The glamorous life of a (fashion) truck driver: Behind the scenes of ‘The Styleliner’


The Styleliner is doing a tour of various cities on the East Coast and will be stationed in D.C. through June 17. (Sarah L. Voisin/WASHINGTON POST)
May 26, 2012

“Mommy, is this a dream?”

An 8-year-old girl steps out of the late-May sun beating down on a Georgetown parking lot and right into her own little version of heaven — a food truck.

Except this truck isn’t selling ice cream or cupcakes. She has climbed into a sartorial treasure chest filled floor to gilded ceiling with high-end jewelry, clothing and accessories — all housed inside what was once a potato chip delivery truck.

“Welcome to the Styleliner,” chirps Joey Wolffer, the bubbly, business-savvy brains behind the boutique-on-wheels.

“When I got the truck, it looked like a refrigerator. You had to have a really big imagination. I loved the idea of making it look like an old ’80s nightclub,” the 30-year-old New York native says, gesturing at the glam touches of gold, black, red and hot pink. “But you can still kind of see the Jay’s potato chip logo on the outside. I just love it.”

The Styleliner, based in New York City, is road-tripping in the District this spring after operating in New York since 2010. Wolffer and her partner, Sara Droz, have split their time among various locations in Georgetown and Dupont Circle five days a week since arriving in May.

“When we were talking about coming here, I was like, ‘D.C. is so conservative,’ ” says Wolffer. “But people here are hungry for fashion. The number of times we’ve heard, ‘Thank you for coming to D.C.,’ I can’t even tell you.”

For Wolffer, the idea to start her own business took form in 2008 after the death of her father. An entrepreneur, he had always urged her to “do something for myself,” says Wolffer, a longtime trend consultant at the Jones Group, the company behind brands such as Anne Klein, Jones New York and Nine West. “When I got promoted to design director at my old job, my dad called me ‘Director’ for months.”

Wolffer’s job required her to travel worldwide “finding inspiration,” she says. She met designers whose work she loved but who had no representation in the United States. A lightbulb flickered — she’d found her niche.

“I knew all along that I didn’t want to do a store. Rent for a good space in New York is so expensive,” she says. “And a store, it’s just not me. I wanted to do something off the beaten path.”

Inspired by the Twitter-fueled success of food trucks, Wolffer created the Styleliner in 2010. It is one of a handful of “fashion trucks” (and buses, and trailers) that have sprung up nationwide: Bootleg in Austin, Vintage Mobile in Dallas, Aetherstream in San Francisco, Creme Tangerine in Costa Mesa, Calif., Cookies N Cream in New York, and Lodekka and Wanderlust in Portland, Ore.

Wolffer began collecting merchandise, an eclectic mix that ranges from bracelets from the markets of Paris and Kenya for as little as $20 to leather bags and embellished jackets by the Greek designer Dassios, which sell for upwards of $1,500.

Meanwhile, Wolffer’s husband tracked down a ’99 Chevy in Illinois that simultaneously turned Wolffer into a boutique owner, a truck driver and, by necessity, a car expert. (Ask her about the time her brakes failed in the Bronx.) “I’m living the glamorous life of a trucker,” she jokes.

Her first year, Wolffer ran the business alone. She was successful — “I broke even on my investment after the first two months parking in the Hamptons” — but lonely and overwhelmed.

Last fall, she brought Droz, 30, on board. Wolffer handles the merchandising while Droz takes care of marketing. Droz is also charged with encouraging Wolffer to take risks with the business; this has manifested in a pop-up shop at the Sundance Film Festival and the road trip that took them to Miami last winter and D.C. this spring.

Wolffer says the goal is to spread awareness of the Styleliner brand. Customers can order from Styleliner’s online shop and West Coast residents can expect to see a truck in California in the next couple of years.

On a recent muggy Wednesday, the duo was parked at 20th and P streets NW, near Dupont Circle. With old-school Destiny’s Child playing in the background, they chatted with curious shoppers, all women.

Droz says sales in D.C. have improved each week, so much that she and Wolffer may set up a pop-up shop in the District after the truck leaves town June 17.

According to Droz, their biggest sales numbers have been in Georgetown. But the Dupont Circle locations at 20th and P and outside Bar Dupont in the Dupont Circle Hotel have had a constant flow of customers. A best-selling item has been a long, sparkly link necklace, $395, that combines easily with the conservative style the capital is known for.

“Coming to a city like D.C. where there’s nothing like this — not just the truck, but the merchandise — it’s amazing,” says Wolffer. “I’m not doing better for the world, but helping women feel better about themselves is key for me. . . . My dad is probably watching and laughing at me.”

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