Wedged between two clothing stores in San Francisco, a narrow alley leads to the home of Jenny Ton and Julie Rhee, a.k.a. the alternative vintage boutique Retrofit Republic. Inside on a recent visit, I felt like a kid in a candy store – except there was no candy. Instead, bowls of earrings, necklaces, and pendants were neatly displayed on a table. Here, a stunning sequin clutch with colorful roses. There, four racks of vintage men's and women's clothing, with shoes on display wherever they could fit. Wearing the perfect gold holiday dress, a mannequin peeking around the corner told me to look around, stay awhile.
It didn't feel as though I was standing in an apartment at all. With a floral curtain hiding the kitchen and bedrooms on the far side of their apartment, the place felt like a quaint little vintage shop.
“I feel like I have a relationship with every piece in here,” said Ton, who along with Rhee owns the store. The two handpick every item that now decorates their living room. A sustainable vintage seller with a social impact, Retrofit Republic offers styling to individuals, changemakers, and brands. Its slogan: Look good. Do good. Make an appointment and you can enter the home for a free private session of custom styling, or to buy signature vintage pieces.
Julie Rhee [left] and Jenny Ton [right]: Owners of Retrofit Republic, stylists extraordinaire.
Old tennis rackets were stacked in front of luggage pieces, handbags hung on a coat rack with a grey hat resting on the top, and a vintage clock reading the wrong time sat in front of a framed photo of the duo's company name. Each piece had incredible details, embroidery, and structure, like the off-white brocade coat with gold buttons and the men’s herringbone blazers with brown elbow patches. I wanted to slip away with one of the many fur coats, or perhaps the pair of Salvatore Ferragamo flats.
To schedule a private shopping appointment, you must fill out a styling profile on Retrofit Republic's website. The 26 questions include queries regarding your signature style and favorite accessories, as well as your shoe, pant, and dress sizes. Based on your profile, Ton and Rhee will pull together head-to-toe outfits that fit your style and personality.
Along with providing private shopping sessions to those who first fill out the 26-question style interview, Retrofit Republic styles photoshoots, bridal parties, and – perhaps its most popular service – does home wardrobe assessments.
The hour-long assessment (particularly for those who are looking to revamp their wardrobe) includes getting rid of not-so-flattering garments. The duo teaches customers how to pick clothes that are more flattering but still compliment their lifestyle and personality. Ton says the service is perfect for people who are tired of their work wardrobe. “And it helps that we’re a good time,” Rhee added.
The shop's mission is to prove that being fashionable and socially responsible can go hand-in-hand. Fusing passions for fashion, thrifting, and sustainability gave birth to Retrofit Republic. Ton and Rhee got started at an all-weekend yard sale they set up to clear out stuff before moving to another apartment.
Their endeavor has been going strong for almost a year. Both Ton and Rhee came from non–profit backgrounds, so it is fitting that Retrofit Republic is a community- and consumer-conscious company.
So many shiny things, so little time: the sea of accesories at Retrofit Republic
And although the duo has styled CEOs, political candidates, and music artists they stay mindful of their local community. Retrofit Republic works with every budget and markets to low-income people of color and the LGBT community by collaborating with various community organizations. The shop has also donated styling services to non-profits in the Bay Area like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and the Lyon-Martin Clinic, and never requires a purchase to enter the store.
Ton and Rhee find vintage pieces anywhere and everywhere. They hit up local thrift stores, yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, and accept donations. They have traveled as far as Europe, South America, and Asia to find unique vintage goods. The two can tell you about each piece's journey to the shop – on each hang tag, printed opposite the shop's logo there is the line “Where I’m from?” Below that, a handwritten answer brings to life thrift stories.
Browsing the amazing finds, I found myself wondering how the two were able to say goodbye to some of the items when it was time to sell.
“I found these amazing, amazing vintage boots at a street market in Argentina and I’m kicking myself because I sold them,” Rhee said laughing. “They were so amazing.”
Only they said they don’t get attached. They're constantly shopping, so there's a strong probability that they'll find those amazing boots over and over again.
Besides, “it’s the thrill of the hunt,” said Ton.
Set up an appointment to check out Retrofit Republic at www.retrofitrepublic.com