I'm always looking for cool, independently owned boutiques to collaborate with and I lucked out recently while browsing Instagram. Aoki Boutique is located in a little teal Brick and Mortar right off of Rittenhouse Square in Philly. The owner, Alina, has been the only person working there for the four years she's been open, working harder than most people I know. Aoki has such charm, and offers the cutest home accessories, clothes, and jewelry.
I got to speak with Alina and do a quick interview on her store's success and it's path. She also lent me some beautiful dresses to play dress up in and stroll around the city! See interview and photos below.
- When and how did you start your store? I opened Aoki Boutique in April 2012 after a bit of a quarter-life crisis! I had graduated from college two years prior and had sort of just been working odd jobs after deferring a position with Teach For America. I came to the realization that I wanted to be self-employed, wanted my own space where I could curate a collection of some sort, and wanted a women-centered business. The boutique took shape out of those desires so I quit my restaurant and nannying jobs in fall 2011 and opened the store exactly six months later.
- Did you always aspire to be in the fashion industry? I wouldn't say that I was that girl always flipping through fashion magazines and following the latest trends, but I've always loved style and viewed it as a great means of self-expression. At first I had trouble justifying my transition into retail because it was a deviation from my academic and professional background, but I took a leap of faith and success followed. I was worried that my career choice wouldn't feel meaningful enough because fashion can seem frivolous to people, but style can also be a powerful vehicle for communication and expression, and it's so rewarding for me when a woman tries something on and just feels so confident and unstoppable in it. Now I see my work in the industry as something incredibly fulfilling and gratifying.
- Who has been your biggest influence/muse? My mom! She comes from a small mountain village in Austria and has somehow cultivated the most unique and fabulous sense of style. When she first arrived in America in the eighties she got off the plane in a full red leather suit! She loves taking fashion risks and even now in her 50's dresses so stylishly and gracefully, and has really encouraged me to see beauty in unexpected places.
- What is your favorite part of working in Philly? I love being part of the creative community here; the city has a thriving arts scene and a real DIY ethos. Owning my shop has connected me to so many other young entrepreneurs here, especially my fellow women, and I've encountered nothing but encouragement and support from the community. Unlike bigger and more saturated cities like NYC, people really aren't jaded here and are still excited by new things opening and really go out of their way to patronize independent businesses.
- What would you like to see Aoki do next? One of the most fun and gratifying parts of my business has been hosting a variety of events here and really utilizing the space in unexpected ways aside from just a standard retail operation. I've had live painting, musical performances, coloring parties, and more- all featuring local female artists. I've got a few cool events lined up in the spring and am really excited to continue being an incubator for emerging talent from designers, artists, and more.
- What is your absolute favorite memory from your career so far? In terms of recognition, probably being featured in Nylon Magazine this past fall. But on a smaller yet equally gratifying level, just the other day there was a lovely woman in here visiting from out of town and she tried on this cool bomber jacket that she claimed she was "too old for" (whatever that means!) and she just fell in love with it and felt so confident, attractive, and strong in it. She wore it right out the door and it may sound trivial but I could truly see a newfound bounce in her step when she walked out; moments like that just make it all worth it.
- What are your thoughts on the fashion scene in Philly? We seem to have a reputation as a city of sloppy dressers and unattractive people, which is unfortunate. I like to view it more as an authenticity that you might not see elsewhere; even if people aren't following the latest trends and don't know what's in style, here they do seem to dress for comfort and practicality, which is just as important in my opinion. I'd rather see someone wear their favorite sweater three days in a row because they feel comfy and happy in it rather than blindly follow a trend that doesn't suit them, their body, or their lifestyle.
- Do you have any advice for girls wanting to break into the industry some day? Don't be intimidated or discouraged by lack of experience in the industry- everyone has to start somewhere. I literally had no experience in fashion or retail when I decided to open Aoki- like, I had never even worked in a store or done an internship in fashion or anything. If I can do it, so can you. Also, don't forget that the devil is in the details. If I get an email from a vendor or potential employee and things are misspelled or they don't take the time to find out my name and address me by it, then I won't take that person very seriously. If you don't have the experience then stand out by being professional, thorough, and of course, always be your genuine self!
The first outfit I wore was this beautiful blue and black, floral bell-sleeved dress from Aoki. With mesh cut outs on the torso and back, it had just enough edge for my liking. I paired it with a leather vest, floppy hat, and nude mules from Free People. Florals are not new for spring, as we learned from the Devil Wears Prada. I personally reach for more basics than patterns these days, but a good floral sundress like this one is just a closet essential.
The next dress I wore was this insanely stunning, royal blue lace number. It was brand new in the shop and I can't imagine it will stay in stock for too long. I plan on getting it for a summer wedding I have coming up in July. I threw on this bomber jacket from Aoki, with a tweed like body and leopard print arms. It adds a bit of toughness to the delicate lace and body of the dress. I am sometimes uncomfortable wearing such a form fitting dress, so I love to have a piece to throw over that I can hide under after snacking on cheeseburgers.
The last dress I wore was this beautiful, bright and tropical maxi dress from Aoki. THIS DRESS HAS POCKETS. Any dress with pockets is a win for me. I want this dress to wear when I go to Mexico in June, and sit watching the sunset while I eat dinner and drink a Pina Colada. It is also such a perfect dress to wear out one warm summer to a fancy bar. I paired the dress with my Michael Kors leather jacket and chunky black booties to mix feminine with edgy. I also added this great statement necklace and put my hair in a loose french braid to accentuate the femininity of this piece.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Make sure whenever you're in Philly or the Rittenhouse Area you stop by Alina's shop and get yourself some beautiful goodies at Aoki Boutique!
Till next time
All photos taken by James Conley