VISIT: 401 NE 28th Ave, Portland, OR 97232
STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – SHOP ASSOCIATION – PHOTOS BY NICHOLAS PETER WILSON FOR THE STYLE LINE
When it comes to leaving a creative imprint, Jen Vitale
has a distinct vision for her endeavors, and in the case of today’s story, we’re referring specifically to her Portland-based concept store Association. The dual shop and art gallery first made a splash in the contemporary fashion scene as an online-only platform focusing heavily on promoting the work of independent designers and one-of-a-kind vintage goods. With a nod to Portland’s budding creative scene and her desire to further foster Association’s community, Jen recently opened the brand’s first brick and mortar location with a hope of bringing Association’s values into a tangible setting. As she put it in our interview below, “I would say our customers have always been those with an appreciation for the unique and well made, but now that we’re here, the community aspect will have so much more meaning! Which was a big reason I wanted to open the shop in the first place.”
Speaking more to that idea, Jen’s thoughtful approach to both curation and community haven’t gone unnoticed. The space itself dons crisp, minimal interiors (with aesthetically-inviting plant-adorned corners, sprinkled all throughout) drawing the eye to the edited selection of apparel, accessories and more. Beyond fashion, Jen also hopes to use the space as a blank canvas of sorts to celebrate the work of emerging artists – which she contends is something that the city needs more of.
Based on what we’ve seen from the newly-minted shop owner so far, Jen is well on her way to providing a true creative haven for Portland dwellers. With her unwavering commitment and varied professional endeavors, we were interested in chatting more with Jen about her experiences in the city’s small business scene and what role she believes creativity plays in the world’s bigger conversations. Discover our full conversation below featuring more on Jen’s inspiring story along with a virtual tour of the space featuring photos captured exclusively by Nicholas Peter Wilson for The Style Line.
Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a shop owner and freelance stylist,
though I’m doing a lot less styling at the moment since our brick and mortar just opened last month. My background is in Art. I’m a California native and I think it shows in my aesthetic! I’m drawn to more open, airy spaces and I’m generally inspired by the warm temperatures and color palette of the California landscape. I am grateful to be here though! Portland has been good to me since my husband and I moved here about 4 and half years ago. The quality of life is high in this city. It’s a great place to raise a kid- I have a two-year-old son, Jules. The access to quality food is also a plus here – I’m a little bit of a health nut. I was raised by a hippie mom so I guess her philosophy stuck with me.
Congratulations on Association Shop’s recent launch! How are you finding navigating the city’s small business scene and what has been the most unexpected discovery of launching the brand’s physical space?
Thank you so much! I’m finding the small business community to be incredibly welcoming and inclusive. I’ve had relationships with a handful of the shop owners here already, but even the one’s I didn’t know before, have been really supportive.
Association was strictly online for the past three years, and since it’s inception I always played around with the idea of being a physical shop one day. I’m a really visual person, so I knew to a certain extent how satisfying it would be to see everything take shape in a tactile way. I would say the unexpected part has been getting to see how other people interact with the space. It’s been so rewarding watching people experience the shop in some positive way. And I’ve met so many cool people I didn’t even know existed here! It’s like a new Portland for me.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations?
I think creativity will always serve as an important platform for the voice of the people, to a certain extent. Art can be subversive in subtle ways and still be a catalyst for change. Our political climate is intense right now – I think a lot of creativity will come from wanting to oppose that.
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For first-time visitors walk us through the “experience” of the shop. From values to products, what do you hope the Association shopper “associates” with the shop itself?
Well since we opened, I’ve heard a lot of people say that the store feels very different from the Portland aesthetic! Which I think makes sense because of how much my aesthetics are rooted in where I was raised. I think people feel that way because the shop is an extension of me, and it shows in the way I curate the space. I like that idea, of people walking away from the shop feeling like they know a little bit more of who I am.
I hope that our shoppers don’t feel like shoppers at all. Even in the initial stage of designing the space, a question I asked myself a lot was, how can I make everyone feel welcome in the store, while still maintaining a “retail” experience? I want people to feel like they can walk in and just appreciate the offerings for what they are, beautiful and well-made things that I love. If someone leaves with something special, that’s great, but the real pleasure for me is in creating a space that people can simply experience and appreciate. Maybe that’s a little naïve, but it’s true.
What is the most unique aspect of blending contemporary designers with vintage treasures? Why do you think it’s necessary to carry both?
Vintage is really having a resurgence, in my opinion. There is so much out there, and so much of it is really relevant because every decade kind of has it’s own place in fashion right now. So I’m having so much fun with it.
With the vintage pieces I’ve found for the shop, and the contemporary pieces, I think they both inform each other in an interesting way. Even when we were just online, I always offered vintage pieces. I love the way that vintage can fill in the missing parts and create a specific look or vibe. I feel like when I started the online shop, this was less of a thing, whereas now every shop seems to be offering vintage of some sort, but I don’t think it matters. There is a lot out there to find and recycle in a way that is unique to you.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
Not really a question, but since we’ll be focusing on the gallery aspect of the space, too. I would love to be approached by, or just connect with more emerging artists! I hope to be another platform for showcasing artists in our community. We need more of that.
How would you advise the next generation of business owners, creatives and makers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?
Ha. I don’t think I am nearly qualified to answer that question at this point, but I would say hold onto integrity, it will get you so far! Sometimes it feels like success comes slower this way but I’m a firm believer in the slow burn. So much changes so quickly in our world, there are so many trends, thanks mostly to the internet. I’d like to look back and feel like at the very least my offering to the world was sincere and true to my vision.
“I want people to feel like they can walk in and just appreciate the offerings for what they are, beautiful and well-made things that I love.”
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How would you describe the Association community and how do you hope to see it evolve as it becomes more established in the community?
The Association community has taken a new shape now that we are based in Portland, as opposed to being only online. I would say our customers have always been those with an appreciation for the unique and well made, but now that we’re here, the community aspect will have so much more meaning! Which was a big reason I wanted to open the shop in the first place. I wanted to be able to connect with people, which you can’t really do online.
We’re going to have our first art show in June, and I’m really excited for that. We’ll be focusing more on the gallery end of the space as time goes on and I’m looking forward to seeing how that unfolds.