At a mere 17-years-old, Hope Colling of Marmalade dropped out of high school in New York to travel with legendary rock band KISS as a wardrobe stylist. She came to San Francisco after a bad breakup to experience California and decided never to leave. It should come as no surprise that this fearless store owner has found innovative ways to keep her cute Union Street boutique open for business even in the face of a grim economy.
The shop’s girlish, vintage-inspired décor goes swimmingly with the array of flirty dresses, charming accessories, trendy tops and various flea-market finds that are scattered throughout the space. But unlike many stores on Union Street, you do not need to take out a loan to purchase a new pair of pants. Colling abides by a strict nothing-over-$100 policy, which she claims “delivers an Anthropologie style on an H&M budget”— something every fashionista is bound to appreciate. We recently caught up with Colling to chat about how she got where she is today and what life is like as a San Francisco store owner.
How did you break into the fashion industry?
I grew up in New York in the West Village in the 1970’s. It was, and still is, a very bohemian neighborhood full of artists, actors, fashion designers and musicians. My mom was a Radio City Rockette, and I used to love to look at all of her costumes hanging in the closet. I think that’s what first got me into fashion. That and the fact that living in our neighborhood was such an eclectic mix of people; everyone had their own individual style, and I recognized early on that the way you dressed was directly related to people’s first impression of you. If you dressed like a hippie, you probably didn’t have much money, but were very creative. If you wore a suit to work, you probably made a lot of money, and that’s all you cared about. It was a different time, and everyone was judged based on his or her “uniform.” I wanted to break that down, even at an early age.
How would you describe your store’s style?
Vintage, modern, romantic, edgy, bohemian, classic, charming and chic. We have something for everyone’s style. Overall, you could say it has a fashion-forward, laid back vibe.
Who is your ideal client?
Anyone with an open mind and a willingness to “play,” as I call it. Many times girls will come in looking for something to wear for a specific occasion. They will be very limiting in regards to what they’ll try on. If they let me style them and try things that are out of their normal comfort zone, 90 percent of the time, they’ll buy what I suggest. I can actually see them stand up a little straighter, and look a little more confident because they feel good in the clothes.
What sets your store apart from the other quaint boutiques on Union Street?
Well, our price point for one….We are very fair about our pricing and that’s how we’ve gained such a loyal following. We also work really hard to keep the store looking cute, fresh and inviting. And because I do small orders (two of each size), we turn our inventory over very fast – sometimes twice a week. So every time you come in, you’ll see something new.
How would you describe life as a store owner?
It’s more work than anyone could ever prepare you for. It’s a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job. I dream about the store, I make lists next to my bed about what needs to be done, what ideas come to me in my sleep, what I need to fix, buy, sell, etc. It’s also the most rewarding job (next to being a parent) I could ever imagine. They say, “if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life,” and I have found that to be very true.