FAWN Love Stories: A chat with the founders of St. Lightning, Sita Linder and Jenni Witt

Sita (top) and Jenni (bottom) floating in a pool of denim. St. Lightning was voted Best Denim Shop in San Francisco by SF Magazine, 2017.

Sita (top) and Jenni (bottom) floating in a pool of denim. St. Lightning was voted Best Denim Shop in San Francisco by SF Magazine, 2017.

Josh: What is St. Lightning and what inspired you to create it?

Jenni: St. Lightning is a community, a shop, and a studio. It’s a women’s collective of artists and small designers with various talents coming together in an organic space. We collaborate on new projects and also offer workshops where some of our artists teach classes.

The store started off with us being inspired visually by the arts and crafts movement that happened in the Bay Area during the 1960s and 70s. It was a creative time with hippies. People were making things out of bread dough, yarn, and humble goods and creating this really colorful folk art. This was our inspiration because we feel there is a revival of those kinds of techniques. And today, there is a greater ecological awareness that the things we use in our lives should be produced near where we live.

Sita: We really wanted to make everything in our shop recycled, vintage, made in the US, or made transparently in conjunction with the women’s collective.

Josh: So on your website it says you are the Patron Saint of Cosmic Accidents, what does that mean?

Jenni: That has to do with how we got our name. We were having a hard time thinking of the name (it’s kind of like naming your child). So one day, I was walking down the street and I looked down on the ground and saw this phrase stamped, “St. Lightning”, and thought to myself who put that there? It must be some kind of renegade street artist who's carving into the sidewalk. And the friend I was with said “it’s street lighting not saint lightning.” We laughed but then started thinking it could be a cool name for the store.

Sita: Yeah, we kind of joked about it but then thought, what if we did that, “St. Lightning".

Jenni: So it was a cosmic accident, a ridiculous mistake where something great has come of it. We actually made up a character in our store called Saint of Happy Accidents.

Josh: Love it. Why did you choose Polk Street and this part of Russian Hill?

Sita: I think that Polk Street is definitely up and coming. It has a good mix of old and new SF and we both loved the space.

Jenni: We actually do a number of events with ReLove next door and it was the owner of ReLove, Delila, who helped us find the space and help us fall in love with the neighborhood.

(To stay up to date on their latest events, follow their Instagram Page)

Josh: Do you guys have any favorite hidden spots in the neighborhood?

Jenni: Our favorite bar is probably Hi-Lo or Hemlock Tavern, both on Polk St.. And we love the Cinch!

Sita: Foodwise, we always end up at The Crepe House.

Jenni: Za Pizza, it’s over on Hyde. Hahn's Hibachi is also really good. We also like Woods for empanadas!

Josh: Where did you guys grow up and what led you to where you are now?

Jenni: I grew up in the Bay Area, Oakland and Palo Alto. I went to art school at CCAC for textiles and worked in retail since high school. I was actually a buyer for a long time but then had a “mid-life” crisis.

Seriously, I got to a point in my career where I didn’t want to work with products that were made by child slaves. It was also important to me to work with companies and products that were not polluting our environment.  Did you know the the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world? There’s a lot of fast fashion and polyester that just doesn’t biodegrade.

I’ve always been a champion of shopping small and wearing vintage. It got to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore and I wanted to work with creative people. It took a while to make it happen. I did pop-ups before this and thought about opening a jewelry store but then this space became available.

Sita: My background is different. I didn’t have any experience in retail. I grew up in Hawaii where my parents sent me to a Waldorf-kind-of-hippy school. I learned how to knit and sew at a very early age. I ended up going to interior design school.

What led me to where I am now is babysitting. Jenni and I met while babysitting for the same family. She really wanted to do the shop aspect and I was thinking I wanted to move back to Hawaii to do artist stuff with a focus on food. But I loved the workshop idea and so I had told her that I didn’t want to just open a store, I wanted it to have a community aspect of sharing and learning for the artists.

Jenni: And so now when we do a collection with a jewelry artist or any other artist we work with them to create something special just for our store. Sometimes we contribute something vintage and someone embroiders on top of it or we come up with an entirely unique concept together and execute it. We’re actually starting a video series and going to do studio style videos.

Sita: It has been really fun collaborating and building relationships with the artists. We’re not just going into a showroom and picking stuff out.

St. Lightning with its eclectic mix of creative goods.

St. Lightning with its eclectic mix of creative goods.

Josh: Building on that, what do you think is important for merchants who are starting a new retail store?

Sita: You definitely have to adapt with the times and be more than just a retail store. I think you need to have a farther reach within the surrounding community, online, and with the artists. That’s what is keeping certain places alive- stretching the possibilities and thinking outside the box.

Jenni: Having original products is also very important. You can’t find any of our artists on Amazon. We also make our own products and we have vintage which you can’t find anywhere else.  We’d also consider our workshops an original product as well.

Josh: So what’s your take on the future of local shopping and retail?

Jenni: There is a disconnect between people wanting to shop local yet still going home and shopping on Amazon. I haven’t bought fast fashion in over 10 years. I always say I’m a fashion vegan because I only shop local or somewhere where I know everything is ethically made. It’s a pretty extreme action to support local and not buy from bigger corporations like Forever 21. The disconnect needs to be fixed which is why I'm excited about FAWN!

But more than that, I feel like every dollar I spend is really important and even if I have no money, I’ll go and spend it at my friend’s store or at a local place. Because you know for a small business $5 or $10 is really important, it could be the difference in hitting your numbers everyday or not. People need to understand that their dollar is almost like a vote, so every time you spend money at this business you’re voting to keep them there. If you want your neighborhood to look like this, if you like your local coffee people- tip them. I think that’s super empowering.

Josh: Are there any designers or artists that you’re really excited about?

Jenni: Liz, she reclaims leather and makes custom pieces. Or Lila Rice, she’s based in Brooklyn and went to Cal. I met her a long time ago and we have her jewelry here. Sam Lee is a local ceramicist who literally lives down the block. God Eye Oils is new too! I think people are really craving creativity!

Josh: You guys have such a great dynamic. Sita, how would you describe Jenni in one word and Jenni how would you describe Sita in one word?

Sita: I would say Selfless. A second one, if I could, would be Connector.  Jenni’s so friendly and will make friends with everyone. She’s simply authentic.

Jenni: I would say Caring. People call us work wives. It’s so hard doing this, it’s like raising a child and Sita is so committed to communicating and she makes me feel like I won’t fail because I have her support. She’s so committed to doing right by our products, the vendors that we use, she’s just really committed. Sita knows what it takes to nurture yourself and friends so you can be your best self. I’m trying to learn how to take time out to rejuvenate and be your best self.

Josh: For your second midlife crisis, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Jenni: I would like to be able to really manifest more creative projects.

Sita: I agree, I want to bring our creativity beyond the shop. For me personally, I would love to bring “St. Lightning” to Hawaii because they don’t have that kind of stuff.

Jenni: I would love that, I like Hawaii.  Hmmm…

St. Lightning is located at 1813 Polk Street. Shop hours are 12 - 8 PM Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 AM - 6 PM on Sundays.  www.shopstlightning.com