IT TAKES A LOT of elbow grease to make a name for yourself as a vintage store in a town that's long been known for great vintage. "I never really felt there was a place for me here," admits Yo Vintage! founder and owner Sarah Radcliffe, who started Yo as an online business after moving to Portland from London in 2009. Making multiple trips to Europe and elsewhere each year, and supplemented by her sister's shipments from Switzerland, Radcliffe used her background as a trend researcher and vintage buyer for UK brands to pool together a global selection of womenswear that earned her a following, allowing her to graduate from working out of her home to a studio, and, as of last week, to a brick 'n' mortar retail shop of her own.
While Radcliffe says that her biggest market is in Australia (where she says they are rather vintage-starved), over the past couple years Yo has become very well known on Portland's circuit of fashion and retail events. Radcliffe and her racks full of festive, eye-popping prints and sequined party dresses could be found at many a group sale, and sometimes on the runway. "I kind of went pop-up shop mad," says Radcliffe. "I was doing too many in too many different places, so I backed away a bit." As it happened, she was in Seattle chatting with someone from the original Blackbird store, who mentioned that the Woodlands was moving out of its space in the Blackbox building next to Isaac Hers, in favor of its current store-within-a-store mode at Tanner Goods. Yo already had a small rack within Isaac Hers that was doing well, so Radcliffe's wheels began to turn and shortly thereafter entered the world of tangible retail, which she reiterates is a new experience for her.
The Yo Vintage! store proper has expanded its reach from just vintage, too. Radcliffe is offering framed prints of designs by local print design firm Pattern People, vegan soap by Portland's Maak Soap Lab, local jewelry by Natalie Joy and Hazel Cox, and amazing hand-dyed leggings for women and kids from new label Made on the Moon. From further afield, Yo is also stocking the bright pet leashes and collars, necklaces, suspenders, and sunglass strings of Brooklyn's Cheek-ie, backpacks from Sweden's Fjällräven, and nail polish from British company Barry M. ("It's like $10 a bottle and it's really fun colors," Radcliffe says.)
On top of that, Yo is using the store to roll out a number of collaborations with Portland designers, often people Radcliffe met during her pop-up frenzy. In addition to carrying regular designs from popular pouch-making line Seaecho (whose Pendleton-wool clutches have been popping up all over town), Yo also has exclusive "Yo!"-branded editions as well as iterations in poppy solid colors, and even a sunny, silly yellow iPhone case with googly eyes that can be worn around the neck. Radcliffe also worked with local apparel design and manufacturing firm Portland Garment Factory to produce a limited edition line of T-shirt dresses in bright colors with contrasting leather patch pockets, and an exclusive accessories collaboration with Cox is in the pipeline as well. As if that roster of cool-kid goodies weren't enough to put them on the map, the shop will also be ground zero for snagging the newest pieces from the vintage selection, allowing Portland shoppers first dibs before merchandise even appears online.
Situated as they are next to frequent event cronies like Isaac Hers and Solestruck, in the already party-hearty Blackbox retail hive, one can't help but expect that Yo's presence will continue to enliven the corner. Even a casual Friday-afternoon visit turned up a who's who of the Portland industry, including shoppers like Lille Boutique owner Sarah Wizemann, designer and English Dept. owner Elizabeth Dye, and model (and Mercury Spring Fashion Issue cover girl) Tashina Hill. The first order of business will be an official grand opening party, which will most likely coincide with Solestruck's anniversary party, which will most likely snowball into a group celebration involving all the Blackbox retailers—such is the way of things when you're a store at one of the hottest addresses in town. Stay tuned. Yo Vintage!, 413 SW 13th, shopyovintage.com