Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tampa's rolling fashion truck brings accessories to your party

Kelly Malatin rolled the pink door to her box truck open and threw on a welcoming smile.

It was her first time letting customers onto her new mobile accessories shop, La Boutique Fashion Truck, and she seemed a little nervous.

"We did surprisingly great," Malatin beamed days later. "We probably didn't have a dull moment on the truck. I think there was someone on the truck at all times, looking or talking or asking questions."

Inside the Parsian-themed, remodeled truck bed, the black lacquer cabinets, black and white striped wallpaper and store-like displays elevate the experience of being on a truck to buy accessories into a shopping event.

Earrings, necklaces, scarves, bracelets, rings, belts and even shoes with prices ranging from $10 to $325 fill the space, but don't clutter it.

The lines are clean, the seating is appropriately fancy and inviting. It's a part of Malatin's style.

"I knew I wanted something kind of glam and girly and feminine, but not too modern. I wanted someone to feel like they were going into their own closet and could envision themselves in their own closets and go in and find a piece that they like and feel comfortable in," she said.

The 32-year-old mother of two, a 1999 Sickles High graduate, studied special education at the University of South Florida and cheered for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She taught prekindergarten until she got pregnant with her first son seven years ago, and dedicated her time to her husband and boys from there on out. With school on the horizon for her youngest, Malatin started thinking about what she wanted to do next with her life. An article about a Boston fashion truck that carried vintage pieces caught her eye. Then on a trip to New York with her husband, Malatin spotted her dream.

"We were walking down the street and I saw a truck right there in the Meat Packing District and I slapped him on the chest. I was like, 'That's what I want to bring to Tampa,' " she said. "It was kind of just fate that it all happened the way that it did."

That was Sept. 19, 2012.

She bought her truck in November and practiced driving around on her family's land in Odessa, her two sons strapped in the back seat and enjoying the ride. Malatin sent the truck to Miami to have a rear air-conditioning unit and generator installed.

"It took three months. It was supposed to take 10 days," she said. "But with constructions there's always going to be delays."

She had the truck wrapped with her logo and turned it over to the carpenter who worked on her new home in South Tampa to finish the interior and build walls to hang the wallpaper. Her boys drew pictures of pink trucks to be framed and hung in the shop area. Malatin was ready to roll.

On Sept. 19, 2013, Malatin drove La Boutique to her very first event, Flicks and Food Trucks at Grand Central on Kennedy as a part of Tampa Bay Fashion Week.

Since an accessories truck feels like a new concept locally, Malatin turned to food-truck vendors and her husband for advice about how to proceed. She hopes to join food truck rallies but also carve out some spaces of her own, like private parties, charity fashion events and her dream spot: In front of Crate & Barrel.

"I like being with the food trucks," she said. "A lot people make that relation — 'Oh, like a food truck' — and I do have a truck that looks like food trucks look. It's great to be able to be associated with them but I also want to do things on my own and kind of set myself apart from them as well."

For now, she's working her resources to join Tampa's monthly Mayor's Food Truck Rally and hopes to continue gaining traction from there.

The big draw, she hopes, will be her careful selection pieces she's found at markets in New York and Atlanta.

"I've found artists that hand-make their pieces all the way from Brooklyn to L.A. I've found a designer out of London who makes really cool resin bracelets. Eventually I'd like to go international," she said.

She only carries a few of each piece, adding to the uniqueness of the purchase and guaranteeing you won't see everyone at a party wearing your favorite necklace. Most of her prices fall in the middling range from the teens to the $60s, but there are high-value, gift-worthy items available.

The resin bracelets from London are priced in the $300s, and Malatin does carry unique gemstone rings and 14-karat gold-plated pieces. She says her truck would suit any taste or price point. But also it's a public service.

"I like accessories so much because if you don't have time to really put an outfit together — to go out and buy nice pants or buy a shirt that makes a statement — one piece of jewelry can make a statement," she explained. "All you have to do is throw on a pair of earrings and somehow you look put together, or throw on a necklace and your outfit's complete. I think you can do so much with just one piece."