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The business of fashion on the Hill

Ladies of Olive Way #2, originally uploaded by JeanineAnderson.

On Capitol Hill, cranes cut the skyline and restaurants pop up like weeds. In the midst of a building boom and dining renaissance, the Hill’s retail economy has its work cut out keeping its place in the busy storefronts of Pike, Pine and Broadway. In that mix, fashion has proven to be a defensible bastion against the big stores and the Internet. CHS caught with up with three veterans of the Capitol Hill fashion scene to get a sense of what in the neighborhood holds the industry together.

Perched on a brocade loveseat and surrounded by her sweet dog and two shop cats, Pretty Parlor’s Anna Banana — aka Anna Marie Lange — talks about her 11 years on the Hill. Her candy-colored shop, filled to the brim with frocks, shoes, and accessories, opened in 2001. “Capitol Hill is still best for vintage and thrifting,” she says. 

However, Anna has continually updated her concept. In recent years, she’s brought in local designers (Jamie Von Stratton, Scotty Marie, Glam Cloud) to keep her product fresh, as well as vintage reproduction lines (Stop Staring!, Unique Vintage, Trashy Diva) that allow her to offer old school silhouettes in current-normal-people sizes. 

She’s also launched an Etsy store that ships clothes and accessories to customers all over the world. Her motto has been “meet the demand but stick to your vision.” The vintage trade in particular requires creating loyalty and personal relationships; for this, she feels, the shop “really has to represent the owner.” 

Anna also loves the sense of community on the Hill; she created a “vintage fashion map” directing visitors to ten other shops including Cairo, Le Frock, Value Village, and the Hill’s longest-running vintage shop, Red Light.

Contemporary Veridis
With her shop right in the heart of the Hill on Pike, Stephanie Bohn also loves spreading the word on other businesses nearby. She opened Veridis in 2008, hoping to fill a need she saw for more contemporary, fashion-forward clothing boutiques on the Hill (including offering men’s fashion).

Though she sees the neighborhood as essentially a thriving, diverse mix, she also says, “I’d love more retail on the Hill.” 

She lauds community-building efforts like CHEW (Capitol Hill Entrepreneurial Women, a group of women business owners who meet to share information) and Shop the Hill, an effort spearheaded by Babeland’s Audrey MacManus and sponsored by CHS to encourage locals to spend locally. 

Though Stephanie offers online shopping, she sees Veridis as more of a neighborhood store. Her customers range from ages 20 to 60, mostly locals, she notes, but a lot of folks from outlying neighborhoods such as Madison Park or Madrona. 

With prices ranging from $24 to $350, she tries to remain sensitive to price point, aiming to offer something for everyone. Though Seattleites have a reputation for dressing for function over fashion (an observation she’s heard from many recent transplants or out-of-towners in her shop), she’s seen a shift in that, saying the “why are you so dressed up?” attitude seems to be on the wane, and that people are having more fun with personal style. 

Local Retail Therapy
Wazhma Samizay’s Retail Therapy
is approaching its tenth anniversary. Her bright and cheerful windows are a fixture of the walk down E Pike, displaying silly underwear, Girl Friday dresses, and (often booze-drinking oriented) gifts.

“When I first started my shop, there weren’t a lot of places that featured local artists. When I looked around, my community was full of creative talent that I felt was untapped,” she said. 

Inspired by travel and the sharing of different perspectives, she offers a hand-picked selection that her customers (“80% of my clientele are regulars”) can rely on. 

This personal touch is what’s kept her out of the online shopping game; instead, she can maintain an ever-changing mix of goods that are responsive to the evolving community. She’s alert to the changes happening in the neighborhood; as a longtime resident who lives, works, shops, and eats on the Hill — and with a child entering Lowell Elementary in the fall — she’s particularly interested in the Hill maintaining a walkable daytime culture to offer stability to the bustling nightlife scene. 

“I think it will be important for the neighborhood to maintain a balance of nighttime and daytime businesses so that it can continue to thrive,” Samizay said. 

She recently found an ideal partner to set up shop in her store’s loft: Dr. Jen (as in, PhD of biochemistry and biophysics) of Atomic Cosmetics/Xerion Skin Science, an open lab concocting all-natural, made-to-order face creams, foundations, and lipsticks free of scary ingredients. Sharing space with a business with a similar philosophy or aesthetic could be just one strategy for longevity in the brave new Capitol Hill. “Part of what makes this area amazing is the thriving creative community that is constantly redefining itself and how it chooses to express itself,” Samizay says.

Phillips, Rabut and Garfield as the shop opened last year (Image: CHS)

New Efforts
Meanwhile, there is also growth. Kaleidoscope Vision’s mix of vintage and local fashion has been growing on 10th Ave for just about a year. As the store just celebrated its first birthday, partners Ria Leigh, Mackenzie Garfield, and Sophia Phillips are planning a redesign of the shopping experience that reflects many of the qualities championed by the fashion vets we talked with.

“The huge, warehouse-like space will be transformed into an intimate, chromatic, and vivid shopping experience,” the KV team announced. “Kaleidoscope Vision will be stocked with highly-curated women’s, men’s, and kids vintage clothing, along with vintage housewares, jewelry, and books.”

The new look debuts Thursday at the 1419 10th Ave shop.

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