WHAT WE LOVE: A shop dedicated to a beautiful collection of artisan and handmade products made in the most part by women, thus creating a supportive community around the world. A range of goods that are ethically sourced, Len Collective features products made of natural materials and neutral colors as well as heirloom items that will last generations.
WHERE: San Luis Obispo, nestled between the Coast Range, the Pacific Ocean and Wine Country of California.
WHO: Shannon Len, jewelry designer and a passionate collector of unique artisan goods from across the globe.
This feature is presented in partnership with FAIRE, a company that shares our commitment to supporting local retail. Across the U.S., FAIRE connects over 20,000 local retailers with makers through its unique wholesale marketplace. When FAIRE invited us to feature some of the local retailers using its innovative platform on The Shopkeepers, we were excited to see several retailers that we already know and follow. Learn more about FAIRE.
When was Len Collective founded? I launched my jewelry line in 2001 and it slowly evolved from there. After many years of wholesaling my line and participating in many craft shows, I opened my first 150 square foot studio to the public in 2012. Since then we have moved the shop three more times, upgrading in location and size each time. We now reside in our final home.
How do you approach selecting goods to sell at Len Collective? We carry a curated collection of handmade goods, for the most part made by women. Each piece tells a story that connects with our overall genre of self care and celebrating beauty. We truly believe in purchasing less and investing in quality pieces made from natural materials that will last a lifetime. We focus on simplistic living from our chemical free apothecary to our natural wood toys for children. Each piece has to pass our test of “will this bring true joy to our lives while making less of an impact on our earth”.
Did you design the shop? I designed each Len Collective shop. There have been three, the studio where I started and then expanding into two shop spaces; each on a whim and a major budget, as we moved suddenly each time when the right spot became available. I pieced together vintage finds, scavenging craigslist while nursing our brand new baby. We moved shops one month after our second daughter was born. And my husband built the rest himself (shelving, counters, display walls, etc.). I seem to do my best working from a spontaneous place.
What is Len Collective best known for? We are best known for our handmade jewelry, we carry over 100 designers from around the world in a variety of materials and price points. Whether you are looking for a simple pair of every day studs or an alternative engagement ring, we offer quite a range. I hand select each piece and work directly with the designers often to customize stones, colors, etc.
Our next most popular categories are the children’s section (which has evolved as the demand for unique quality pieces had grown). We offer everything from linen clothing from Australia, to empowering and cultural books, hand carved wooden toys, and hand crafted leather shoes. We purchase in small batches, so our inventory is always changing.
Lastly, our natural apothecary, skin care, and perfumes are a very popular category in our shop. Women come in to seek self care and a way to bring small joys to their lives. We are constantly testing out new brands seeking the best in natural, mostly organic, beauty to offer an alternative to the chemical ridden industry. We love encouraging women to find the time to nurture their bodies and souls whether its a simple goats milk face mask or replacing and minimizing their make up bag with RMS’s organic makeup. This is truly one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
What are the 5 “Must Have” items at Len Collective this season?
- PF Candle Copal for an earthy citrus aroma that brings a grounding energy to the home.
- Living Libations best skin ever sea buckhorn skin oil is my everyday go to (it simplifies your products as it is a cleansing oil, moisturizer, make up remover, & hair oil all in one).
- Pons sandals from Mallorca.
- Yoke Flow perfume has a true English tea rose scent that smells beautiful on all skin types.
- La Kaiser caribbean sunrise ring is such a burst of sunshine for Spring.
Where do you source your products from? Most of our products are handcrafted (95% made by women). We source goods from all around the world. I travel between shows (mostly small artisan shows), along with finding goods in our international travels. I hand pick teak home goods in Bali, working directly with the artisan families, along with finding sourcing in Byron Bay, Australia, the land of all things beautiful. Most importantly, we work with many local vendors, which is our preference whenever possible. We are lucky to reside in an area with many talented makers and love to work directly with them to offer our customers a local option and piece of our community. I also spend countless hours searching through Instagram and the internet looking for things that I connect with. Then contacting the makers, requesting samples and hopefully placing orders. This last process, while fun at times, is also very daunting and time consuming. In the last year, I have moved towards using the wholesale marketplace FAIRE for about 30% of our ordering. I have found some really amazing goods through them and have loved to watch them grow and offer new vendors daily. It has become almost an addiction checking out their “new” section daily to see who has joined. I have to say ordering through them has been very seamless in that they handle a lot of the grunt work, like dealing with payments, damaged goods, communication, etc. For us it’s been a very helpful tool in keeping our shop stocked.
Who are your customers? Our demographic is quite a large range. We are in a university town, so we have a very young population. Most of the other local shops cater to that age group, and we have chosen to move in a different direction and offer goods for all ages. While many of our offerings are geared towards women, we also offer men’s and children’s goods. We have become a destination for gifts, and so that draws a lot of men around the holidays.
How has the internet impacted your business? I guess we have been very lucky in that sense, as it hasn’t really affected our business in the way it has most. We source many goods that are very difficult to find online, such as international brands (too pricey to order online with shipping), or goods I have found in my travels that are not offered online. Or most importantly, the makeup and perfumes, which you want to smell or sample before ordering. As I make over 50% of the jewelry in our shop and it’s only available in our brick and mortar, that helps to encourage people to come in and view it in person.
What inspires you? I am most inspired when traveling, keeping my eyes open for something unique for both my own home, which often trickles down into our shop. My favorite explorations are wandering through artisan markets, flea markets, farmer’s markets, I guess I just have an affinity for markets. I first started selling my jewelry in a small farmer’s market in Kauai followed by the famous Paddington Market in Sydney, Australia, so the market life is deep in my blood.
What is your perfect day off in San Luis Obispo? My perfect day off in San Luis Obispo is chai on the back patio of Linneas coffee shop surrounded by all the greenery. While San Luis Obispo has endless great cafes, this one is nostalgic for me as my mother used used to drink her coffee in the same spot, while my sister and I tossed rocks in the fish pond for hours (which is now my daughters favorite spot to visit). After a lazy morning of drinking tea, I love to head for a hike in the mountains surrounding Avila beach, followed by a soak at the Sycamore hot springs near by. Come afternoon, I like to spend a couple hours of reading on our front porch at our farm where the only noise is the sound of birds and an occasional tractor. And the end to this perfect day is an outdoor dinner on our back patio under the lights on a warm night with friends, while the kids run around the fruit orchard. I truly love the simple life.
Which are your five favorite shops? Midland Shop in Silver Lake and Culver City; Burro in Venice, Malibu, and Santa Monica; Esqueleto, Los Angeles; Asrai Garden in Chicago; General Store, Venice and San Francisco; and online shop, Doen.
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“I really think many people are burned out on the over consumption of poor quality, mass produced goods. Cluttering your home with all these unnecessary items only brings more stress and anxiety. Many of us are being drawn to the more simplistic way of living. Going back in time in a sense to more heirloom pieces, hand crafted from natural materials that make less of an impact on our earth (and frankly look more beautiful in our homes). While there will always be a demand for the opposite, we are encouraged by the growth in curated shops and the customers who seek us out. I think while this may be a trend at the moment, it will only evolve and grow as we will need to make more conscious choices to sustain our planet.”
715 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, CA
Photography by Drew Barefoot of Cana Family