If you live in San Francisco, you’ve probably heard of Painted Bird. Besides their SF store that opened in 2005, Painted Bird has expanded to Los Angeles in 2011 and recently opened an online shop. The small Valencia shop that I know and love is packed with a huge selection of amazing designer pieces at affordable prices and it’s become one of the hot spots for avid shoppers in the Bay Area (AKA “lovely people” according to the owners). I’m a frequent customer there (see me wearing Painted Bird from head to toe?) so I was very happy to connect with Nate Archer, the co-owner who runs the shop with girlfriend Sunny Walker. To find out more about Painted Bird, read on below!
Tell us about yourself. What did you do prior to your shop?
“Kind of the same thing I’ve been doing since opening the shop. Going to thrift stores, surfing, traveling, riding bikes, riding motorcycles, making music. I think Sunny would say the same, except maybe exclude surfing and add beach lounging.”
How long have you been in the biz?
“We opened the first Painted Bird in San Francisco in 2005. Right before that we worked at a really large vintage shop for a couple years in NYC. We learned a lot about how to run a business the ‘right’ and fun way from our bosses back then, Carrie and Cindy. They both had a vibe and way of doing things to aspire to.”
How would you describe the ladies and gents that shop there?
Do you find that there are stories behind your clothes?
“Hmmm…I’m looking at both of Sunny’s closets right now. She has so many crazy pieces. I’m not sure if Sunny feels this way but I definitely associate my clothing collection with the particular time and place I got that piece. I can almost always remember what town I was in, what my life was like back then when I found this killer shirt or that jacket. The clothing I surround myself with evokes my path in life.”
How did Painted Bird get its start?
“Many years ago in New York we met a punker named Paul who was squatting by himself in a massive crumbling 20 story building along the East River in Brooklyn. He had been selling the most amazing clothing to the vintage shop we worked at. He decided to let us in on his secret domain.
We had to meet him at night. He led us through a snarled fence and refused lot, out to clamber on the rocks that about the east river. Over the rocks and up a rusted staircase we entered his house. You could look up and see through large collapsed sections of every floor of the building all the way up to the roof (or what was left of the roof) out into the dark sky. On each floor in huge clumps and wet piles were clothes stacked in loud shapes in various states of disintegration. You walked on fur coats and pushed through mountains of polyester and wild colors. He gave us headlamps and we literally tunneled through the clothes— walls of clothes that could come down on you and bury you. It was kind of a Freddy’s Boiler room vibe, impossible angles. Paul blasted Sepultura (those drums!) and drank booze and we filled garbage bags with dead stock bohemian clothing. When I took a break from the tunnels, Paul told me he had heard a rumor about a warehouse in New Jersey that was full of vintage dead stock Gucci. He was determined to find it. Those bags of clothes we scavenged were the headstream for Painted Bird San Francisco."
Besides your store, can you tell us the spots for finding cool vintage pieces?
“In the Bay Area we like James Rowland Shop, Aubergine Vintage Emporium, Black and Brown and the Alameda Flea Market. In LA well…LA is massive! So many strange and hidden thrift stores to discover. I have to mention thrifting in Japan aka mecca, for all the things you dream exist, actually do exist.”
If Painted Bird could be described through a playlist, what songs would be on it?
“Chrome – New Age
Coli – Windowpane
God – My Pal
Peaking Lights – Birds Of Paradise dub version
Ice Cube – It was a Good Day
John Maus – Cop Killer
The Psychedelic Furs – Into You Like a Train
Midi, Maxi and Efti – Bad Bad Boys
Grimes – Oblivion
James Ray and the Performance – Edie
Susan Cadogan – Hurt So Good
Psychic TV – Godstar (California Mix)
Yello – Oh Yeah
Les Rallizes Denudes – Enter the Mirror
But there are so many I am leaving out!"
Who’s updating Painted Bird’s blog? It’s one of my favorites!
“Sunny…yes she is the best!”
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of owning a vintage boutique?
“Rewarding— traveling for a living, meeting interesting people who are doing interesting things, seeing how happy someone gets when they find a dream piece at our shop.
Challenging— dealing with permits, the government, the scammers. Being in the public eye."
If you weren’t running Painted Bird, what else would you be doing?
“The same thing but I guess our house would be pretty hoarder-esque!”
Have any tips of the trade for other boutique owners?
“Love it, live it. ;) It works for real though.”
Have anything exciting planned with your shop?
“We recently started up an online shop for Painted Bird. It’s fun! We are thinking about making our own sunscreen…you heard it here first!”
Visit Painted Bird
SF location: 1360 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
LA location: 4208 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029