Ray Malouf's family has been in the children's clothing business for a long time.
Originally from Lebanon, his grandfather become the Buster Brown dealer in that region of the world 50 years ago. Today, the company represents more than a dozen brands, operating as a wholesaler of children's goods in the Middle East and Canada.
Malouf joined in after graduating from college, and, in 2012, decided to try something a little new - establishing the nuvonivo brand. He launched a website selling children's clothing, accessories and toys in April 2012. In August 2013, just a couple of blocks from Marbles Kids Museum on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh, he opened a brick-and-mortar store to showcase the trendy items that he's pulled from mostly European brands.
So, let's stop right there. Downtown Raleigh. European brands. Sounds expensive? Not so much.
The average price point in the store is $20 for a dress or jeans, for instance. But, on racks in the middle of the store, you'll find all kinds of pieces that start at just $4. When we planned to spend several hours downtown a couple of months ago and I realized I'd forgotten a sweatshirt for my younger daughter, I picked a cozy, warm hoodie for her for just $12. Sizes range from newborn to size 10.
In fact, when nuvonivo opened, it included the phrase "fashion boutique" in the name, but Malouf said they quickly scrubbed those words when they realized that they turned away shoppers, who figured the clothes were too expensive for their wallet.
Right now, the store features two brands - lief! from the Netherlands and Kanz from Germany, both popular and well-known labels in other parts of the world. Malouf looks for trendy pieces to put in the store and sell online. The shop is filled with simple graphic T-shirts, cotton dresses and adorable plaids, polka dot and floral patterns.
You'll find dressy clothes here, but mostly clothes kids could wear to school, camp or play. And, Malouf said, it all stands up to lots of wearing and washing. He knows - he's pulled more than a few pieces for his own son, now 17 months old.
"I love it because I know when we wash it, it's not going to disintegrate when we take it out of the dryer," he said.
In the last couple of years, Malouf has worked to bring in more community activities inside the space. There have been trial SproutSongs Music classes on some first Fridays and crafts. They made paper clogs to cover kids' shoes when they started selling items from lief!, for instance. Malouf hopes to expand those offerings in the near future, he said.
Since Malouf and his wife welcomed their son, he's felt a different kind of connection with his shoppers ... a bit like he'd joined a new club. So he's excited about opportunities to continue to turn the business into a place to connect and serve more parents, kids and families.
"I'm really proud of that," he said.
Nuvonivo, which means "new level" in French, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. You can find it at 111 E. Hargett St., Raleigh.
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