Despite the Recession, San Francisco Sprouts Some Clever Off-Beat Boutiques

A handful of intrepid San Francisco entrepreneurs have launched new clothing retail stores during the worst economic period in decades. Ill-advised? Time will tell, but these savvy proprietors seem to have come up with formulas for recession & retail success. Each approach—as well as their aesthetics—are as diverse as the city itself. Below are five of the city's latest and greatest outposts that we expect to survive at least until rents and the Dow start make a steady climb again.
la-library-san-francisco-shop-storePhoto by Anastasia Kuba
La Library380 Guerrero St., 415-558-9841,
La Library's owner Shaye La Mckenney calls her boho-tastic shop a "community closet and socialist boutique." You can rent clothes, most of them from local designers and McKenney herself, for 10% of their cost per day. Or, if you buy a $100 dress and after wearing it to that Very Important Party you decide you'd prefer a different goody, you can swap out the dress for other items up to $100 for up to a month. Some items are rental only, like an amazing pair of Marni platforms. Others are buy only, like the adorable lacy lingerie. And every Sunday, La-Libray is host to women-only clothing swaps/workshops on topics including figure drawing, poetry, and striptease dance.
Philanthropist3571 Sacramento St., 415-441-1750,
Sally Fowler and Jessica Moment know their customers—they want to feel pampered while doing something good. That's the idea behind Philanthopist, a welcome addition to the upscale but cozy Presidio Heights 'hood. Who wouldn't welcome champagne and cupcakes while shopping for Zac Posen, Richard Chai, Rachel Roy, Derek Lam, and Vera Wang? Some of the designers were hesitant to sell to the unproven boutique, but they were sold by their business plan, which Moment modeled after Newman's Own. All profits (or at least 10% of revenue) go to a new philanthropy each quarter. Philanthropist carries everything from gowns to T-shirts and jeans, as well as jewelry, practically eliminating the need to ever set foot in a department store. And did we mention the complimentary home delivery service?

Tedda Hughes Gallery and Boutique1623 Polk St.,
Tedda Hughes wanted to create a gathering place where artists and designers could display their work. Hughes says she chooses artists, such as DK Haas, Hilary Williams, Trish Tunney and Millard Boutique, who are underrepresented in some way. "That's just what I do," she says. "If you're a woman, your a craftswoman, if you're a man, you're an artist." Designs from She Bible, Life With Bird, and Atsuko Kudo along with Hughes' own adult and kids' designs create a colorful space that begs for a party, which she has each time she gets a new artist (if you're in the neighborhood, mark your calendar for June 27).
Mi808 Sutter St., 415-567-8080,
More than three decades of construction and deconstruction culminate in Dean Hutchinson's starkly beautiful Mi atelier in San Francisco's lower Nob Hill neighborhood. Long interested in feminism, Hutchinson says he's come to realize that empowerment is not about adornment, but "watering a seed that already existed." His apparently simple custom leather, wool, and heavy cotton jackets actually feature "stupid seaming." His made-to-order men's jeans are long and lean with a rock edge. The menswear has a feminine touch without being effeminate, and the women's line is masculine while obviously meant for the female form. Hutchinson often opens the space to photography and design students looking for a mentor, but he says he learns as much as they do.
filippa-k-san-francisco-shop-storePhoto by Thu Vo
Filippa K66 Kearny St., 415-951-0210,
The downtown store's manager, Thu Vo, says founder Filippa Knutsson fell in love with San Francisco because its relaxed atmosphere and aesthetic is so similar to her home in Sweden. So, she and co-founder Patrik Kihlborg chose San Francisco as their flagship U.S. store. The relaxed but modern pieces indeed suit the city well, with many layering options and gorgeous trenches for windy, foggy days. The airy shop--a modern redesign of a former bank—carries 60% men's and 40% women's clothing and a small selection of shoes. The subtly girly spring line was inspired by the film The Virgin Suicides, while the inspiration for the men's line came from The Darjeeling Ltd. Not surprisingly, it features whisper-thin sweaters in just the right shades of sunset orange and peach.

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