Address: 716 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
STORY BY JULIE O’BOYLE AND RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – DISCOVER YOWIE– PHOTOS BY JULIE O’BOYLE FOR THE STYLE LINE
“When I was in middle school I told my mother that I
was going to live in New York and go to school for fashion, and soon it became an obsession and my singular focus,” says Shannon Maldonado, founder of Philadelphia-based home and lifestyle shop YOWIE. “Growing up in Philadelphia I knew from an early age that I wanted my career to be related to art or design. I dreamed about traveling to Europe and living in lower Manhattan (I eventually made it to Chinatown).”
Few of us are lucky enough to be born with the singular vision of what we hope to do with our lives. Even fewer actually make good on that vision. Maldonado happens to be one of the lucky ones. Of course, luck has very little to do with the equation, but it’s hard not to feel lucky stepping over the threshold of the fruit of Maldonado’s labor and being greeted by her carefully curated selection bold furnishings. Voted Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best Pop-up Turned Brick and Mortar” just six weeks after opening, YOWIE offers a calm and colorful reprieve from busy city life tucked away on 4th Street’s Fabric Row, with handmade pillows, bright throw rugs, and unique objects for all areas of the home. And at its helm is Maldonado herself, whose personal style mirrors that of her shop, clad in cool vintage tees, perfectly worn denim, and the kind of shoes that make you do a double-take before asking where she found them.
A native of Philly, Maldonado grew up not far from YOWIE’s front door and now calls the Italian Market home, a classic area of the city lined with fruit stands and butcher shops; at first blush, it’s a stark contrast from the fresh white walls of her gallery box storefront, but closer inspection reveals loving homage paid to her home city with a classic archway purposefully built into one wall – the mix of old and new that so succinctly describes Philadelphia today. In the rare moments when she’s not at her shop curating a gorgeous array of local and national handmade home and lifestyle goods, Maldonado splits her time working as a designer for Urban Outfitters at the company’s home office. It’s a busy schedule, but one that offers up endless sources of inspiration. And when she’s not hopping between her shop and the URBN home office, Maldonado finds even more inspiration through classic film, “I am obsessed with old movies and independent film” she says, “over the years my dad and I have bonded over so many movies, he used to let me watch horror movies on HBO before I was old enough.”
Discover our conversation with this inspiring shop-boss below and take a virtual tour of YOWIE – we guarantee it’ll brighten your day.
Towards the end of my time in New York when I
launched YOWIE I began to tell friends that I was considering opening a store in Philadelphia. I got a lot of concerned looks and questions as the headline for years has been that “retail is dead”. I noticed every time I’d visit Philly there was growth and development in nearly everything but retail and I was finding it hard to understand why. I made a plan to save money and leave my design job at AE (American Eagle) to focus on freelancing and figuring out how I could make YOWIE a reality in Philadelphia. I saw an opportunity, and knowing how discerning the city can be, I knew if I had their blessing I would feel like I was onto something special. People often assume that we’re from New York and I proudly tell them “I grew up five minutes from here and have shopped this block my entire life!” While the concept was born in New York it’s going to continue to grow in Philadelphia.
Just a few short weeks after opening YOWIE you won Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly for ‘Best Pop-up Turned Brick and Mortar’ – that’s huge! Tell us about your decision to open your own space – what inspired you to finally take the leap from online to pop-up, to IRL storefront?
Getting Best of Philly was such a huge surprise! I feel like the city gave us a big hug and I bought an embarrassing amount of copies [of the magazine] for my family. YOWIE started as a late nights, weekends, and lunchtime project that I hoped would become something bigger. We launched online last May and upon moving back to Philadelphia had our first pop-up installation in partnership with Meadowsweet Mercantile in September. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have our own shop but wanted to learn as much as possible before signing a lease. The pop-up installations taught us so much about our young brand and our customer and it was such a fun challenge to try to tailor the build outs to the spaces and shops that we partnered with.
Our collaboration with Ubiq, an iconic men’s shop in Philadelphia, was such a very proud moment of introducing the brand to a new audience and a big catalyst to us moving into our own space when we did. In our partnership with Ubiq, YOWIE was starting to gain traction with many different kinds of people which was exciting, as the ultimate goal was always to be inclusive. I knew we just needed to find the right space and adopted the “If you build it they will come” mantra. I walked by the empty storefront for weeks before finally making an appointment to view it and knew immediately it was “the one”. We’ve kept most of our fixtures and display artwork untethered to the walls so that we can move things around and continue to keep the space feeling fresh since we’re no longer a pop-up. Every day that we’re open I say ,“Hi store!” and “Bye, store!” to the shop as if it’s an old friend. It still feels like a dream.
