We would like to introduce you to Jenna and Brad of the Formerly Yes shop in Los Angeles. Jenna is from Chicago and Brad from a small town on the central coast of California called San Luis Obispo. They’ve been married four years (today actually!) and they’ve got a little pup named Ernest. Brad’s background is in design and art direction with a degree in business. Jenna has been in retail for almost a decade and has a degree in fashion and women/gender studies. They currently live in downtown Los Angeles right by the shop. They met in Southern California, got married and moved onto a little sailboat in Newport Harbor.
First of all, congratulations with your anniversary! – Why did you guys buy a sailboat, can’t say it’s the traditional way of living?
Thank you! Well, I guess it all started by looking at rent by the beach here in California. The prices were way out of our price range, but we still were thinking of ways to be as close to the beach as possible. The conversation came up one night about moving onto a boat, we did a ton of research, only to find out that if we could get the money up front now, it’d be cheaper to buy a small sailboat to live on in the area than to actually pay rent. Plus we could go wherever we wanted. So I took some weekend sailing lessons, we sold all our stuff and poof. We made the jump to a live on-board. Waking up on a hot summer day in southern CA and being able to set down your morning coffee on the top deck and jump into the cool water is quite possibly one of the best feelings in the world.
How did Formerly Yes come to life?
Jenna had always wanted a store of her own to run long before she met me. I always wanted something creatively to experiment with. I was working 80hr weeks in Portland doing advertising stuff, only seeing Jenna and being home late at night. We both agreed that if we were going to work this hard at something, it may as well be our something and not for someone else.
So, we moved to Los Angeles. We always knew we wanted to have a brand that stood by good design and could show the importance of that. We just thought that would happen when we were 40 or something. It really took one night of just asking ourselves what we had to lose and running with it.
Once we launched the site we got a lot of good press for the design, and with the momentum we worked towards opening a brick and mortar. Because we had never done anything like a build out. Building out of the shop was a humbling experience. But, we took the saying “if you can design one thing you can design anything” to heart and just went a day at a time.
What is it about Portland, seems like many creative minds and businesses comes from that area?
Portland is a very small city. Everything and everyone seems to be connected in some way or form, the whole pacific north west feels a bit that way. A lot of those people have great ideas and the town is a sort of place that supports great ideas. My experience was narrowed into the walls of Wieden & Kennedy the ad agency, some of the smartest people I’ve ever met are in those walls. I’d have to imagine a great deal of influence comes from WK.
I read your motto ”buy less, but better” – how do you decide which products to sell?
It’s very much a collaborative process. But, Jenna definitely is the brains behind that process. When we look at products we ask ourselves a few questions like: Does this follow a trend or good design? Is it made well? Does it promote just buying something or design as a whole? And lastly is this product made to be used? We really do believe that when a product is made well, designed, and completely stripped away from decoration it doesn’t matter the year it was made or in which country it was designed in, it will be beautiful and have a lasting design.
Guessing what products will be timeless is not an easy process. With the older products like the Sori Yanagi stuff, or Aalto goods its pretty easy because it’s already passed that test. The newer stuff is the real challenge and really the most fun part of the job.
If you buy better, you will buy less. It’s not necessarily just “buy expensive” it’s just buy beyond a trend. If you buy trendy now, you’ll most likely have to buy the next trend. Some say that’s how you get more money out of people, we say that’s a waste. Buy less, live more.
How would you define your interior design style for the shop?
Hm, I would say 99% of people that walk into the shop comment on it’s minimalism. So, at first glance I’d think it fits in that style. But, to us the thinking was less about making it look “minimal” and just making it serve as a shopping experience the best. Making the space more of a museum type feel. Giving each product the space it needs to showcase is the best and let’s people see it in their homes better. The nice thing about simple designed products is that they fit in many different styles of peoples homes. We wanted the floors light to light up the space and the wood to come from white oak. The slotted white oak wall brings natural light into the back and also allows us to see the floor while packing online orders or something. Everything serves a purpose in the space and the minimal look just fell into place naturally.
Was there a reason for you ending up in Los Angeles?
Jenna was really a huge motivating factor to finally landing in LA. We knew we wanted the store to be in California somewhere, but it was Jenna that really discovered that LA was the perfect fit for us. We were going to move all the way back down south to Costa Mesa (a small town south of LA) but after Portland we’d decided to do a long road trip across the US to spend a bit of time together before we dove into our next venture. On our way from Portland to Costa Mesa we were in LA exploring a bit and found an ad for a great place on the east side of town. We went and looked at it and immediately fell in love with the owner, location and all around good vibes in the place. The owner felt the same about us as we did about here and we signed the lease on the spot. LA was home. The real challenge was finding where in LA was the perfect spot for the store was going to be. Downtown finally became home for that.
What is characteristic about the area you have chosen to place your shop?
Downtown Los Angeles is and ever evolving machine. The community is young and driven. Their is so much energy right now and we are very proud to be a little part of it. Our products fit very well into apartment or loft living. Downtown has very much of that and only more and more. The little influence we can have on the area brings us a lot of pride to be a part of it.
What is the dream with Formerly Yes? Do you have plans of having shops in other cities or countries?
Curating other people’s products is something we take a lot of pride in. But, as we start to define who we are and the products we want to carry we have a hard time finding products that completely fit our values. So, next comes making those those products ourselves, being cohesive, and having an impact on the home goods design around the world. Opening other stores would be great, but, a homebase works for us here in LA and really perfecting the online shopping experience to a global audience is something we’d like to focus more on.
If you should give one advice about life, what would it be?
Sometimes you are all the inspiration you need, time to get to work.
And at last, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right by Jenna’s side, with a smile on our faces.
Pictures by Stefan Junir