Independent design store Cameron Marks makes its ‘mark’ in the fashion world
On any given day, there is the danger of becoming lustful—for clothes and shoes. A true fashionista knows when the lust creeps in. It’s when you keep eyeing a pair of black kitten heels, and imagining them on your feet. The scene replays over and over. This is precisely what happened to me recently during a visit to Cameron Marks, a cozy, chic, one-of-a-kind boutique on the Westside of Santa Cruz.
Owners Vanessa Ambrose and Laura LaForce offer welcoming attitudes and no pressure to shoppers, which is a marked difference than one might usually encounter in a hip, urban, classy store.
Cameron Marks, named after the maiden name of each woman’s mother, opened three years ago, on the heels of what was once a shirt maker’s studio. The women took over the space and converted it into a clothing store that at first operated on a consignment basis. But that wasn’t to last. As word spread, and locals and out-of-towners alike began to hear about the fashionable boutique in the Kelly’s Bakery courtyard, the business took a different turn. The partners soon found themselves merging their store into a retail space. Nowadays it features a cornucopia of items: undeniably contemporary jeans, a colorful display of T-shirts and blouses, unique skirts and dresses, metal-infused leather belts, edgy purses, vibrant hued clutches and coin purses, a small collection of original shoes, jewelry and paperwares. It’s a treasure chest. Also in the mix are bags designed by Ambrose, who herself is a noted designer with many years of experience behind her, much of it acquired in Australia, her homeland. LaForce also has a wealth of experience in the industry, including working for Louis Vuitton. Combining their backgrounds, the women have launched an undeniably successful venture here in Santa Cruz.
When asked if it’s hard running such an operation in a town that sometimes seems fashion unfriendly, the women suggest otherwise, indicating that in fact the Santa Cruz area has a loyal fashion forward attitude. They keep their customers in mind when buying for the store. But that common customer for a store such as theirs, whose prices range from $22 up to the triple digits, might surprise you. The pair notes that everyone from young women to 60-year-olds have been known to make purchases here. Frankly, that’s the appeal—the boutique offers T-shirts, cutting edge accessories, a vibrant collection of blouses and skirts, designer jeans (that are actually affordable) and so on. Journals and placemats sit nearby. “Some of our pieces might be trendy, some are fashion forward, some are basic,” says LaForce. “We try to offer something for everyone.”
And in the fall that “something for everyone” philosophy is going to expand. The women are opening a second store in the same courtyard they currently occupy. “We’re running out of room,” LaForce says. The second location will be an expansion of their children’s items, home-wares and paper goods. It will also likely include a larger selection of shoes, belts and handbags.
While the business is expanding, you’re not likely to see replicas of yourself walking down the street, as the women only sell a few of each item, and, most of the pieces come from independent designers. “I’m always trying to find something that’s a little different,” Ambrose says. “I’m always sourcing the internet. I can spend hours on design blogs and find fantastic stuff.” Indeed, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
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