Talking Shop with Ashley Thompson of Owl's Lab

Rebecca Prusinowski

Ashley Thompson opened her clothing boutique Owl’s Lab one year ago, and in that time she’s earned a loyal following for her well-edited assortment of contemporary women’s clothing and accessories. PAPERMAG recently caught up with Ashley to discuss the store’s success so far, her fave summer looks and Owl’s Lab’s commitment to the growing “green” and eco-friendly fashion movements...

Rebecca Prusinowski: Owl’s Lab is a little off the beaten (retail) path. It’s located on a pleasant stretch of 12th Street (between University and Fifth Avenue) primarily occupied by The New School and residential brownstones. Was this intentional? How did you decide on this location?
Ashley Thompson: The decision on location was 100 percent intentional. When I first moved to New York, I lived in the East Village -- home of many vintage shops and tiny boutiques -- and went to school at Parsons. The Village area below Union Square was in my direct daily path to get to classes. Having a favorite local boutique has always been important to me, but there just weren't any around here. I realized this area is ideal for future retailers and wanted to be the first. Rugby (at 12th St and University Place) opened the same month I did, which told me I made the right move.

RP: What are your favorite trends or looks for this summer?
AT: White and more white! Flowy white dresses (everything from eyelet to silk) with brown woven waist belts and toned down gladiators. Indian print camisoles are in-trend this summer and should be paired with lightly distressed jeans or denim shorts. Add some great rose gold and silver accessories to complete the look. Also, organic tees and denim are in demand. Organic processing makes cotton softer and somewhat grainy looking -- a great natural and casual summer look. Some designers with strong summer looks right now include Miquelina, J Brand, Sharon Segal, Zooey, C & C California, Tucker and Jill Stuart. We offer all of these lines at Owl’s Lab.

AT: How do you select your store’s pieces each season? And does your online selection differ from your in-store merchandise?
RP: I am always on the lookout for new lines, and many times I will find a new favorite while shopping at Fred Segal in LA or while flipping through magazine pages. If I like one piece from a designer, I’ll make an appointment to see the entire line and then decide whether or not to carry the line based on its overall look.

I also attend the New York, LA and Paris Fashion Weeks and Markets. I went to Las Vegas last year, too. Fall took me to four major cities to investigate fashion trends. I’m always careful, though, to keep the collection fluid. I start in New York and the pieces I choose here become the foundation for the season’s collection.

The online store, I’ve found, caters more to shoppers looking for deals and primarily services my denim, handbag and t-shirt shoppers. Collection pieces are a more difficult buy online, so we don’t put many on the site.

RP: A lot of shoppers associate “green” or “eco-friendly” clothing with hemp and assume it is generally unfashionable. What does “green” clothing mean to you? Can “green” clothing be stylish?
AT: is definitely a misconception that “green” means tougher, hemp-like material. Many fashion-forward brands have found innovative ways to treat cotton organically. C & C California has organic tees that are great for everyday wear. J Brand makes organic denim; although more expensive, they have the same fit as their non-organic denim but even softer. Inhabit has an incredible organic knit line we carry. We expect our casual lines to do a great job of making eco-friendly fashion.

Essentially, as a buyer, if I see a line I carry breaking into organic treatment, I buy a couple pieces. I made an Owl’s Lab organic tote for Earth Day that we gave out to our best customers and celebrity clientele, and now we sell it in the store for $18. I carry it everyday stuffed with paperwork and gym clothes.

RP: Last week I ordered something from an (unnamed) online retailer, and my order arrived encased in three boxes and with thousands of Styrofoam peanuts. I was appalled. You have an emerging online business. How is Owl’s Lab managing eco-friendly packaging and shipment of its orders?
AT: I absolutely hate the Styrofoam peanuts… and it’s near impossible to clean up after opened a box like that! We use small amounts of tissue and ship in an envelope or small box. Using as little packaging material as possible is a priority. We have also been sending our organic totes to customers who’ve purchased jeans. We hope that anyone that receives one of our 100% organic totes will use it at the grocery store or gym or even to shop at other stores instead of stacking up non-recyclable shopping bags. And… of course we recycle.

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