“67% of American women are above a size 14. The fashion landscape doesn’t really cater to what is now the average American woman. Many of the boutiques we have in San Antonio are wonderful but they may only go up to a size large or XL. My goal is to serve the under-served demographic,” says Elsa Fernandez, owner of Eye Candy Boutique.
"When we were done with the project, I thought to myself, This could actually work.”
Elsa was born and raised in San Antonio, mostly near the Medical Center area. She attended Kriterion Montessori School (now Monte Vista Montessori) before attending Incarnate Word High School and Texas State University. She earned a Bachelor’s in Fashion Merchandising after her interest was sparked by an entrepreneurship class group project. “We essentially had to build a business. The business my group made up was a plus-size fashion boutique. When we were done with the project, I thought to myself, ‘This could actually work.’”
Fernandez has been featured in many publications. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Starting online, Fernandez worked to realize her vision by vending at Brick during First Fridays and attending different fashion pop ups. She then utilized the city’s “Open Pop Up,” program that offers temporary rent-free space to retailers in vacant downtown spaces, to open Eye Candy. By December of 2015, she had signed a five-year lease, securing her spot on historic Houston Street.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go at first cause I saw all these vacant spaces here on Houston Street,” she says, “It’s really interesting to be here during a time of transition. When you’re here day-in and day-out you don’t notice the difference, but then you see the articles on Facebook, or you hear through Centro the exciting things that are happening. I couldn’t have asked for better timing.” Despite the relative recentness of her presence, she’s already made quite an impression on the downtown community.
Elsa talking about winning “Retailer of the Year.” Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Just last October she was honored at the San Antonio Fashion Awards. “I was awarded ‘Retailer of the Year’. And when they announced the winner, I blacked out; I can’t even remember what I said.” Elsa was understandably shaken. She accepted the award in the shadow of the Korean War Memorial in Veterans Memorial Plaza near the Tobin Center, a memorial designed by her grandfather Emilio Aguirre. He couldn’t have imagined how significant his creation would be to his own family years after its completion. “I knew I had to hold in the tears even though that moment was so monumental for my family and me,” she admits.
And it’s not just industry titans that have noticed Elsa. A growing clientele has taken interest as well. “I get a good mixture of regulars that work and live downtown as well as tourists visiting here.” She explains. “One of my favorite things is when a group of friends comes in and they all have different personalities yet all of them are still able to find something that they like.” Offering a variety of clothing for different tastes is one of Elsa’s objectives.
“I am honestly inspired by the people that work and live around here.”
Being downtown helps drive what she does in many ways. “I am honestly inspired by the people that work and live around here.” Fernandez is also excited about what those people are going to bring to downtown in the future. “It’ll be intriguing to see what other retailers and businesses pop up.” Elsa offered some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to open up downtown. “You have to be prepared for any kind of demographic to come into your shop. I have clothed girls from age 16 to 60. If you’re passionate about something and you have a positive attitude and you’re willing to work for it, I don’t see why your business couldn’t succeed here.”
Eye Candy Boutique shop floor, corner of Houston and Nevarro. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Eye Candy itself has certainly seen success. Elsa’s venture was represented in Style Lush TV’s Look Local Fest, an event in which local boutiques were featured on the runway as well as given space to showcase and sell their goods. “It was really groundbreaking for San Antonio. I feel like it’s gonna help open doors for other people to get more involved in the fashion community,” says Elsa, “Having the two organizations (Style Lush TV and Open Pop Up) that helped get my career started join forces, I had to be a part of it.”
In the wake of this inaugural local fashion event, Elsa has decided to host her own event that reflects her philosophy on fashion. “It’s called Everybody Beautiful. We promote positivity throughout the fashion community, unity, body acceptance and self-love.” She says of the event. It will be a unique fashion show and shopping experience. Fernandez offers this event as confirmation of her strong beliefs about self-image. “Everyone has something that they don’t like about themselves. What I want is to get people to accept themselves for who they are right now, not who they were five years ago, not who they plan to be in five years.”
In downtown San Antonio: It’s happening now.