Shop­ping

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - STYLE - By Sophia Mark­oulakis Sophia Mark­oulakis is a San Fran­cisco free­lance writer. Email: style@sfchron­i­cle.com.

The Podolls are hang­ing it up af­ter 15 years.

In a mat­ter of weeks, the Podolls will be no more. Af­ter 15 years of suc­cess de­vel­op­ing, launch­ing and run­ning their epony­mous fashion brand and re­tail bou­tiques, the hus­band-and-wife de­sign team is clos­ing down their busi­ness to spend some much-needed time with their two young chil­dren and launch sep­a­rate creative en­deav­ors.

Al­though Josh and Lau­ren Podoll are not rue­ful, they are work­ing through some bit­ter­sweet emo­tions … and help­ing cus­tomers work through theirs. “Since we an­nounced our clos­ing sale, I’ve had to process not only my emo­tions, but the emo­tions of our cus­tomers. It’s help­ful when they say they are sad be­cause that means that you meant some­thing to them,” Lau­ren says of her en­coun­ters with cus­tomers these last few days. “There have been mo­ments when I’ve ques­tioned the de­ci­sion, but we know this is the right step for us now.”

Be­cause the two built and ran the busi­ness from its in­cep­tion, it was al­ways a personal en­deavor, whether it was the clothes they created, the mes­sag­ing they chose to align with, or the in­ti­macy and aes­thetic of the re­tail spa­ces. “It was an ex­ten­sion of our home and life,” she says.

Re­vis­it­ing their jour­ney is akin to read­ing a personal road map of their lives to­gether.

The cou­ple met in 2003 when Lau­ren, a buyer at AB Fits, was in­ter­ested in T-shirts that Josh was de­sign­ing. They mar­ried in 2005 and pur­sued Josh’s T-shirt de­signs un­til 2009, when they re­branded the com­pany and ex­panded their line to in­clude ef­fort­lessly hip and com­fort­able sep­a­rates made from globally sourced nat­u­ral fabric and hand-dyed silks, all man­u­fac­tured lo­cally.

Like many other cre­atives search­ing for af­ford­able stu­dio space, the cou­ple first worked out of Lau­ren’s mother’s garage. A stint in a stu­dio in Dog­patch was great for ful­fill­ing or­ders from high-pro­file clients like Bar­neys New York and An­thro­polo­gie. In 2013, they opened their Burlingame shop and trans­ferred their de­sign stu­dio to a small workspace in the back of the store. With the ad­di­tion of the Noe Val­ley lo­ca­tion in 2015, they were able to work there as well.

Setting up shop in Burlingame felt nat­u­ral for them since Lau­ren’s roots are nearby and the cou­ple wanted to ac­quaint them­selves with a fam­ily-friendly vibe. Their son, Dashiell, now 6½, be­came the inspiration for their chil­dren’s cloth­ing line, the Podots, which they launched at the Burlingame lo­ca­tion. Bank­ing on Noe Val­ley’s sim­i­lar fam­ily-friendly feel, the chil­dren’s line continued to be an at­trac­tion at the sec­ond lo­ca­tion even af­ter the Burlingame lo­ca­tion closed last year.

The cou­ple ad­mits that they never got a good han­dle on the on­line por­tion of their busi­ness. “You can’t build the same type of com­mu­nity on­line like you can in per­son,” Lau­ren says of her cus­tomers and the fre­quent events they loved host­ing in store. “When we closed Burlingame, we had a dis­cus­sion about treat­ing our on­line shop as our sec­ond lo­ca­tion, but we de­cided not to in­vest in it. Our clothes are about the tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Re­tail va­can­cies on their block af­fected the Podolls’ bot­tom line, ac­cord­ing to Lau­ren. She says the empty store­fronts were fac­tors out of their con­trol. In the last few months, sev­eral cloth­ing bou­tiques on 24th Street have closed in­clud­ing the Mill, Ra­bat, See Jane Run and Isso.

“You need to be part of a larger shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence to thrive. If the only peo­ple that are walk­ing by your store are out run­ning er­rands, they have a dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity than if some­one is meet­ing a friend for lunch and shop­ping,” Lau­ren says. “Be­cause other bou­tiques are fac­ing sim­i­lar chal­lenges, our whole­sale busi­ness has changed as well.”

The de­ci­sion to close ul­ti­mately came down to a choice, says Josh. “We ei­ther had to change our busi­ness into some­thing we weren’t as in­ter­ested in, or let it go.”

Both Lau­ren and Josh are op­ti­mistic about their fu­ture creative pur­suits. Josh’s new cus­tom fur­ni­ture busi­ness, Chop­wood co, is al­ready keeping him busy, and he is booked sev­eral months out. Lau­ren isn’t ready to di­vulge what her next move will be, but it will most likely be in the home-de­sign realm. Right now their fo­cus is greet­ing as many cus­tomers as they can and sa­vor­ing the con­nec­tion they built with so many.

Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chronicle 2016

Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chronicle 2016

Mov­ing on: Josh and Lau­ren Podoll, from top, are clos­ing their S.F. store and fam­ily fashion la­bel; the cou­ple’s flag­ship Burlingame store, the Podolls, closed last year; a play­house for their younger cus­tomers.

Ash­ley Batz / The Podolls

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