OAKLAND -- When you enter OwlNWood, the new independently-owned clothing shop on West Grand, expect to be greeted by Jimi Hendrix himself. A large black and white photo of Hendrix's face fills the back wall, drawing your eye instantly. His sideways gaze and ironic grin steer you to the racks on the left, where hand-picked vintage pieces mingle with owner Rachel Konte's designs.
This mixture of old and new is a major theme in Konte's shop. Modern Scandinavian clogs with swooping soles sit next to a worn leather chair. Printed tees from her Afro Buddah line and locally crafted jewelry share space with vintage jackets and boots. A soaring futuristic light fixture illuminates the checkout counter, but the counter itself is handmade from refurbished materials.
For Konte, the freedom to feature carefully crafted, high-quality clothing from both the past and the present is a dream realized. Formerly the director of design for the women's products line at Levis, Konte designed OwlNWood as a departure from the corporate cookie-cutter style of clothing retail. For her, that means sourcing locally-produced jewelry, skin care products and clothing, and finding items made before mass-production became the norm.
"I love collecting vintage. I love to give beautiful things a second life," says Konte. "And then also to have a space where I could feature my own designs in the exact environment that I could choose myself.
"I think working corporate, I
Konte first flirted with the idea of opening her own shop five years ago, but it wasn't until the economy belly-flopped that she was able to start actualizing her dream. After being laid off by Levis in 2009, Konte suddenly had time to invest in her own projects. She took the Oakland Women's Initiative course, started a successful pop-up shop called Oak Collective, and early this year signed the lease at 45 W. Grand. The result is OwlNWood, which officially opened its doors on Aug. 11, and now fills a once empty window.
"This store for me is investing in Oakland ... I definitely think it's the people of Oakland starting the change. It's almost like it can't continue with empty store fronts." says Konte.
Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, Konte moved to Oakland 11 years ago, but she still remembers being shocked that many of the city's beautiful downtown spaces were dotted with "for rent" signs. Adept at finding beauty in contrast, Konte believes that Oakland's recent revival owes much to the current economic slump.
"With the recession there has been more creativity among people.... people (are) taking initiative, opening stores or opening restaurants or bars or even doing out of the norm stuff and trying to make things happen," says Konte.
In the vein of community unity, OwlNWood is already supporting Oakland-based entrepreneurs. Last week the shop hosted a launch party for the Oak Street Style blog, a site that will feature Oakland's unique fashion sense. Chun-mui, the founder and director of Oak Street Style, showed a documentary on street fashion inspired by the creative people of Oakland.