Rachel Konte of OwlNWood describes her store.

Fashionistas: Down-to-Earth Vintage as a Cool Concept


Rachel Konte

Lori Eanes

Rachel Konte served as a designer and director of women’s products at Levi Strauss for more than 15 years. She left her corporate fashion gig to realize an old dream—to open her own store. Having celebrated a one-year anniversary in Oakland’s Uptown recently, OwlNWood (45 Grand Ave., 510-579-1439, www.owlnwood.com) defines the simplicity and creativity of cool today. Here’s Konte’s take on her concept.

How did you come up with the concept behind the store?

I’m from a mixed background. I was adopted, and my biological mother is Danish; my father is from Ghana. My adopted mother is Norwegian, and my father is from Poland. My adopted sister is Jamaican and Danish. I treasure this background, and wanted my store to represent me. When I finally went to create OwlNWood, I wanted it to reflect what I love. I cherish vintage quality. I cherish local design. I’m not into big brand names; instead, I admire the design process of people doing their own thing. The store had to feature local design and vintage. Remember, I worked in an industry where we tried to reproduce the vintage stuff we found. I think the store represents something very down-to-earth. I have various price points because I believe fashion should be affordable and accessible. That’s how I live my own life. The name for the store came to me while I was thinking about the beautiful trees and forests of my Scandinavian home—and my new home, Oakland.

The pieces in OwlNWood are such treasures—how do you decide what goes in the store?

I handpick everything. I like to have a mix of local design on consignment, vintage, and more international brands. Initially, I collected everything myself, but one of the things I’ve learned is that I can’t collect everything on my own. So I’ve started working with talented brokers who are learning my style. They buy things for me, and I select what goes in the store.

Why did you open OwlNWood in Oakland?

In 2011, I opened a pop-up store with a partner in Oakland. At that time we saw a void in the downtown Oakland area. We saw all these empty storefronts, and I always thought that was so strange, coming from Europe where downtown real estate is so precious. I also thought Oakland was full of amazing, creative people, and I knew I would have no problem getting quality pieces into the store. Oakland is where I live, so I knew I wanted to be here, but more importantly, there is a certain freedom here. There are so many ways to create things in Oakland, and that freedom of creative spirit was what I wanted to capture in the store, so Oakland was the perfect place.

After one year of OwlNWood, what are you most proud of?

I do feel incredibly proud that I was able to execute my vision for the store so well. I come from a design background, so aesthetics and vision are ingrained in me. I had a small budget and a vision, and I was able to create what I wanted. It feels good to spend time in a beautiful place that I feel represents me.

What’s next?

I have several dreams, the first being finally able to pay myself. I’d also like to streamline how I get my products so I can continue to replenish my items. I’ve been taking business classes, and that has really helped put things into perspective, because I approached the business with a heavy design background. Eventually, I want to have the time to create my own line and create my own OwlNWood label.

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