Opening a business is not always an easy feat for most people, and for owner Rachel Berks (cousin of Sara Berks!), her story is no different. Three years ago, she took a leap of faith and set out to create a space that would not only be used to showcase and sell various artists’ and designers’ work, but would also be utilized as her graphic design studio and a community space for people in Los Angeles.
When Rachel first made the decision to open Otherwild, her vision was a little different than it is today. Rachel says, “When I first moved to L.A., I was going on interviews for ad agencies and entertainment agencies, and while there are certainly places for graphic designers out here, I was kind of trying to fit myself into all of these different positions; and luckily I was never offered a job at any of them.” She and graphic designer, Marisa Suarez-Orozco, began toying with the idea of opening a store. “Here we were, two graphic designers in a community of artists in L.A.,” Rachel says, “and we thought, okay, what if there was a shop and within that shop we also had our graphic design studio to work on our art, because we would have to be at the store anyway.” Rachel envisioned having plenty of downtime to work on graphic design. “I had never worked retail before, so in my imagination, you just sit in a store all day, you don’t really do anything,” Rachel says. “Boy, was I wrong.”
Read on to learn more about Rachel’s story. —
Portrait above by A.L. Steiner. All additional photography by Laure Joliet
Rachel’s initial idea was to invest as little money as possible and see how successful the venture could be. Aside from finding an affordable retail space, Rachel uses mostly consignment pieces as inventory to keep her costs down. Each designer or artist hands over their projects to be displayed — and hopefully sold — in the store, thus giving Otherwild a portion of the sales. “In good faith, friends lend me their work, telling me what the price is, and if I sell it, I pay them half of the cost it was sold for,” Rachel says. She quickly developed an honorable reputation by following through with her word. In turn, she’s been able to grow the store’s inventory to the point of having to turn down submissions for new items on a weekly basis.
Owning a successful business has not come without some failures along the way. Otherwild was originally created by Rachel and her former-business partner Marisa, who voluntarily left the business aspect of the shop. “Having a business partnership break up is really hard, and I think it was a setback in many ways for the business,” Rachel says. “However, since that happened, I have met people who have had business partnerships break up and [end] up so much worse than my situation.”
More than just a store, Otherwild also acts as an event venue for aspiring musicians and comedians, giving them a unique place to share their gifts with the locals. One of Rachel’s favorite events is the monthly comedy show, which sells out almost every month. There are also workshops held frequently, which teaches customers new crafts, such as weaving or candle dipping. “I specifically started the workshops because I wanted to go and take classes, but when you run your own business there just doesn’t seem to be time,” Rachel says. “So I brought the classes to me.”
Otherwild also acts as Rachel’s graphic design studio where she can produce and sell her own projects, like her , “The Future is Female” — the slogan from NYC’s first women’s bookstore, . “This shirt is by far the most popular thing I have ever carried in the store,” she says. In an effort to use revenue for something greater than her own profit, Rachel recently dedicated 50 percent of the profits from five days of shirt sales to Planned Parenthood. The amount she earned for the organization has been so high, that going forward, 25 percent of all sales of the shirt will be donated to Planned Parenthood.
For Rachel, the designers and her customer base, Otherwild has become more than just a store. It is a place to find one-of-a-kind items made by people who have poured their hearts into making something beautiful, and a space to bring people together. “The biggest lesson I have learned is to believe in myself and in my vision,” Rachel says, “and that even though there are days that might feel more difficult than others, I continue to remind myself to be the person my younger self would be proud of.”