In an era when small retailers are increasingly folding under pressure from big-box stores, a pair of Petaluma-bred fashionista twins are bringing their local fare to a national mall.
Ooh La Loft, co-founded by sisters and business partners Michelle and Christina Wilson, opened in Santa Rosa Plaza on Friday, with glitter and lace and devoted regular customers who drove up from Petaluma to check out the new location.
The Petaluma natives, 30, are featuring their own clothing lines, made mostly in Los Angeles, and the work of Petaluma artisans for decor and accessories like tile coasters and knit headbands.
"We're really lucky, because we have a great following online," Michelle Wilson said. "We do a lot of Instagram, a lot of Facebook, so we're connecting with our customers all the time ... It's exciting because we have a lot of people coming up from Petaluma for our first day."
The twins hung the Victorian wallpaper and accents like vintage maps themselves, and decorated corners with cushy velvet seats, plush pillows and fashion magazines. Weathered, multi-colored doors hung on one wall, a look inspired by their travels and executed by Petaluma artist Michael Garlington.
"We're trying to be more boutiquey than other stores in the mall," Michelle Wilson said. "We actually put the whole store together in seven days ... Everything's for sale, even the decorations."
The twins originally started a coffee company together, and when they wanted to get into fashion they began by selling clothes out of a loft space, inspiring the company's name. In 2008 the Wilsons decided to open a store in downtown Petaluma selling both new and used clothing. Then they launched two clothing lines — Olympia Elizabeth, their higher-end line that uses their middle names, and the Ooh La Loft line sold only in their stores and on their website.
The twins work with local high school students, offering internships in their stores and lending clothing to the Casa Grande High School fashion club.
Their affordable offerings, including a nautical striped jersey dress for $58 and a dainty pastel blouse with zebras for $38, are inspired by designers like Betsey Johnson, Cynthia Rowley and Free People, Michelle Wilson said.
Having a locally owned store in the mall is less unusual than it was 20 or 25 years ago, because smaller stores sign short-term leases, said Kim Hall, area marketing director for Simon Properties.
"There's a lot more involved if it's a long-term lease, and some local retailers can't do that," Hall said. "So they choose a short-term, and if we have a national store that comes in and wants that space they get bumped."
The Wilsons signed a lease for one year, but they hope to stay for longer, Michelle Wilson said.
"We're super excited," she said. "It's sort of like our dreams are actually becoming a reality. What we wanted was to have this kind of store, and eventually we want to franchise out, and we want it to be a brand that everyone knows."