bright, chromatic colour scheme and abstract art on the walls. There is also an on site beauty bar, which offers makeovers to go along with new wardrobes.
When asked the secret to staying relevant in such a volatile, ever changing field, the owner’s answer was simple: it’s imperative to remain aware of the changes.
“You need to stay ahead of the curve in fashion,” she said. “It changes every day. You can’t pretend to know everything; you have to actually know everything. You have to go to different countries and see what’s out there. You need to know what’s happening on the runway.”
The entrepreneur has also learned that a business, like a seesaw, will have ample ups and downs. But through them all, Curko brings a sustained and consistent approach. “It takes true dedication,” she offered simply.
As for the future, Curko made it clear she has no intentions of taking her foot off the gas. Already brainstorming the feel of a next store, she explained that even if she opens 10 locations, no two will be the same. Each will be carefully designed to cater to the specific type of women in its neighborhood.
“When I open a store in a community, it’s my heart and soul,” she said. “I’m striving for excellence, and I want the customers to know that when they walk into any of my stores. I feel a devotion to my communities…want to provide a unique service to my neighbours and make them proud that I am in their midst. I want every customer who comes into the store to say, ‘Wow, this is an amazing experience!’ ”
6 West Railroad Avenue / 201.567.5560