N: Hi Sophia! How have you been? I've noticed some recent transformations taking place within your store, Retail Pharmacy. How is the process of actualizing your creative vision coming along?
S: Hi! I've been good, very, very busy. The process of transitioning Retail Pharmacy from pop-up to permanent shop has been a really long and arduous, but fun one. I always wanted to open a permanent boutique, but I didn't think it would happen so soon. I'm renovating a small semi-basement storefront in Chinatown, so the space itself proposes a lot of challenges. The walls are basically all uneven, so every idea I've had isn't really plausible. It's kind of been fun in a way to work out what's possible, like a puzzle, but overall, it's exhausting. I'm excited for the shop to be open so I can focus more on my creators and events and less on construction.
N: Born in Los Angeles and later residing in a small community in Kona, Hawaii, you've previously mentioned feeling like a misfit there. However, it seems to me that your store's concept is somehow deeply tied to Hawaiian values and lifestyles centered around togetherness and community. Would it be accurate to say that you're aiming to bring this sense of connection to New York, where individuals often feel alienated from one another?
S: While I definitely think that growing up in Hawaii has shaped my values, outlook on life, and affected my taste, I actually don't think I needed to bring any Hawaiian values to NYC to form a community here. I think that those values and sense of community already exist here a lot more than people can see. Much like Hawaii, NYC is a hard place to live if you're not wealthy. Whenever you live in a place like that locals find a way to help one another out.
My mom is from Brooklyn and I think I learned most of my lessons about community from her, she would always tell me growing up that I have to do one selfless act a day.
She learned lessons like this from her dad, who ran the Jewish Community Center in Bensonhurst for a while. When I moved here, I didn't have many friends. It was the middle of the pandemic, and there weren't many events going on. I did notice this online community of creatives in NYC that all seemed connected but mostly online. Once things started opening back up, I wanted to make a physical place for this community to exist in, and everyone was more than happy to have one. I think everyone everywhere is looking for community; it replaces family when you live in a place where you're alone. Most people find it online, but it doesn't feel the same as in-person connections. They just need a gathering place, and I'm happy to be able to provide one.
N: In a world increasingly focused on digital experiences, from online shopping to emerging technologies like the Metaverse, the pandemic has also highlighted our need for real-life interactions and intimate experiences. How do you envision the evolution of retail? Will we see a resurgence of "cult-stores" that serve not just as shopping destinations but also as social hubs, akin to the Punk stores of the mid 1970s or establishments like Colette in Paris?
S: The pandemic definitely highlighted how important in-person interactions are. I think a lot of people realized how mundane online shopping is. It's great for when you need something specific or quick, but there is something so much more special about buying things in person. I definitely think there will be a resurgence of "cult stores" or something similar. I see a shift in the way a lot of people look at fashion. More people are supporting small designers, which is great, and I think more people are interested in the story behind their clothes.
I think if brick and mortar retail is going to make a true resurgence it needs to be approached more creatively.
I've always tried to formulate Retail Pharmacy as more than just a store. I wanted the pop-ups to feel like social events as well as shopping destinations. I plan on making the permanent place feel the same way. I want people to come and hang out and meet up with friends, and to host all types of events like poetry readings, performances, food tastings, basically whatever the space can accommodate. I am seeing some other stores who operate similarly in NYC and other cities and I'm hoping there will just be more opening in the next couple years.
N: You've expressed a desire to provide a platform for emerging designers who might otherwise resort to selling on Depop or promoting their work on social media. What is your approach to curating selections, and what specific qualities do you seek in a designer? Are you drawn to any particular attribute or characteristic?
S: I have tried to put into words what I look for in a designer so many times, but I can't. I just go with my gut. The best part about being a one-woman operation is that I can pick pieces solely based on what I want to have on display. So I guess I just look for what I like first, and then I look at quality, and I talk to the designer a little bit to see what their vibe is like, to make sure we click.
I don't have any qualifications for my designers. They don't have to have a degree in fashion or art or a certain amount of Instagram followers. I find I connect most with designers who are very conceptual, or who consider themselves to be more of artists whose medium just happens to be clothing. My favorite designer is Alexander McQueen because of the complex stories he would tell through each collection. When I find a designer who thinks like that, I get really excited. But overall, I just want to find cool work that I would be happy to have in my own closet or in my house, and that's constantly changing, so the store's stock is too.
N: Since opening Retail Pharmacy, what has been the most challenging aspect of running the store, and conversely, what has been the most rewarding experience?
S: Emails and time management have been by far the most challenging aspect for me. There is a never-ending list of things to do for the store, and it just grows and grows. I'm really bad at asking for or accepting help, so I often just do everything on my own, and my Gmail inbox gets neglected. There's also this underlying stress and anxiety that you deal with as a new small business owner that I can't really explain. It's like you're constantly terrified of the business failing, even though you don't think it will. But I really can't complain. I'm so much happier doing this than working for someone else. Everything about Retail Pharmacy has been so rewarding. The support I've gotten since day 1 has been so amazing, and the relationships I've created through the shop are some of my best ones. I've put so much blood, sweat, and tears into this project, and I feel like I've been repaid tenfold. I'm 28, going on 29, and I have the shop of my dreams in the city I always wanted to live in, and I'm surrounded by this great community of talented creatives. Every day, I feel blessed to have this opportunity and to work with the people I do. My newest challenge is figuring out how to showcase all the creators I want to with the limited space I have. But it's a challenge I'm excited to take on.
All images courtesy of Retail Pharmacy.