Bay Area // San Francisco
Olivia Cruz Mayeda
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ReLove is more than just a place to buy clothes for many. The San Francisco resale boutique on Polk Street, which houses a narrow but mighty archive of vintage, designer and independent labels, is also where a brokenhearted regular rediscovered herself post-breakup, a now-married couple first met and a film stylist dresses his actors.
But before the business became a staple in the resale industry, with a two-story sequel opening in Oakland later this month, owner Delila Hailechristos had to first get past the dozens of “no’s” she encountered from prospective landlords and the banks from which she sought business loans.
“Every bank gave the same answer: ‘We rarely fund first-time business owners, but we wish you the best of luck,’” she said.
Hailechristos, who used her savings to open her business in 2014, isn’t the only Black entrepreneur to have received more best wishes than investor interest.
At public policy research firm Mason Tillman Associates in Oakland, President Eleanor Ramsey gathers data on racial disparities in the financial support received by businesses. Ramsey said it was telling that Black entrepreneurs across the U.S. are 28% percent more likely to be denied a business loan than white men with the same credit scores.
After renting the same office space on Harrison Street for 14 years, Ramsey herself had trouble renewing her lease in 2019.
“I was only able to secure the lease after I went through a Realtor anonymously,” she said. “I can only conclude their unwillingness was due to the color of my skin.”
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Dozens of landlords also rejected Hailechristos before she finally found a space.
“I know to a lot of those landlords I did not look like what they thought a typical business owner looks like,” she said. “And they could not see me as a worthwhile investment.”
Tiffany Carter is all too familiar with these experiences as a business owner from the Bayview neighborhood herself and the co-founder of San Francisco Black Wallstreet, a consortium of Black entrepreneurs which seeks to strengthen the economic power of Black people in San Francisco.
“I think a lot of landlords, institutions and investors across the board don’t look at Black businesses as valuable,” Carter said. “They see us as charities.”
In spite of the structural racism that has failed so many Black businesses and entire communities in the Bay Area, Hailechristos is triumphing and bringing other entrepreneurs of color along with her. She has collaborated with the DeYoung Museum, Levi’s, a collective of Black creatives known as the Black Brunch Club, and provided a pop-up space for local vendors, photographers and artists.
“I love that we are a very visibly Black-owned space with BIPOC employees who are very much at the forefront of the resale industry,” Hailechristos said. “I think it’s also really important that what we do speaks for itself.”
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Southern California as a teenager, she attributes her fashion sensibility to her “extremely stylish” grandmother — the wife of Ethiopia’s ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time — who Hailechristos says dressed to convey who she was and what she believed in.
Also formative was the moment she entered high school in San Diego, shedding her middle school uniforms for outfits thrifted at second-hand clothing stores, where she later found work.
An ethos of storytelling and sustainability guides Hailechristos. Be it a customer’s eccentricity expressed through Issey Miyake pleats or the storied threads of vintage denim, Hailechristos wants to celebrate personal style.
“We have muses: our minimalist muse, our Berlin industrial muse, our avant garde workwear muse, the linen people,” she laughed. “I always want ReLove to be a place where a variety of personal styles can come in and find clothes they resonate with.”
Ruth Gebreyesus, whose relationship with ReLove started six years ago when she sold them a pair of shoes that didn’t fit her, said the boutique draws people who are thoughtful about their clothes.
“At any given moment, there’s a story to be told — one customer is having a transformative moment and another is drawn to the style choices they’ve made,” said Gebreysus. “I’ve sold pieces to ReLove that I’ve worn for years that I was finally ready to let go of.”
During the pandemic, Hailechristos saw a growing demand for more meaningful relationships between people and where they shop. After pausing in-store shopping in March 2020, ReLove started offering remote styling appointments. They also modeled individual pieces for sale on Instagram, where clothes were sometimes snapped up within minutes of posting.
ReLove’s Instagram following grew by 40% and its sales by 38% between 2019 and 2021.
Daniele Lucero was one of those people obsessively checking ReLove’s Instagram, despite living in New Mexico and only ever visiting the store once in person. The 29-year-old researcher says she wears something from her ReLove collection every day.
“You can see yourself in their clothes,” she said. “And they allow you to dream.”
Lucero’s relationship with ReLove has been transformative for more than her wardrobe, which was almost exclusively composed of neutrals. After a breakup, Lucero booked remote styling appointments with general manager Michael Hillard. He introduced her to bolder colors and vibrant prints like a red-netted Jean Paul Gaultier dress from ReLove’s “All About Love” collection that “feels like a moment, even if you’re the only person to witness it,” Lucero said.
“Michael told me, ‘You’re stepping into your power now,’” she recalled, laughing. “So here I am, and this is part of the story I’m telling post breakup.”
Film stylist and third-generation Oakland resident Ryan Thurston has a similarly close relationship with ReLove’s staff, who helped him pick out vintage silk shirts for Fairyland, a film that premiered at Sundance in January.
“I want to emphasize how accessible they make fashion, which is typically very elitist,” Thurston said. “Everyone can walk out feeling like they’ve elevated themselves.”
The month before its Feb. 18 grand opening, ReLove’s Oakland location was bustling with staff, racks of leather and silk, and Hailechristos’ pitbull Rosie. Salvaged Japanese denim curtains hung in the dressing rooms and Hailechristos’ signature sandalwood and cedarwood scent warmed ReLove’s new home on Grand Avenue.
“I was drawn to Grand because there are so many queer, femme and people of color spaces here,” said Hailechristos, whose new neighbors include POC-owned specialty beverage shop Akali Rye, pastry spot Bake Sum and cafe Red Bay Coffee. “One thing I’m gonna continue to advocate for is funding for small business owners who want to be here too.”
As ReLove expands to Oakland and starts offering homegoods in addition to quality threads, Hailechristos wants to underscore that what makes ReLove so special is community.
“If we boiled down our success,” she said, “it’s the relationships we have with the people who shop with us.”
Olivia Cruz Mayeda is a journalist based in Oakland. Instagram: @oliviacruzmayeda
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