“You’ve got my undivided attention,” says Eva Sofocli, on the phone from her boutique fashion shop Togah in the Melbourne suburb of Niddrie, though I have the feeling that any moment I may be put on hold. After less than six months since taking over the store, Eva is busy dealing with customers eager to get their hands on her latest range of designer brands.
But in between the occasional pause to answer customer requests, this young aspiring entrepreneur is keen to tell me about her journey into retail.
Born in 1987, Eva grew up in Essendon. Her dad Jerry came from Limassol, mum Katie, also of Cypriot heritage, was born in Melbourne. Eva’s experience at school reflects a common thread.
“As I grew up I spoke a bit of everything, my dad would talk to me in Greek. I was one of just five European kids at primary school. It was a bit hard, because our English wasn’t great, so they made us go to ESL (English as a second language). Eva tells me that it was only at high school, when she encountered the full multicultural rainbow of Australian society, that she felt truly confident. At an early age, Eva had a natural inclination to care for animals.
“I think I got it from my dad who looked after eagles in Cyprus.If I found an injured bird on the way home from school, I’d bring it home and dad would nurse it.”
On finishing high school, Eva’s natural instincts towards animals seemed the ideal direction for a career. She enrolled at the University of Victoria to begin four years of veterinary nursing studies.
During the course, she earned extra cash with a part-time job in sales promotion, marketing dog food brands for Procter and Gamble. By graduation, she’d seen enough of what a job as a vet nurse would entail and decided against pursuing a career in animal husbandry.
“I was very sad about the way the animals were treated, I couldn’t handle that,” says Eva. While animals aren’t part of Eva’s career today, they are still very much part of her life. She has a dog (Sassy), a cat (Andre), a lizard (Reggie), and a parrot – “a big green monster” – called Elliott. After finishing university, Eva looked for a job. Frank and Bove, a clothing store in north Melbourne wanted someone on the counter. Eva jumped at the chance.
“I put a lot of heart and soul into the work,” says Eva, “it was selling kids’ and women’s clothes and giftware. It was there that I realised that running a store was something I wanted to do.”
In April this year, Eva had enough savings to take over the shop herself. It was a dream realised. “I jumped straight into it. I love a challenge. If I hadn’t taken over the store, I wanted to become a police officer,” she says. Have you always been fashion conscious? “I guess so, particularly when it comes to other people, but I dress very ‘hippie’, I feel I might have been a gypsy maybe in my past life.”
Why Togah? “Well, it’s a garment that goes back to ancient times, but we put an ‘h’ on the end, to funk it up a bit,” she says. It’s clear that Eva’s vision for her business goes a lot further than a funked-up name.
“All the stock we have, portrays me in some way. The look I’m going for is very ‘Brunswick street’ [the inner north Melbourne strip known for its arty cafes, live music venues and alternative fashion shops] – it’s about being very ‘warehousey’, flash, vintage – but contemporary, retro – but sharper and cleaner.” Whilst still in the throes of renovating the shop, assisted by partner and draftsman Renato, Eva’s already begun rolling out her plans to become a talent scout and test bed for a new generation of local fashion designers.
“I want it to be funky, outgoing, we want to be different” says Eva, who feels that promoting new local designers is core to what Togah is all about. “We want to recommend young Melbourne and Australian designers, says Eva, who identifies one such young Victorian designer – Andrea Ioannou, as typical of the kind Togah is there to promote.
“We need to support the locals,” says Eva. “Andrea’s brand is called El amuleto. It’s amazing. The designs are very beady, ‘goddessy’, lots of pastel colours.” Eva currently has six local designer brands in the shop, which will increase to ten by the end of the year.
“It’s all about supporting people who have dream,” says Eva, whose own dream includes a studio at the back of the shop one day, to create her own Togah brand garments. By the way, if you’re after furs, forget it.
Search for Togah on Facebook to see Eva’s latest lines, including Andrea Ioannou’s label – El amuleto. Togah, 479 Keilor Road, Niddrie, Moonee Valley 3042 (03) 9374 4744