After taking a career hit during the recession, fashion vet Rachel Konte found herself at a crossroads: should she keep knocking on doors to design for big brands, or finally forge her own path? Though it was a tough time to take such a risk, Konte chose the later. She decided to take a business class, which ultimately led to her meeting the business partner with whom she started her first retail venture, a pop-up called Oakollectiv. The success experimental project gave her the confidence she needed to open up a storefront of her very own, OwlnWood.
Along with a selection of vintage and domestically (if not locally) made goods, OwlnWood stocks basics she designs and has made in Oakland. Her dedication to cultivating the local economy and shining a light on the makers in her city made us curious to chat up the shop owner and designer about the thought process behind her well-curated stock, the things she’s loving in the store right now, and — obviously — her top picks for a local lunch break.
I like the mix of simple and classic styles with fun and crazy 1970s/1980s patterns and cuts.
What first prompted you to open your own shop?
After 18 years in the apparel industry found myself without a job during the recession in 2009. Though I wasn’t prepared to go out on my own, I had no choice and found myself soul searching on my next steps. I took a business class and met a designer friend who had owned her own store in SF. We decided to open a pop-up shop together in one of the many empty storefronts in Downtown Oakland in 2011. After a year of testing the concept of mixing vintage and my own graphic design tops I felt I was ready to go out on my own and I opened OwlnWood in Oakland's Uptown area a year later.
How do you select the brands you stock?
I have a very specific style. Everything that I buy or consign, I make sure to fit into the flavor and style of the store. I am Afro-Danish and born and raised in Copenhagen, so some of my style and taste comes from my background of Scandinavian sensibility. I like the mix of very simple and classic styles with sometimes fun and crazy 1970s/1980s patterns and cuts. The vintage collection I carry is handpicked by me with great care. I like to mix the new and old together. The smaller American brands the shop carries I’ve had for five or six years, so I respect their products and I have had good relationships with them. All my jewelry, leather products and body care products are locally made.
Tell us why stocking so many local brands is important to you.
I try to have most of my products locally made, but not exclusively. However I am proud of having my own line ONW by OwlNWood almost 95% made right here in Oakland. I carry other small brands that are local or from the greater Bay Area, but I also like to bring in some European goods like the Swedish clogs or the Belgian Sunglasses I carry. For my own line it’s important to be made locally so I can be part of the process and create a relationship with my vendors, suppliers, and production makers. I prefer to do really small batches and redo the products that work and sell well. That is only possible when I work locally. It also helps support a local economy and has a ripple effect when people can buy from my store and support several artists and makers.
What are some of your favorite recent arrivals?
I am so excited about my two new graphic tops like the Sporty Heart Sweatshirt and the Wakanda sweatshirt. They are both fun and colorful and available at the store and on our website. The new Unity Tee we designed is a perfect spring and summer item with a positive message that we all need.
Fill in the blanks:
When I think of Oakland, the first word that comes to mind is ______.
If I was a superhero, my power would be _____.
Speaking all the languages in the world.
My favorite lunch break spot in Oakland is _______.
I go to The Cook and Her Farmer, Corshecha, and Miss Ollie a lot, but Rattos is also a great option for sandwiches.