Bright Future: Student makes fashion cents

Published 12:01 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Marketing student Naquita Smith, 27, volunteers her retail knowledge and merchandising know-how at the Copiah-Lincoln Community College Natchez campus bookstore as an opportunity learn more about her field of study.

NATCHEZ — When Naquita Smith looked at the bookstore at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus, she saw lots of great merchandise that was not selling.

“It needed a little help,” Smith said.

Students bought their books and classroom materials, but they weren’t picking up what Smith thought was cool Copiah-Lincoln gear.

The 27-year-old business marketing management technology major said she just wanted to help out.

“You couldn’t see the clothes,” Smith said. “So I made the bookstore my pet project.”

Smith took advantage of the windows that hug the bookstore to catch students’ attention. She dressed a mannequin in the window in the latest Copiah-Lincoln autumn gear, and displayed colorful umbrellas and trendy rain boots so students will notice — and they have.

Smith said she recently found her mannequin topless in the window.

“Someone bought the shirt off her,” Smith said. “I had to come in and redo it. We have a lot of things students didn’t know exist.”

She also separated men’s and women’s clothing, and arranged the wearable Copiah-Lincoln merchandise according to color and style.

“It made it easier to find stuff,” Smith said.

Smith checks into the store a few times a week to straighten stock, work on new display ideas and consolidate merchandise.

Her objective in arranging the merchandise has everything to do with visibility and access.

“If you don’t see what we have, you don’t want to come in and buy,” Smith said. “I want people to think, ‘Let me come in and see some of this new stuff.’”

Michael McCalip, who manages the Copiah-Lincoln bookstore, said while the space is limited, the store looks much more organized.

“She has more merchandising sense than I do,” McCalip said. “So I gave her a free hand to get everything organized. There is more visibility, and it seems like I have more room now. She has a magic touch or something.”

McCalip said the inventory is not selected locally; it’s shipped from the Wesson campus, but Smith has found the perfect spot for everything.

Smith added that anyone from the community is invited to come shop, just pick up a visitor’s pass. The bookstore closes at 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Smith graduated from Vidalia High School in 2003, and attended college at Southern University. She didn’t graduate, but did work at Macy’s and Lane Bryant while living outside the Miss-Lou.

“That’s where I got most of my hands-on experience,” Smith said.

She said that’s what a career in retail is all about — experience.

“Books will only teach you so much about this,” Smith said.

Smith said her career goal is to open a specialty plus-size boutique, probably after she graduates from Copiah-Lincoln next year.

“This is keeping me in my element, so when I’m ready to open (my own store), I’m not rusty,” Smith said.

The store, Smith decided, will be called Naava L2 — her nickname, and the middle initials of her and her father’s name, Lea and Lee.

“We’re close,” Smith said. “He’s happy that I’m back in school and doing so well.”

Smith said she knows there is a market for pretty, plus-sized fashions.

“We have a few options — not the quality or variety,” Smith said. “I saw a lot of young girls come into Lane Bryant, and they thought they couldn’t find anything that fit. I told them, ‘I understand completely.’ We had a lot of repeat customers. I like helping people.”

Smith, competing against more seasoned students, was recently awarded fifth place for fashion merchandising and marketing at the 2011 Mississippi Collegiate DECA state career development conference.

Smith is the daughter of Nehesi Lee LaPharaohs and Martha Combs.