After leaving Philly to attend school in NYC, where you also began a successful career designing for high-profile brands, what made you want to come back to your home city?
After living in New York for twelve years I was ready for a change, and the move back was an equal mix of personal and professional. I wanted to focus on transitioning into being a design consultant in a lower cost city and to be able to be closer to my family and boyfriend who had resettled back in Philly after completing grad school. Philadelphia is a place that’s going through some major changes but it’s also very stubborn about certain aspects, which I find endearing. I live across the street from the same pizza spot that employed my uncle throughout high school. The shop still has an autographed yellowing photo of Sly Stallone during the filming of Rocky hanging proudly on the wall and a framed fading cartoon map of South Philadelphia. YOWIE is a few blocks from one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Ishkabibbles, a place that I’ve been going to since I was a child. At the same time, my neighborhood deli is now a thriving vegan coffee shop; it’s this mix of old and new blood that keeps the city alive.
How do you celebrate personal style and do you think your approach would be different if you weren’t involved in the design world?
It’s tough to say if my approach would be different because I’ve been a designer for as long as I can remember, but I think feeling like myself has always been important, whether I’m in something flashy or understated. For my job at Urban Outfitters I’m asked daily to find and tap into the latest trends in clothing and design, and though I’d be lying if I said they didn’t sometimes seep into my consciousness, I still have carved out my own modern uniform. I’m most comfortable in a perfectly worn in graphic tee and jeans these days, a very bright abstract pattern, or anything yellow.
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Something I appreciate about YOWIE is that it at once feels incredibly welcoming while exuding an airy and minimal vibe – that’s a difficult balance to achieve. What considerations did you take into account when designing the space?
Thank you! That’s a huge compliment and exactly what we were hoping to achieve with the space. My friend Tim Gleeson helped me design and fabricate my first custom fixture last September. We met through mutual friends over brunch and nearly a year later I consider him my visual partner and go-to guy for all projects related to YOWIE. When I signed the lease I knew that the storefront needed some fixing but I immediately felt connected to the small space and feverishly started sketching and bombarding Tim with images and ideas at all hours (sorry Tim!). Step one was creating a gallery-like “white box” and then we worked to integrate our fixtures from previous pop-up installations and design new ones to accommodate our expanding textiles and book assortment. Our products are so unique and colorful that I wanted the space to be simple to allow them to really stand out. Within the shop, we really took into account the angles and the ways that we hope that guests will interact with it via social media. The custom arch wall that Tim built into the shop is my favorite. It’s an ode to ‘90s South Philadelphia architecture with a dash of Santorini elegance. I could go on and on about my favorite areas of the shop because I love every inch of it so much.
Your selection of handmade goods is very much centered around the home. Why was this important to you?
I’m a Cancer and such a homebody, so creating a comfortable space for myself has always been essential. We spend so much time at work that it feels necessary to have an oasis to return to. I used to travel for work a lot and always loved collecting objects to bring back. This pastiche of objects from all over the world was an early catalyst for conceptualizing the brand and the idea of being a collector in your own way.
How would you advise the next generation of designers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?
Be yourself. It’s easy to try to emulate others or chase a trend and so much harder to be comfortable being different and doing something that feels a bit uncomfortable. Working hard is a timeless bit of advice for anyone looking to launch your own thing and when you’ve built it yourself and know what blood, sweat, and tears went into its creation, the rewards are so much sweeter.
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How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s larger conversations and what role is YOWIE playing in this?
What’s felt very special in creating YOWIE is the idea of creating a sense of community that is inclusive and warm. More than ever people want to feel connected and engaged with others and things around them, and though our space is small, we aim to do just that! I try to treat every person who walks through our doors as a friend and feels so proud to share the stories of the artists whose work we carry in the shop.
Art and design are an important outlet in these confusing times and I love that it has the power to bring people closer. I have two nieces under the age of six and we spend lots of time crafting and making things together and I’ve seen them grow and find their confidence through creativity. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the many art classes I took throughout my life, both inside and outside of school. We’re excited to be working on events for Fall and Holiday that center around the idea of being together and meeting someone who you may not have otherwise known. Your new best friend could be living a few blocks away!