By Jay Williams
A quintessential Richmond District business just reached an important milestone. This past summer, JANE Consignment, located at Clement Street and 24th Avenue, celebrated 20 years of serving the community.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since I took the purple and yellow paper off those windows and opened the door for the first time to customers,” said owner Jane Willson on the day of the anniversary. The milestone was marked by a virtual, socially distanced fashion show that saw many of Willson’s longtime clients don their favorite pieces from over the years.
“Things have changed a lot. In the very beginning, I was sending out postcards to hundreds of people, now I’m sending out emails to thousands of people!” Willson said, refelecting on her two decades of running her business.
Willson first opened the store’s doors in May of 2001, a culmination of a lifelong passion for fashion and thrifting. She hails from a small farm in Kansas where she started to work at age 14.
“Growing up in the Midwest, I was taught you don’t have to throw out old things to buy new ones. Recycling was a way of life,” Willson said.
As a young entertainer in Los Angeles, she quickly fell in love with garage sales, flea markets, and “the thrill of the hunt.” Her career as a singer for Princess Cruises took her around the globe, where she developed a taste for the fashion of Japan, China, Russia and the South Pacific, among many others. She eventually made her way to San Francisco where she worked in sales training for a bit before deciding to start her own business.
In a world of mass-market fast-fashion, JANE prides itself on giving women the opportunity to be different and distinct. Walking into JANE Consignment is like walking into a microcosm of the world, with vibrantly colored clothes from every continent and era lining the shelves. Willson prides herself on having a little bit of everything.
“My goal is to have three generations of women – a grandmother, a mother and a daughter – walk into my store and each find something that they love,” Willson said.
Over the years, JANE Consignment has transformed into a Richmond District institution, with a fiercely loyal clientele. Through years of putting together outfits for parties, holidays, work and play, Willson has gotten to know many of her neighbors.
“Many of my first consignors are still consigning with me today,” she said.
In a message to her patrons, Willson remarked, “I’ve gotten to know many of your families and friends, and I’ve had the privilege of watching your children grow up, and some of them have even become customers, and of course many of you have become dear friends.”
The store has also played host to numerous community events. For example, Willson held a teacher appreciation day where all teachers could come in and purchase items at a discounted price. Additionally, she organized a “Richmond Shop Hop” in which participants traveled to many local businesses over the course of a single night. She also supports local artisans and designers by stocking her shelves with many pieces made in the Richmond. Most recently, she displayed a line of custom COVID-19 face masks made by a longtime patron.
Willson sees her store as more than just a business. She prides herself on her philosophy of female empowerment and body confidence, a necessary message in a world that insists on forcing unrealistic beauty standards on women from an early age.
“Instead of placing value on your weight, place weight on your values,” Willson said. JANE has one rule that all customers must follow: “We don’t use the F word; we don’t use the O word” (F as in fat, O as in old). To that end, Willson ensures that the collection of clothes that sit on her shelves is as inclusive as it can be.
Beyond her empowering message, Willson also believes that her business plays an important role in developing practices for a more sustainable future. It’s no secret that every year, incomprehensible numbers of cheap, low-quality clothing items are purchased only to be quickly discarded. During her time at JANE, Willson has sought to encourage the recycling and recirculation of clothing items that have stood the test of time.
When the pandemic hit, JANE consignment, like many small businesses, was hit hard. As a sole proprietor, Willson was unable to access many of the City’s relief programs, which often required businesses to have a minimum number of employees to receive aid. However, Willson was not deterred. She was able to retain some of her business by taking sales online and embracing the sale of gift cards.
As a way of making up for the loss of face-to-face interaction with her patrons, Willson started a YouTube channel where she regularly uploads videos to inform her followers of the latest news and changes. Moreover, Willson saw an outpouring of support from her loyal customers who enthusiastically donated to the store’s GoFundMe page.
Now that some pandemic restrictions have been lifted, Jane Willson is optimistic about the future and is ready to pick up right where she left off.