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La Isla del Encanto

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  • | 12:01 p.m. May 14, 2010
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As the slow economy on the Gulf Coast keeps grinding on, Erika Peña is making her move to Puerto Rico where she started selling jewelry at open air markets years ago.

In August, Peña plans to open her first Erika Peña Designs jewelry store in a ritzy part of the island called Guaynado. It's part of a plan to open 10 stores in the next two years in Latin America and Europe, backed by a group of investors from Coral Springs.

Puerto Ricans and other Latin American people spend more on apparel than their U.S. counterparts. “People go out a lot and love to get dressed up,” Peña says. “U.S. sales are slowly picking up, but it's been harder.”

Peña doesn't plan to open stores in the U.S. for another three years, which is how long she estimates it will take for retail sales to rebound. However, she hopes to boost U.S. sales through direct channels such as ShopNBC, an online shopping mall.

Until now, Peña has sold her jewelry through dozens of high-end fashion boutiques around the world. Her jewelry is routinely featured in glossy fashion magazines and worn by stars such as Paris Hilton. This summer, Peña will be taping a show on VH1, the cable television channel.

But dealing with stores and arguing over prices on small orders with difficult owners isn't worth the aggravation, she says. “I'd rather get to my customers straight,” Peña says. “It's more gratifying.”

Meanwhile, much of the company's back-office operation will remain in Fort Myers under the direction of her sister, Bielka Peña-Bevillard. “She's still doing the accounting in Fort Myers,” she says. Companies in Bali, Indonesia, and in Puerto Rico make Peña's jewelry.

Erika Peña stores will be relatively small, measuring about 800 square feet. “It's going to be cool, innovative, quirky,” she says. Besides jewelry, Peña is also working on apparel such as footwear and handbags, though these will be aimed at certain customers in particular countries such as Brazil because they're regional fashion trends.

Although you can buy Peña's jewelry online, sales through that channel have been slower than she anticipated. “I want to get away from that and do my own stores,” she says.

Besides, while Peña is relatively unknown in Fort Myers, she's a celebrity in Puerto Rico. “I love it. There's a lot of energy.”

—Jean Gruss


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