Jill Wenger founded the Northwest shopping outpost, Totokaelo, when she was 26. She has discovered and supported some of the most independent and influential designers anywhere. Wenger invests in the lesser known and most unique pieces designers have to offer. The store is truly a visionary’s dream as she stocks fashion and objects personally selected by her and the end result has proven Totokaelo an internationally respected retail destination and made Wenger a tastemaker of her generation.
What is your first fashion memory?
I was way into playing ‘dress up’ as a child. I had a basket of hand me downs and would bust out some pretty killer ensembles. I’d gather my immediate family into the living room, turn off the lights and hand everyone a flashlight to shine on me as I walked the runway. My best catwalk was made of full length mirrors I’d commandeered from the backs of bedroom doors and laid in a column on the floor. Terrible idea. Lots of breakage.
What do you love most about Seattle? Are you from the Northwest?
Seattle is beautiful. I love the water and trees. I am not originally from the Northwest.
Were you at all leary of opening such a fashion forward shop in Seattle in the early 2000s, when you were just 26 years old?
No way. The great advantage of starting early as an entrepreneur is that you don’t know what to be afraid of yet.
In the years since opening you store, has the buying process gotten more arduous or do you instantly know what you like?
With experience comes clarity around what does and doesn’t work for me and Totokaelo. Clarity enables brevity. As a new buyer, I’d leave appointments with a third of the collection noted and ranked – super favorite, love, yes, ok, maybe? Now I have an immediate reaction and options quickly elicit a hard YES or NO.
How have you developed such a keen, unique, and specific point of view for your shop?
Try lots of things + listen to self + act on intuition.
What experiences have you had that have contributed to this?
Great question. Can’t think of a simple answer here so I’m getting semi-philosophical.
Experiences that contributed to my development of a unique point of view — lots and lots of discomfort. I find not knowing what I like or what I want supremely uncomfortable and confusing. So I sit with the confusion until I get clear. Sometimes it takes an hour and sometimes it takes a year.
I kinda wish I could reference my time at the Sorbonne or some incredible creative mentor. But for me, it’s been a very personal, experiential process.
What is it about Seattle that provides such a complementary backdrop for Totokaelo?
It’s beautiful and grounding.
Your store is internationally influential – was this a goal of yours when you opened shop?
No. I just wanted to build something fucking awesome. And influence consumer spending — I want people to make more conscientious decisions and buy less stuff. Care more. Buy less.
How has the digital world impacted you shop? Good and bad?
I love our digital world. Technology is a phenomenal tool that democratizes information and facilitates the building of personal relationships.
Who are your favorite designers to wear?
Yohji Yamamoto, Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Junya Watanabe, Comme des Garçons, Ann Demeulemeester, Issey Miyake and Dries Van Noten.
What advice would you give to designers who would love to be in Totokaelo?
Do something to set yourself apart. Something with purpose. And become the best at it.