Boutiques bloom with unique fashions
Photographs by Dina Scoppettone
COCO CHANEL once commented that "in order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different." A handful of local boutiques seem to have taken her immortal advice to heart. In defiance of the mass market's dictates, one-of-a-kind clothing stores are popping up across the county, each with a singular stylistic DNA. Small labels, locally crafted fashions and even carefully curated recycled accessories are their stock in trade. One noteworthy newcomer, Stripe, celebrates its one-year anniversary this month; others, like Cameron Marks, Tom Teifer, Pacific Trading Company and too many others to do justice to here, have been at it for years, aesthetic outposts on the fashion frontier.
In this year's fashion issue—featuring photographs by Dina Scoppettone, and interviews with soon-to-be-famous treasure hunters and entrepreneurs in organic style—we propose that small is beautiful, different is good and Coco was right.
Twist's handbag expert is getting attention
By Traci Hukill
WHEN Lara Marotta decided to open Twist last summer, "with no money and Facebook," it was all about the clothes. In the Pacific Avenue storefront where she used to run Galla Cabana before selling it several years ago, her concept for a high-end consignment store stocked with designer labels began to take shape. Sophisticated Ralph Lauren dresses and Gucci jackets would hang next to playful Free People sweaters and shimmering Bebe halter tops, carefully chosen fashion pieces at a fraction of the original price.
Then Marotta met Carolyn Bowers. And now, in addition to impeccably stylish consignment clothing in excellent condition, Twist is winning a following for its huge collection of pre-owned designer handbags. At its Aug. 1 opening, the store had one display of bags by designers like Kate Spade, Coach and Gucci as well as midmarket brands like LeSportsac and Land's End. Now it has five. "It's 90 percent of my business," says Marotta, sounding a little awestruck.
Bowers waves away praise. "It works out well for everyone," she says. "I feel like I'm doing a good thing. All women love bags. Even if they just like to carry a shopping tote."
Her humility notwithstanding, Bowers is Twist's secret weapon, a one-woman treasure-hunting operation with satchels, hobos and clutches as the booty. She's understandably coy about her techniques, which include both online sleuthing and real-world digging, but the fact is her expertise can't be replicated. What started as a hobby six years ago with the purchase of a silver compact that turned out to be a valuable antique has become almost a sixth sense for quality.
"Like when I felt this, I just knew," Bowers says, touching the impossibly supple leather of a pale green Bottega Veneta hobo. New, it fetched in the neighborhood of $1,200; here it's priced at $400. Similarly, an understated but unusual satchel turned out to be a hand-painted Goyard, a French luggage maker similar to Louis Vuitton but harder to find. It goes on like that, shelf after shelf of gems rescued and restored.
A huge part of Bowers' job is detecting inauthenticity—and that gets harder and harder. "It's incredible," she says, shaking her head, when asked about the quality of knock-offs. "There are AAA-quality replicas. They use good leather, good hardware, everything."
It takes all of Bowers' encyclopedic knowledge about zippers, liners and certification tag patterns to filter out the frauds. Then she must clean the bags, very carefully, liners and all, using tools and products she's discovered over time. The result is a candy case of good-quality accessories at all price points, from $10 to $700—something everyone can appreciate.
To see more photos of handbags at Twist, go to http://news.santacruz.com and click on the "Business" tab.
Synergy Clothing comes home to Santa Cruz
By Jessica Lussenhop
A LOT has changed since Kate Fisher locked eyes with Henry Schwab at a Phish concert in 1997. She was a Deadhead peddling Indian textiles; he was a Greenpeace activist touring with Phish's nonprofit arm the Waterwheel Foundation. And yeah, yeah—they grew up, got married and had kids, but Fisher's clothing line Synergy grew up with them, culminating with her new downtown Santa Cruz storefront, Synergy Clothing, which opened in January.
"We started in our 20s and now we're in our mid, late 30s. We're young families and young adults wanting to be eco-minded. People who are more willing to shop at Whole Foods or Staff of Life," she says. "We're growing up in that whole demographic that's been developing over the last 10 years."
Fisher got her start at 21 on a vacation to India and Nepal in 1993, when she came back with a suitcase full of recycled silk saris, brocades and other textiles. Once she realized there was a market for the look, the native New Yorker designed contemporary, Western-style clothing, like spaghetti strap dresses, and had them sewn from the traditional cloth.
"An Indian woman would wear it in a marriage ceremony, then it came to a woman here in the States living her life. I liked that idea of the cultural history of the fabric," she says.
Synergy (named for the marriage of Eastern cloth and Western style) started in 1995 and rode the wave of bohemian chic that crested when the likes of Madonna and Gwen Stefani stuck bindis to their foreheads in the late '90s. By then Fisher and Schwab were married and living in Santa Cruz, selling clothing at trade shows and concerts. The line hit a commercial high note with an order from Urban Outfitters.
"Then it started to die out," says Fisher. "There was less demand in the marketplace and I was starting to get bored with that motif."
As she began exploring new ways to work with recycled materials, she learned more about organic cotton being grown in India. The concept meshed well with the couple's hippie roots. "Coming from the world of environment nonprofits, working so long for Greenpeace, it was natural," says Schwab.
"Our business is an extension of who we are."
The shift really took place after the birth of baby number one in 2006, when Schwab stepped up full-time to handle the business side of Synergy. The line split into three parts: Synergy, which still makes some items from recycled silks; Synergy Organic, a youthful line that includes T-shirts, screen prints and hand appliqués; and Kate Organic, a more upscale line of organic cotton dresses, pants and tops all sewn in the Bay Area. Everything is made with organic cotton, hemp and low-impact dyes. While Synergy Organic has a more junior vibe with birds, clouds and flowers screenprinted on swingy, soft cotton garments, Kate Organic has a more classic essentials look. But they all share Fisher's basic inspiration and commitment to environmental ethics.
"I guess what inspires me are clothes that look good and are functional, that make a woman feel feminine but are easy to wear," she says. "I want someone to be able to throw on a dress and know she looks good. Puts on her shoes and is out the door."
Fisher and Schwab opened their storefront on Walnut Street in the old Bay Photo location at what many might have considered an odd time economically. But the company is very healthy, says Schwab, despite the economic downturn, having done about $1 million in sales in the last year. Synergy clothes are selling in 300 stores in 45 states.
"We'll ship to yoga studios, spas, health food stores, mom and pop boutiques," says Schwab—and they now look forward to expanding their retail location.
Between the addition of an accessories line, the couple's frequent trips to trade shows all over the country and the line's growing popularity in places like Belgium and Japan, it's a wonder they find the time to come home to sleepy Santa Cruz. "I like the pulse of urban life," explains Fisher. "But Santa Cruz has an easy life. I like the lifestyle." And that jet-set mind-set in a soft gauzy body comes through in the clothes—another type of synergy.
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