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High Strung Fashion

Out-Of-State Designers Say a Local “Best” Boutique is Ripping Them Off

The City Paper Digi-cam™
NO LOVE LOST: Some designers who have consigned with Beloved Boutique say the shop's owner has not dealt fairly with them.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/25/2006

Beloved, a Mount Vernon boutique cramped with cowboy boots, racks of clothing, and jewelry set on nightstands and display tables, was awarded “Best New Boutique” by City Paper in 2005 and has garnered numerous other awards and laudatory press since its opening on West Read Street last summer. During a recent afternoon visit to the store, owner Amy Coleman is just getting ready to leave for the day. Her dog, a pit bull named Sage, wags her tail and licks a visitor’s hand. When asked about Alba Urbina, a fashion designer who has embarked on an internet campaign to tell other designers, customers, and the media that Coleman has not treated designers who consign with her fairly, Coleman sighs.

“She’s been calling everybody under the sun,” Coleman says, adding that Urbina had written libelous things about her at the classifieds web site Craigslist.com. “We’ve had to take down her posts on Craigslist.”

For a time, Urbina also maintained a web site, which she took down Jan. 9, that detailed what the designer says are Coleman’s crimes.

Urbina, who is based in Oakland, Calif., and says she has made her living as a jewelry designer since 1997, has been contacting designers and media outlets since late December to complain that Coleman stole her handmade jewelry, which she says she consigned to Coleman in August. Coleman “never paid me for any sold items,” Urbina wrote in an e-mail. “[She] has refused to return the collection, which I requested she do via e-mail and phone messages after I grew tired of being ignored for months!”

Coleman says she did have some of the designer’s items, but that she sent them back. Urbina, however, says she never received them. Coleman says she does not know whether Urbina received her stuff “because I quit communicating with her.” Coleman says her trouble with Urbina stems from a computer virus that wiped out her business records last fall. She holds up a CD that she says contains all the files she was able to recover and points to a new computer in a corner of the boutique. “It just happens,” Coleman says. “I’m not out to get your stuff.”

Coleman criticizes Urbina’s tactics in handling the situation, which included posting derogatory remarks online and setting up a web site with e-mails from other designers who said they were defrauded by Beloved. “She should have come at it in a more professional way,” Coleman says, hinting that she will take legal action. “She even claimed this is a vicious dog,” she says. Sage’s tail wags.

Coleman says she must refer all further questions about the dispute to her lawyer, but she would not provide the lawyer’s name. She promised to forward a reporter’s contact information to the lawyer, but the lawyer, David Waranch, refused to answer any questions during a phone call on Jan. 16.

A representative of ShowroomAccess.com, a New York-based wholesale fashion web site associated with some of the other designers whose e-mails Urbina posted on the web, sent City Paper an e-mail Jan. 9 saying that those designers “had a very negative reaction” to Urbina’s web site and asking that their names and stories not be published.

Urbina’s e-mail campaign did, however, turn up five other designers who tell stories similar to hers. They say they sent Beloved Boutique their merchandise but received neither the customary monthly payment for items sold nor any of their clothing and jewelry back. They say that Coleman has claimed computer viruses and a death in the family to excuse her lack of timely payments, and that she has become increasingly difficult to reach by telephone.

“I set up a PayPal account—her suggestion,” says Marlena Maikranz, a clothing designer of four years living in British Columbia, Canada. “There was never any deposit in it. I would always check. [In November] I started calling and e-mailing her like there’s no tomorrow. Now, at present, it’s next to impossible to get a hold of her.”

Maikranz says Coleman told her she sent back her unsold merchandise and a check for the items that sold, and promised to e-mail her a “tracking number” as of Jan. 6. But no such e-mail arrived, Maikranz says, and neither did any package with the goods or a check. She sent City Paper the back-and-forth e-mails between herself and Coleman, which support Maikranz’s account.

Valerie Dumaine, a Montreal-based clothing designer of two years, says she has had the same problem with Coleman. “She is still trying to tell me that she mailed my stuff, and I’m still asking for the tracking number,” Dumaine said in a Jan. 10 interview. “She’s a really nice girl, we have spoken on the phone many times. . . . I wanted to believe her.”

Dumaine estimates that the retail value of the clothing Coleman received from her is more than $8,000; she says her actual loss would be the wholesale value of the items, which she estimates at more than $4,000. Dumaine says Coleman paid her only once, $125 credited to her PayPal account in September, for three items sold from Dumaine’s spring line. Dumaine says she demanded the payment as a condition of sending Coleman her fall clothing line.

Coleman says the claims put forth by Urbina are “untruths” and that one reason some designers may not have received payments from her store is that their items did not sell.

“You may not get sales one month,” she says. “People don’t understand, this isn’t a heavy-duty place. We do have decent traffic. Not everyone’s brand can sell every month.”

Coleman says she will soon move Beloved to a larger space, but she is unsure when or where. Her landlord, Rodolfo Lizardo, who operates a Park Avenue veterinary clinic attached to the boutique, says that she did indicate that she wanted to move to a larger space, but he says that “nothing is final.”

The out-of-state designers are not the first businesspeople to have trouble getting Coleman to pay her bills. On April 27, 2005, a judgment was entered in Charles County District Court against Coleman for $9,798.05 owed to Federal Express.

City Paper wanted to reinterview Coleman after speaking to the Canadian designers, but Beloved’s door was locked when a reporter visited on several days between Jan. 5 and 10 during the shop’s posted business hours. Nobody answered the store telephone number Coleman lists on her consignment contract, which does not have an answering machine. Attempts to reach Coleman on her cell phone were unsuccessful. A recording reached at Coleman’s cell number said, “at subscriber’s request, this phone does not accept incoming calls.”

When a reporter found Coleman behind the store’s locked door Jan 11, she said she was too busy to answer questions before the paper’s deadline. She insisted that she would supply paperwork proving that she had sent back several designers’ items, but only in the presence of her lawyer, whom she again refused to name. She agreed to talk again later that night.

That evening, Coleman appeared with one man who would not give his name, and another who would identify himself only as “Daz.” Daz said he was a jewelry designer who Coleman pays regularly for consigned goods. He suggested that the other designers are lying about Coleman in order to get publicity. “You’re in the middle of a catfight,” Daz said.

“My lawyer said if you guys are going to do a defamation of character he’s going to sue,” Coleman said. “I have records.”

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