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.
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.