Strolling through the streets of Old Town Tustin, one store tends to catch residents’ eyes: Morning Lavender. Its white, brick facade sets it apart from every other building on the block, but what about its origin story? The rich history that lies in the folds of every skirt, dress, and blouse in the store. It all begins with a woman with a dream: Kim Le Pham.
Switching from accounting to wedding photography, Pham had been self-employed for a number of years before taking the plunge and creating her own clothing company. Although part of her inspiration for Morning Lavender came from her own sense of style and love for shopping, in working with the clients she was photographing she discovered a lack of options for affordable special occasion wear.
“I kind of found a void that was missing and I thought I could capture an audience with those really beautiful pieces that would be photogenic and that they could wear more than once,” Pham said.
This idea of curating these reasonably priced items was originally executed online, with a small-scale inventory of clothing hand-picked by Pham, herself.
Yet, once the brand started to gain some popularity and recognition, Pham and her husband, Jason Huang, set up pop-up shops throughout California where they were able to interact with customers. This process escalated into eventually opening up a Morning Lavender store in a remote corner of San Francisco, where the brand had previously connected with the community.
The next step for Morning Lavender was to make its presence known further South. After reaping success with their San Francisco location, Pham and Huang endeavored to open a Morning Lavender joint boutique and café concept in Old Town Tustin.
Born and raised in Tustin, Pham felt as though the charm of the city would prove a fitting backdrop for Morning Lavender’s rising adoration.
“After having a store that was 400 miles away, I was like, ‘OK I want something much closer to home,’” Pham said.
But what exactly is a shopping experience at Morning Lavender like? Whether entering for the first time or making a regular appearance, every detail, from the scent to the flower wall, adds to the unique ambience inherent to the store.
Even long-term employees, like Leija Huth, who have been with the company since its Tustin opening recognize Morning Lavender’s irresistible allure.
“There’s something about the environment that’s different from other places, and it makes people want to come back,” Huth said.
Yet the mission of Pham’s store is deeper than its initial aesthetics, it is in essence: to inspire. Each component of Morning Lavender was chosen to spark inspiration in the women who spend time there, especially since they create that feeling for Pham.
It extends beyond products, though, to the experiences the store can offer customers. One of the more specific aspects of the Tustin location is its outdoor patio seating which, accompanied by the café’s menu, hosts afternoon tea per reservation. This service, being quite rare in the Orange County area, has proven to be a “go-to” for birthdays, bridal and baby showers, and more.
“We kind of became that destination to celebrate things in life, and so having that inspiring space was really my goal from the beginning,” Pham said.
As a result of her upbringing, Morning Lavender’s success holds a strong significance for Pham. The fact that her parents were refugees from Vietnam has instilled within her the work ethic that can be attributed to the company’s success.
Motivated by her parents’ dream for providing her with a better life, Pham’s devotion to her work permeates Morning Lavender and was even evident when she worked as a certified public accountant. Boutique inventory lead and creative assistant, Hannah Levin, cited Pham as a notable influence, merely through her experience working under her guidance.
“Getting to see her be successful and how she [did] it basically from the ground up is really inspiring and cool to see,” Levin said.
However, Pham’s resiliency and dedication were tested last year, as was the case with most business owners, due to COVID-19. Since Morning Lavender’s clothing is catered more toward special occasion wear, adapting to the sudden drop in demand was difficult for Pham and Huang.
“There wasn’t much of a market for that kind of clothing anymore, so we had to switch our gears a bit and curate more pieces that were accommodating to what women were looking for at that point,” Pham said.
Additionally, after a shut-down of close to three months they were weary of reopening for in-person shopping, especially in Old Town Tustin, considering the café’s basis of serving food and drinks to customers. However, that did not deter the community’s loyalty toward the store, whether it be through online purchases, patiently waiting for a reopening date, or even just the team members’ commitment to ensuring that everything would be as safe as possible.
“To receive the support from not only our customers but also our employees and the staff, I think it says a lot about Kim Le’s leadership and the way that people respect her intuition,” Huang said.
As for Pham’s goals for both the company and her personal life, she plans on persevering through this time of uncertainty. Despite the unfortunate closing of Morning Lavender’s San Francisco location at the start of 2021, Pham is hopeful for what the future will bring. Yet, that extends beyond her work on the store.
“[I want to find] that balance between being an entrepreneur and a mom … and just being able to be a strong woman for our business and also for my family,” Pham said.
Morning Lavender is more than just its eye-catching visuals and feminine clothing, it contains Pham’s dream and her heart. It is more than just a boutique or a café, it is an experience designed to empower all who choose to enter. And it is more than just a company, it is an empire.