Rachel Berks, Otherwild, Woman Entrepreneur
My trusty assistant told our kids to check out Otherwild when they were in Echo Park, CA. I made my way there a few times while I was in LA too. A funky concept store filled with items from clothes and books to ceramics and jewelry. There is also a community around Otherwild who come to see an installation or take a class on print making. A very unique spot that is also a front for a graphic design studio. Not only did my assistant turn me on to Otherwild, she put me in touch with Rachel to talk about her journey.
Rachel grew up in Sharon, MA, the suburbs of Boston. Her father practices civil law. Her mother is an artist with a masters in art education who stayed at home raising her children yet kept her hand in the arts by teaching ceramics classes on the side. As Rachel put it she was always creating yet never reaching the heights that she could have. Her Mom was clearly made an impact on her.
Rachel grew up as a competitive dancer focusing mostly on jazz and ballet. At 16 Rachel went to a summer camp in CT that changed her entire perspective on dance. She was exposed to improv and modern dance. That shift of seeing other creative opportunities have continued to influence her today. Through out high school Rachel worked from camp counselor to an Indian restaurant where she would go and eat so often that they asked her if she wanted to work there.
College came next, Rachel went to Sarah Lawrence where she majored in modern dance, visual arts and gender studies. She continued to dance seriously through college. She also spent a lot of time doing print making and graphic design. Summers were a combination of dance counselor at a local camp to a job in Provincetown one summer and another summer in Boston.
After graduating Rachel went directly to NYC to become a professional dancer. She had visited LA for a brief stint after graduation and loved it but NYC is where you became a dancer. She began dancing with a small company that no longer exists. She was living in Astoria going to auditions, taking classes, teaching kids dance in the Bronx, waiting tables and working for a choreographer. Classic post college years as a dancer. She kept this up for about 3 years until all these jobs started to disappear. She looked in the mirror and realized what she was at this point was a waitress and it was not OK.
She had a good acquaintance who was a photo editor at Nylon Magazine. Rachel had kept up her print making and collage work. She thought a job at Nylon might put her on a good path. She started interning there spending time with the art interns. She learned how to do photoshop and production for photo shoots. She kept it up for about a year with the hopes that they would eventually hire her full time. That is the problem with internships that have no ending.
A friend told her that Ford Modeling agency was looking for an art assistant. She went on the interview and got the job. Rachel spent 8 years there eventually becoming the Creative Director. She worked with Katie Ford and John Caplan. My friend John ran Ford then. He had this vision that models were also brands. They had to build something around themselves. A forward thinker. Rachel worked on the media campaigns for the models. They sold the company and after that it was never the same.
Rachel fell in love and her partner was moving to LA. Ford had gone through several CEOs and a sale. She told the CEO that she could still work from LA and come back once a month while working remotely. The CEO said no and realized she was essentially fired at this point. It was a step in the right direction. She decided to move on and move to LA too.
After the conversation with the CEO, she moved to LA ten days later with zero planning and no job. Rachel spent the next 4 months interviewing for possible job opportunities. She met a ton of people but never landed a job. She was really inspired by the energy in LA. People around her were opening galleries in random locations. LA seemed less cost prohibitive than NYC. There was this vibrant art community and Rachel decided she wanted to be a part of that. She wanted to create something in her own life where she could get up every day and love what she was doing.
Her friend had this idea to open a store and Rachel said she would come along for the ride. They were two graphic designers in the art community. The store would be a front for a graphic design studio. They knew artists who were making books, jewelry, ceramics and clothes. They found a small space in Hollywood that was a mere 288 square feet for $500 a month. She figured ok we can do this. It was a weird area. She quickly came to realize it was too much like Times Square. They stayed in that store for 8 months. The store had an alleyway so during that time they put on dance performances, natural dying classes and workshops.
They both knew they had to leave that neighborhood and find out that was consistent with their brand identity which is how they ended up in Echo Park. About a year ago her partner left. Rachel was struggling to make ends meet but she loved doing what she was doing. For her the joy was clear.
The store in Echo Park has been there since 2012. They do more than just sell products. Rachel is working on a book for the One Archives. She is taking on less as the retail and workshops grow. Her friend moved a letter press into the back where it now has a permanent home for the store. They created a book with 18 other artists in LA with the letterpress. They recently did a spell casting workshop. I was there when they had an Aura tent installed. She continues to grow that space into something unique and creative hybrid of retail, art and community.
Most important Rachel loves what she does. She has created something that pulls people in. On June 26th, there will be a pop-up Otherwild store in Williamsburg at the Baggu Flagship store. Every neighborhood needs an Otherwild.