A Hero’s Welcome

by Stephan Rabimov

Fashion Comes Home to the Tenderloin

From Homer’s “Odyssey” to “Star Wars,” epic journeys always focus on a hero, and most are homeward bound. So when former “Vogue” fashion news editor Emily Holt (a Bay Area native) returned to San Francisco to open her dream brick-and-mortar fashion hub, fashionistas took notice.

Hero Shop is not your standard San Francisco retail fare, starting with its location in the City’s traditionally gritty Tenderloin. European trends are sidelined here in favor of American designers, such as Creatures of the Wind and Of Rare Origin.

With an editor’s attention to detail, Holt curates items from tees to jeans, and from decor to accessories that wouldn’t be out of place in her own home or wardrobe. With inventory updated at least a couple of times a week, Hero Shop is divided into four segments: casual-contemporary, lifestyle/homewear, ready-to-wear, and accessories, including bags and shoes. Ranging from inexpensive postcards to rare collector’s pieces, including one-of-a-kind MMclay ceramics, everything in the shop offers something “different, fun and unexpected; something that makes people smile.”

We caught up with Emily for some insight into how she turned her startup venture into an instant hit.

What made you go from editor to store owner?

I am very fortunate to have had a satisfying career in magazines. I lived in NYC for 12 years and felt like the City itself was closing in on me. I was ready for a change and finally saw an opportunity to do something different. I knew there wasn’t a store like this in San Francisco, so this homecoming felt right.

San Francisco seems like a counterintuitive

choice for a fashion insider.

There’s a lot of talk about San Francisco and fashion. People actually love to disparage San Francisco’s sense of fashion and style. However, I felt there was quite a crowd here that could embrace a new store.

Well, you did raise over $45,000 via Indiegogo…

To me, that signified the fact that San Francisco does care about fashion, otherwise people wouldn’t give me money to do it. I think this fundraising campaign highlighted the market gap. It is great that Marni, Margiela and Dior are here, but they also exist elsewhere. I am so pleasantly surprised by the positive reception we have received, both from the industry as well as neighbors. We are a new concept that wasn’t here before. Although there are places like M.A.C., which I love and respect.

M.A.C. was among the retail vanguard that brought global contemporary fashion to SF. How do you see Hero in relation to its legacy?

I would be honored to pick up that proverbial baton, especially from a store that has been a landmark for more than 30 years. They were pioneers. I really see Hero Shop as complementary. We both have very distinct, yet specific points of view. They work mostly with Belgian and Japanese designers, and we work mostly with Americans and locals whom I invite based on a personal relationship or whom I come across at West Coast Craft, hosted at Fort Mason. We might be different, but we also overlap because we want folks to appreciate things that we appreciate and participate in fashion however way they see fit. I would love to do special one-off projects with brands we carry. We also champion local causes, like the Raphael House. We try to bolster the fashion community here.

Who is your Hero looking to save?

It’s not quite like that… I loved the idea that superheroes become what they are simply by changing their clothes. It’s not so far-fetched. What we wear can make us feel different.

In fact, we had a young girl from the neighborhood come by the shop the other day. She tried on a beautiful white dress by Adam Lippes (NYC-based designer). We were just stunned by how good she looked in it. And then she said, “I will be getting married tomorrow at City Hall, and this dress is perfect. It makes me feel like the person I want to be.” It was so satisfying to see that our clothes can be part of such a big day in someone’s life. It makes my day to hear how transformational our products can be.

So who is your ideal customer, then?

I don’t want my shop to feel exclusionary. It’s absolutely a pressure-free environment. I imagine there are two different types of people who could shop here. One is women who are big Net-A-Porter clients with personal shoppers at Neiman Marcus and Barneys, who pay attention to trends. They need a physical space to come and interact with fashion in person. They want something different and special for their entire wardrobe.

Another type of customer is a younger woman who earns her living in tech, science, finance, politics. She is curious about fashion or simply wants to look good. There are always those times in a professional setting, like all of a sudden you must have that perfect outfit for your next TED Talk. [Laughs] But everyone is welcome to discover fashion here.

The term “San Francisco style” would certainly have this range.

Yes, the different layers of the city. And I am so surprised by how many people have asked me what I am going to do about Burning Man. How would I dress a Burning Man customer? I am definitely happy to honor the city’s iconoclastic nature, its individualism, but at the same time its discretion, too. 

Stephan Rabimov is a contributing writer to Huffington Post Style, Forbes Luxury, and Director of Fashion Journalism & Social Media at Academy of Art University.

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