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Monday, June 24, 2024

For twins Stephanie and Claire Browning, life is all cupcakes and pretty dresses — literally.

Managing their newly opened retro clothing and beauty store, Ingenue Avenue, and their two-year-old cupcake bakery, Sarkara Sweets Cafe, takes up so much of their time they have little room for much else on their schedules.

The identical duo opened Ingenue Avenue next to their cupcake shop at 201 SE Second Ave. last Thursday to fill the downtown clothing void.

The store specializes in boutique bath and beauty products and new and used retro clothing — specifically dresses.

Decorated with vintage Vogue magazines, silk tablecloths, flowers and miniature sprinkle cupcakes, the shop is sure to appeal to your inner Grace Kelly.

“We have always admired the visual styles of past time periods,” Claire Browning said.

Customers can find casual and formal dresses from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as well as vintage-inspired items that average $40.

“We have found that a lot of women are interested in more covering up,” Claire Browning said.

While the shop does have short dresses, it also carries hard-to-find ankle and knee-length wear suited for the workplace.

The twins said they named the shop after the French adjective “ingénu,” which means “young innocence.”

Don’t be deceived by the twins’ gentle demeanor, soft brown curls, freckles and sky-blue eyes. These ladies have been developing a plan for Ingenue Avenue for years and have just been waiting for an opportunity.

“It was just sitting in a file on our computer — we had a logo designed, the name and everything,” Stephanie Browning said.

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The opportunity came about when the clothing store next to Sarkara Sweets closed and they were able to rent the space and expand their business.

The two said it is always exciting and nerve-racking when they open a new shipment since they do not see the clothing before. They order from a wholesale vintage dealer in California.

Holding up a brown and white dress they call the “pilgrim dress,” they joke that they have received some off-the-wall items.

“You take a gamble when dealing with retro,” Stephanie Browning said.

Their interest in retro design and clothing styles is not only apparent in the products they carry, but also in the hand-picked design they incorporate in the clothing and cupcake shops.

Ingenue Avenue is a business venture as well as a labor of love for the sisters.

“When we were younger, Steph wanted to go into fashion design,” Claire Browning added.

Stephanie gave up that dream so her sister could pursue archeology at UF. Now, the Browning sisters have opened their books to fashion again and plan to use the same customized touch that they use in Sarkara Sweets.

“In a month or so, we will be offering beauty products made-to-order, just like the cupcake shop,” Stephanie Browning said.

Just as in Sarkara Sweets, where you can pick your cake flavor, filling, icing and toppings, Ingenue Avenue will offer that same flexibility with bath products, where the customer can pick ingredients and scents.

“We’ve seen a really widespread customer base,” Stephanie Browning said.

The sisters were surprised that the first sale of their women’s clothing store was to a man.

“He bought a bath bomb for his girlfriend,” Stephanie Browning said.

“It’s suited for young women,” Claire Browning added. “We’ve made most of our sales to women 25 to 40.”

Despite the summer months being generally slower for businesses, the Brownings have planned in advance and set aside money to accommodate.

“Summer everywhere is a little slower,” Claire Browning said. “But we enjoy the chance to interact with the customers.”

Summer in the cupcake shop is filled with more catering than usual, according to the sisters.

“People have time to celebrate events I guess,” Claire Browning said. “We’ve done weddings, special events, galas, bar and bat mitzvahs and baby showers.”

The shops are open Wednesday to Sunday, but thesisters work every day .

They look forward to training a manager and having more time for hobbies — cooking and gardening for Claire and sketching, fashion design and music for Stephanie.

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