What is the one thing good about the current insane rent prices situation in San Francisco?
People are moving to Oakland, not only for the living. Cool shops, unique restaurants, designers and artists are renting affordable spaces and helping Oakland to get its shine back. People are talking about how much this city has changed in the past years and they are hoping the trend will continue.
I had the pleasure to visit one of the most unique shops on the Grand Avenue and to spent some hours talking to the lovely shop owner & designer Rachel of Owl N Wood. Rachel’s shop is a mix of vintage finds and unique pieces collected mostly from local designers. By entering the store, you can feel the influence of her Scandinavian heritage and her love for good quality items. Studying fashion design in Copenhagen and being a designer for Levi’s for over ten years has sharpen her taste to combine flea market finds with simple modern lines. I wish I could spent a day with Rachel strolling thrift stores and vintage markets, this lady has such a good eye and bit of luck when finding real treasures. Get this! She scored an original Pandelton Hundson Bay blanket for only $9,90 at Goodwill store! Enjoy our chit chat….
What led you to become a shop owner?
I’m Danish, I went to the design school in Copenhagen in the 80’s. I did fashion design for men’s wear. My first job after I graduated was at Levi’s. I was lucky to have some connections and be hired for Levi’s in Sweden. It was kind of a amazing dream job. Working in Sweden with a really cool danish team. But then Levi’s decided to centralize everything in Brussels and we all head to kinda fight to get the job. On a work trip to San Francisco, they had an open position but I was never thinking of living in America. My whole family was in Denmark. But I was like, mmhh I never lived in another country, I was single and if I can get this job I don’t have to fight for the one in Brussels. It was crazy, within two months I was transferred. I planed to stay for 2 years, that was in ’93.
I got married, got a wonderful daughter. And than in 2009 with the economy crash I was laid off, it was a shock for me, I have been with Levi’s for almost 10 years. The first year was a pretty tough, but then I decided I can’t sit here, so I took a business class for women. Learned how to write a business plan and started to do graphic design, like business cards, logos, just keeping me busy. Then I met another european classmate, we partnered and opened a pop up shop here in Oakland. We curated local designers and our own small collections. It gave me confidence to open my own store. I got a broker and found this perfect space. At that point I knew I didn’t want to go back to corporate anymore.
Describe us the idea of your store? What is so unique about it?
I think the store is really about who I am. I have a really unique background, my dad is from Ghana my mum is danish, both were creative people who taught me to seek for quality. I feel that my store has a mixture of different cultural stuff, the combination of danish clean simple modern with something more cultural, crafty background. And I love vintage stuff… I think there are so many amazing pieces that don’t get acknowledged, I want to bring those pieces to life. I want people to wear their $300 dress with a cool vintage sweater they bought for 10 bucks. I want my store to have quality pieces for an affordable price. And a future goal is to feature more Scandinavian designers.
The pieces at Owl N Wood are very well selected. How do you find all the products?
It’s the mixture. Many of my ex-colleagues started their small businesses, one do jewelry here in Oakland, I have friend, she was a senior designer at Levi’s, I carry her sweater collection. I have this small group of people whom I work with. Basically the products I have are divided by three things: I have the vintage stuff that I collect myself, then I work with vintage wholesale guy and then I work with local designers on co-signing base. Sometimes I reach out to designers, sometimes people come to me or somebody refers a brand. It’s getting easier and easier when people know you.
What do you keep in mind when choosing the items for Owl N Wood?
I’m using my own compass, I have a certain aesthetic, it’s sometimes hard to describe what I like and why do I like it. I love down to earth quality, I don’t like fast fashion. Choosing pieces which can be timeless. I don’t care much about if something is trendy, if I really feel like wearing that blazer I will wear it, if it’s in fashion or not.
As every job, being a shop owner has also pro and con’s. What do you love most about your job? What’s not so great?
I like the freedom of my time. Like I open the store at 11am and it gives me a whole different life then I had when I was at Levi’s. I have a girl coming at 3pm and I enjoy to be able to organize my time more flexible.
What I don’t like is mostly, just because this is new to me. I have still to learn to work with cash flow. And to buy products when I need them and not just because I like them. It’s hard for a small store to spent big budget on inventory. That’s the part I don’t like. I don’t have anything really negative. Spending time here and talking to people is just great.
Have you any advice for somebody who would like to open a store?
Yes, for sure: I mean, people should do it if they have a dream. But I think it’s good to save up as long as you have a good job. Buy things you need, like computer, as long as you are working. One think I would always recommend is to get a broker when seeking for a place. I didn’t know that you don’t have to pay them, the landlord is paying for them, but you get so many benefits. They know available spaces, they know how to reach out in a professional way, they know how to negotiate. He helps you with the lease. Everything looks much more professional when you meet with landlords. Try to use the help of friends and family, score flea markets for decor, you don’t have to spend lots of money on interior. And definitely take a business class, it opens lots of questions to think about, it helps guide you.
Can you describe us your day at the …morning…. noon…. evening?
I live about 15 minutes from here, I have a daughter, my husband and two dogs. I love to get up early. Probably I come here at 10am and spend my time with meeting designers, working on emails and orders, doing graphic design or inventory. There is always something to do. Meeting people for lunch, go browsing vintage stores. Evenings are dedicated to family and friends, I use to run with my dogs around the lake, cooking and relaxing.
Shop owner’s dream?
This was a big dream to do this step, to open this store. The next big dream is to find the money to create a small Owl N Wood collection. I hope this will be possible by next year.
Favourite pieces or designers right now in your store?
One is Micaela Greg, they put so much love into their knit wear. Also a girl from Harp Design who makes beautiful jewelry. And the last thing, the Laserlab, this girl is an architect but she makes this beautiful leather bracelets. There are so many, my favourites are always changing.
Top 3 destinations?
Tokyo is my favourite place of traveling. London is my second place, if I wouldn’t live here I would live there. And I love the Bay Area. This is a pretty amazing place to live.
Currently addicted to…?
Blazers! I have tons of blazers. Specifically vintage blazers. If they fit, I have to have them.
Night owl or early bird?
Definitely early bird.
Tell us some of your favorite Oakland spots?
The lake is a really great place to relax and have a walk. We just discovered a small nice breakfast place called kitchen 388 and a sushi place, Yojimbo, in Alameda. I love the hills for a hike. And I can’t wait, one of my best friend is opening a jamaican cuisine restaurant. It’s called kingston 11.
Always in your bag…
In my bags are always two or three small bags to organize myself. Like makeup, paper stuff, little things… It gives me an excuse to have small bags, because I love them. And a scarf.