Since launching her company eight years ago out of her San Francisco apartment, Lisa Bühler has relied on e-commerce, social media and pop-up stores to spread the word about her sustainable clothing brand.
But that just changed. After finding a cool and hip location, she opened her first Lisa Says Gah store on Friday in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles where many indie stores and restaurants cater to a Gen Z and Millennial crowd.
Since the very beginning, Bühler has done pop-up stores, beginning in San Francisco and branching out from there.
But a pop-up partnership early this year with Nordstrom, which custom-built pop-up stores for the brand in nine locations, brought home the value of retail.
“The stats on [Nordstrom] sales were insane,” Bühler said, sitting on a corner banquette inside her new store, which has light yellow hardwood floors with five coats of paint and a wooden ceiling with exposed beams painted light blue. “It prompted us to have our own store.”
The location on Sunset Boulevard is very bohemian and artistic. A coffee shop is on one side of the store and a Pilates studio on the other. With just under 1,000 square feet, the space is carefully curated with items from the Lisa Says Gah collection as well as other brands embracing anti-fast-fashion, sustainability and recycled fabric.
Another 4,000 square feet behind the boutique houses the company’s warehouse and offices.
The Italianate-inspired storefront was designed by Adi Goodrich, an artist and spatial designer who specializes in large-scale set designs, art installations, sculptures and interiors.
The store’s artistic centerpiece is a large wall illustration by Liana Jegers, showing two hillsides connected by the Golden Gate Bridge. This represents the connection between the brand’s beginnings in San Francisco and its move two years ago to Los Angeles to be closer to apparel factories and modeling agencies.
Lisa Says Gah, a reference to how gah can mean awe, was founded as an online site where Bühler sold labels rooted in sustainability and made small-batch clothing created by designers who didn’t want to be like H&M or Shein.
In 2017, she launched her own in-house clothing label by buying some dark linen fabric, working with a designer and having pieces sewn in a small San Francisco factory. Now about 65 percent of her online sales consists of her own label mixed in with other brands.
During the pandemic, the company’s online sales in early 2021 mushroomed about 300 percent over the previous year. “A lot of people saw our brand’s values, and it coincided with what they wanted to buy,” Bühler said. “Then this year we started to see a bit of a decline. In the first half of the year, online sales were down 20 percent over the previous year, and now they are flat.”
About 50 percent of Lisa Says Gah’s customer base is in California, and 60 percent of that is in Los Angeles. So, it seemed only natural to set up a store where the brand was popular.
During the pandemic, Bühler moved most of her operations to Los Angeles to be closer to the country’s largest apparel industry that employs some 20,200 workers in sewing factories. “Our production grew so we needed to expand,” Bühler said.
Now she is working with Los Angeles factories with streamlined services, making it easier to get items delivered quickly. There is also more deadstock fabric available in the area, which is an important part of her clothing collection. She also uses recycled fabric, organic cotton and bamboo.
And small-batch production is kept at anywhere from 65 units up to 300 units for bestselling styles, while maintaining most price points at under $200.
In a way, Bühler is back where she began. She graduated from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, in 2008 and immediately worked for the Joanne Fiske Showroom in Los Angeles. She worked for two other showrooms before moving over to fast-fashion clothing site Nasty Gal, where she started as the associate buyer and later the buyer for dresses, outerwear and sweaters. She was at Nasty Gal for a little more than three years before moving to San Francisco and starting Lisa Says Gah.
Now that she has one store in Los Angeles, her next step is to open a second store in New York City, where shoppers make up a good part of the brand’s sales. Then it will be on to San Francisco, which has another strong customer base.