If you walk down Charles Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia, it's hard to miss Phosphene Studio. A charming, freshly painted white brick exterior and a welcoming half glass wooden door set the tone for the beautiful, ethically made clothing and fine lifestyle goods to be discovered inside. An extension of owner Rachel Berenbaum's personal style, Phosphene's well curated racks showcase timeless shapes, muted colour palette's and quality fabrics from independent designers. We are proud to be represented by Phosphene Studio and recently caught up with Rachel to learn more about her journey to opening the store, how she curates her buys and her tips and advice for building a Fall wardrobe.
"It is our goal to encourage thoughtful and intentional buying practices through conscious consumerism, and be a resource for our community to connect with responsibly made goods."
What did you do prior to opening Phosphene Studio?
Prior to opening Phosphene, I lived in the Bay Area of California and worked in Project Management at Mozilla Firefox on the People Operations side of the business. My projects focused on improving process efficiencies, implementing new tools, systems and integrations and internal communications.
I loved working in the tech space - but when my husband, Kevin, and I decided together to move back to the east coast, I decided to leave my job. I was burnt out and needed space to take a breather - to recharge, to prioritize my mental health, to really reflect on where I wanted to do next and realign my priorities - because the pace I had established for myself wasn’t sustainable for me and wasn’t what I wanted to move into the next chapter of life maintaining.
During that year-long self-proclaimed ‘sabbatical’ I went to therapy. Kevin and I rescued a sweet chihuahua-terrier mutt who we named Levi, and we went on walks exploring D.C. together, outside, slowing down - being present. I reconnected with family and friends, hosting sweet little dinner parties at our apartment, and worked my way through Allison Roman’s cookbook, Dining In, which had just been released. And most importantly, I reflected on what filled up my cup (and what drained my energy) - and made necessary changes.
I’ve always loved sharing finds - whether it be a great playlist from a new restaurant we recently went to, the social media details of a designer I purchased a knit sweater from at a recent craft fair, or art found on travels and the story behind it. I was encouraged by my peers (and therapist!) to lean into that - to think about what it would look like to share on a bigger scale, through a platform of my choosing which could also function as a creative outlet. To tell the stories of the brands and makers with a community of people who wanted to listen. A year later, after moving to Fredericksburg, Virginia (one hour south of Washington D.C.) I signed a lease on a brick and mortar downtown and turned my spreadsheets to reality. We just wrapped up year three in business (and though I am admittedly tired at this moment as we gear up for the holiday season!), I can tell you - my cup is as full as it can be.
Outside of your busy workday, what are some of your favourite pastimes?
Spending time with husband, Kevin, and two fur babies - Levi and Wyoming, moving slowly around the house taking care of little projects here and there (usually while listening to Arcade Fire or Florence and the Machine). Taking day trips to Richmond to pick up pastries from Sub Rosa (the fig and cheese wheel and the traditional butter croissant are bar-setting, trust me.) Reading (currently on a fantasy kick, but also love thrillers) and when I have enough time, getting into the zone at our local ceramic studio and making hand-built dishes and trays for trinkets.
When considering additions to your personal wardrobe, what are some of the factors you take into consideration? Do you find parallels between how you curate for Phosphene and your own wardrobe?
This is a great question - and I have so much to say. There are a few factors that come to mind immediately - first, asking myself: if I purchase this garment, will I be duplicating something that I already own? This can be in regard to style and silhouette but can also (and most often!) applies most to the occasion I’ll be wearing the garment. For example, lounging in my home, running errands on a cold day, for a date night, et. I picture when I’d reach for the garment in question - and ask myself - is there something in my closet that already fills that need? If there is, will I reach for this garment just as much if not more than what already exists?
Foundationally, there are also values I try my best to maintain when considering additions to my wardrobe. The fit, the fabric, construction, and associated care needs, of course - but also the bigger picture questions: is the garment made by a brand who also values ethical production practices? Is the garment something I will wear for years to come? Do I like this garment because it is an authentic representation of how I would like to express myself through clothing (or have I been influenced to like this style?) If the style is something new to me, outside of what I’d consider my usual style, I try to seek out the garment via a resale site like Poshmark, through a successful thrift store find, or borrow the style from a friend to take it on a test run.
I also like to ‘sleep on’ my purchases - meaning, remove myself from the pressure of the purchase to go home and consider before purchasing - and encourage my customers to do the same when shopping with me if they have any doubt in their minds. If possible, I also encourage my customers to bring in the other garments in their closet they’d want to style their new piece with, to ensure it matches and they have no doubt in their mind that their new garment will be one they love for years to come.
These foundational values translate verbatim to Phosphene and how I curate for the shop. We only partner with designers and makers focused on ethical production, sustainability, and craftsmanship, on slowing the fashion cycle and leading the way for other socially conscious businesses in their industry. It is our goal to encourage thoughtful and intentional buying practices through conscious consumerism and be a resource for our community to connect with responsibly made goods. When planning out each season, I don’t just organize our picks by category of tops, bottoms, jackets et- I think through the occasions. How much of the shop is for lounge, how much for occasion wear - and work to find those closet staple pieces that can truly do it all.
Creating a safe environment for our community to reflect on the relationship they have with the objects they surround themselves with, a space where they as consumers can trust that we’ve done the homework to vet the brands and products they are there to consider, is what makes Phosphene special and something I’m so proud to be a part of.
What is your advice for anyone wanting to build or edit their Fall wardrobe?
Before you start shopping, take a moment to make a mood board of inspiration. I include outfits, styles / colors and silhouettes I’m attracted to, but also give myself creative freedom to include imagery, art and sentiments to the board…. things that encapsulate how I want to feel in the new season, not just how I want to look.
When it comes to taking action to build and edit your wardrobe ask yourself - what do you already own that can create the outfits / desired energy? Can anything you already own that can be altered to give you the desired fit? How will these garments interact with other garments you already own and love? What is your budget for the season? From there, I always recommend a capsule closet exercise, to reflect and refine… also a wonderful opportunity to let go of what no longer works for you as your style evolves, perhaps resell the garment to give it new life in someone elses’ closet (and reinvest those funds into something new for yourself for the new season).
How would you describe your personal style?
My closet includes pared back, fundamental, and simple essentials. Colors are tonal within neutral palettes - beiges, creams, oatmeal's - with some black, olive greens and charcoal gray incorporated. The silhouettes I gravitate towards are modern and structural, versatile in their ability to mix and match with most of my closet, and most allow for multi-season wear.
I casually (and lovingly!) describe my style as pajamas in public - I want to feel comfortable at all times, but also put together - you’ll often find me in the shop wearing high waisted trousers with a sneaky hidden elastic in the waistband and an oversized menswear-inspired button down. Or a long black slip dress dressed up with heeled booties and a vintage blazer. Effortless but polished, ready to go from working a day at the shop to lounging on the couch and catching up on shows. Dressing can be so grounding when you know what you feel good in.
And finally, what is next for you and Phosphene Studio?
We just finished submitting our orders for Spring and Summer 2023 (I can’t wait to share the goodness that’s coming!) and now we are gearing up for the holiday season. I like to casually joke that the holidays are the Superbowl season of small business.. but they really are.
Zooming out, I’m looking forward to January - not to make time speed up or to not appreciate where we are in the present moment - but because of the opportunity that comes with a slower month. Kevin and I always make a point of taking a retreat of this nature at the start of the year, unplugged. To reflect and set intentions for the new year, both for Phosphene but also on a personal level. And importantly, to get away and recharge somewhere - somewhere inspiring, full of good food and sunshine and warmth. And little boutiques full of new designers and makers to find and share.