It was 2013 and Suzanne Vinnik was contacted by soprano Zulimar López, who was looking to solve a problem that every female opera singer faces – getting rid of a bunch of gowns that were hogging her closet space.
“I had also experienced the same issue with my over-stuffed closet in my one bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side,” Vinnik told OperaWire in an interview. “As a fashion lover, (or fashion hoarder), with limited closet space, I understood the struggle.”
And because apartment spaces nowadays are not made with the intention of housing big gowns and then other clothes, she knew that she had to find some sort of solution for not only López, but the thousands of other singers that were facing the same situation.
So she decided to create a small private Facebook group which she called Opera Diva Dress Collection (ODDC) and invited a dozen fellow singers to join the group so they could trade, buy, sell and rent gowns from each other on a connected platform.
It was an instant hit, with Vinnik selling and renting out a ton of gowns from her own collection. This week, that Facebook group, which has since gone viral to the tune of over 10,000 members, became Shoperatic.com, a fully-fledged online platform that “will make the buying, selling, and renting process easier and more secure.”
“I’ve found that shopping for concert gowns, in particular, can be really tricky,” noted internationally acclaimed soprano, and frequent ODDC buyer and seller Georgia Jarman. “I love to be inspired by what I’m wearing onstage. When a singer has a team of costumers and designers molding them into Carmen or Violetta it’s easy. But when you’re left on your own for a concert or recital, it’s up to you to find THAT dress that makes you feel like a million bucks, and that’s not always as simple as it sounds, nor does it always fall into the budget that we have. That’s why ODDC is so fantastic. It’s a huge catalog of incredible gowns at one’s fingertips, usually with very reasonable prices attached. The best part is the receptive singer/sellers who happily answer questions that Nordstrom would not.”
Jarman and her collection of gowns have graced some of the world’s most prestigious stages, and many of those gowns have continued on to new homes with other ODDC members, giving all divas the opportunity to look and feel fabulous for a great price, whether they are performing professionally, or giving their undergraduate recital.
A Reliable Partner
An undertaking this big can’t be done alone and after single-handedly running the rapidly growing ODDC for many years, Vinnik started the search for the perfect right-hand woman.
Enter Sara Duchovnay.
“I was introduced to Suzanne in February of 2016 and she asked me to be her business partner the next day,” Duchovnay related. “We just had a feeling about each other I think. I had run my own side-hustle eBay business for a couple of years at that point and had been sourcing and selling designer dresses between singing engagements. I had also been doing a good bit of blogging about issues pertaining to life as a singer. Suzanne and I got into a conversation about my side-hustle and her Facebook group and just started finishing each other’s sentences about designers and fashion and business, and the potential for what we both believed Opera Diva Dress Collection could become. We both saw it becoming something much bigger than a Facebook group.”
The venture has not only allowed the two to develop a strong bond, but has opened up a stable source of income that has, instead of detracting from their careers as opera singers, actually aided it.
“I think creating this thing that’s so much bigger than myself has made me a better singer, performer, colleague, and communicator than ever before, and has given me a confidence that I had spent years looking for,” noted Duchovnay. “I walk into every audition and gig knowing that in addition to my skills as a musician and performer, I bring with me the ability to make quick decisions, resolve conflicts, set the tone of the rehearsal for optimum results, market the production to our 10K operatic social media followers, and empower and encourage the people I work with so they can do their best work as well.”
“For me, entrepreneurship is a saving grace in terms of happiness and career stamina. I’m usually my absolute happiest when I’m away on a gig, and before Shoperatic, I would be really depressed between jobs. Now with Shoperatic, when I have time between gigs, I still get to do something that feeds my creative soul. I have complete flexibility, money for the things I need, and a feeling of control over my financial situation. My side-hustle definitely enhances my performance career, which keeps me productive and focused on the things that are most important to me.”
More importantly, it has offered a similar level of enrichment to other opera singers around the globe.
Take Eugenia Forteza, who aside from being an opera singer, is also the PR and Marketing Director of Shoperatic and runs her own blog 360° of Opera, which is dedicated to behind-the-scenes looks at the world of opera.
She had just launched an Instagram page called 360° of Opera and posted about it on Facebook group called “The Business of Singing.” Almost immediately, Vinnik reached out, offering to host her blog on Shoperatic.com.
Then as the relationship grew, Duchovnay and Vinnik offered Forteza the opportunity to be the company’s PR/Marketing Director.
“I was surprised and flattered and didn’t even blink before I said yes!,” enthused Forteza. “I have loved every minute I have spent on this project. Collaborating with this team is a pleasure and a great adventure. I will forever be thankful to Suzanne and Sara for believing in me and giving me not one but two big opportunities to do great things with my ideas.”
The opportunity, aside from allowing her to work with a burgeoning venture, also allowed her to immerse herself deeper in the opera world and learn from different artists, in turn developing her own understanding of her art.
“You get involved, meet people, make friends and opportunities arise,” she added. “Most of what makes opera happen, are groups of people who like each other, like working with each other, and create opportunities for each other.”
Looking for New Trends
Dramatic soprano Tracy Cox has always been told to “wait” for her voice to bloom and her career to take off. But she’s not one to sit around and wait. And being involved with Shoperatic has afforded a similar opportunity to see other perspectives and help the organization grow, albeit in a different manner.
Cox isn’t really involved in trading or selling dresses like most people associated with the organization are. She started off that way, but nowadays, she offers up something special for all divas looking to complement their newly acquired gowns – #fringies, unique, one of a kind earrings made of brightly colored fringe and vintage and up-cycled materials.
“These earrings have overtaken the opera world and have become a symbol of fashion, feminism, and operatic solidarity,” noted Cox. It’s unusual to go to a performance, audition, or singer gathering, without seeing at least one women proudly sporting a pair of Cox’s creations.
“I had been low-key designing jewelry for friends – and colleagues I would meet on gigs – literally for years,” she noted. “I made my first pair of #fringies for myself in 2009! But like many singers, I had this ugly and destructive idea in my head that I had to be very quiet about side hustles. I felt like if anyone saw me taking jewelry design seriously, they would automatically think I wasn’t taking my career as a soprano seriously.”
But then she decided that she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her how to employ her time or talents.
“I was the one who needed to make ends meet between gigs, and I was the one who had the creativity and tenacity to do so,” she noted. “I posted tentatively on ODDC, kind of like a coming out of sorts, and got an overwhelming response. ODDC really made me realize that I had something real and wonderful on my hands.”
Vinnik noted that these kinds of experiments are what give Shoperatic its potential.
“In addition to dress related things, Shoperatic.com will allow entrepreneurial singers to open online stores to run their side-hustles, and will also offer original content pertaining to the operatic career and lifestyle,” she noted.
With Shoperatic.com in its infancy, these entrepreneurs know that they still a long way to go in both developing the brand and balancing their respective opera careers.
But they all have one thing in common – tremendous excitement about what the future holds.
“I can’t emphasize this enough–this is a captive market of singers wanting to support other singers, and it’s an incredible draw as a seller. Sure there are other online marketplaces, but there is nothing that centers on millennial artists and our ability to innovate, create, and support each other the way Shoperatic does,” noted Cox. “We are a new generation, and we have a staggering amount of innovation and artistry to offer.”
“I can’t tell you how many singers have come up to me and Suzanne and said ‘This group has made me feel confident about my body, empowered to make choices about what I wear, empowered to make choices about my finances/health/career/relationships etc,’” noted Duchovnay. “We feel especially moved when we hear that this group has made people feel like they are part of something bigger, and has caused them to forge great friendships with other singers who they used to think of as competition, but now think of as friends.”
Shoperatic officially launches on Sept. 12, 2017.