The Seven Sisters shop in Portland, Oregon is a space of immense aesthetic inspiration, brimming with chic but cozy apparel in luxurious fabrics, distinctive jewelry and accessories, eye-catching homewares, and small-batch toiletries. It's the sort of place where you can pick up a spotted ceramic mug, a handmade toothbrush with a tortoise shell handle, and your new favorite day dress, all in one fell swoop. But there's more to the store than covetable products. Its founder, Jillian Punska, is committed to supporting brands that are ethically and sustainably produced and primarily woman-owned, proving that these values go hand-in-hand with timeless quality.
Below, we chat with Jillian about the inspiration behind Seven Sisters, her ideal customer, and more. If you're intrigued, you can visit the shop in East Portland or browse around online.
What was your path to creating this online retail destination, and how did Seven Sisters come to be?
My background is in art and art history. Out of college I thought I was destined for a career in Art Museums. I worked at the Portland Art Museum for over five years doing public programming and education. When I realized that life in an office was not for me, I took a year “off” to explore what I wanted to do.
I took a job at a food coop here in Portland whose mission was to carry only ethically made, organic goods and food. The premise of the store was that you could go in and enjoy your shopping experience knowing that the buyers had already done all of the research about how the items they carried were made and produced, where they came from, what was in them, etc. I wanted to do the same thing with clothes. I couldn't find a lot of ethically made things that were fashion-forward and available at an affordable price at the time.
So, it's really been a combination of a love of beautiful artistic design and materials, a desire to simplify shopping ethically, and a genuine interest in curating a shop of things that would serve to delight and be functional for the women of Portland, myself and beyond.
Do you feel a certain responsibility as a female entrepreneur to support and promote other women? Why do you think this important, and how have you woven this into your store?
I love women. I believe that loving women is an essential part of having self-love.
In our culture we're often taught to compete with other women for resources in an effort to succeed by society's standards. I'm interested in flipping that narrative and encouraging us all to see the abundance that is available to us. At the shop I'm always looking for ways we can create a better life for ourselves and others by supporting and encouraging each-other as women. Making ethically made products created by women available and easily accessible to people is one powerful way to support and uplift women.
When a customer uses their resources to purchase something from Seven Sisters, those resources go directly to supporting women makers and a women-owned small business, instead of to alternative places that often sell items that encourage the oppression of women and others by selling cheaply made items, often times made under poor conditions with cheap materials that were also made under poor conditions, where people aren't paid fairly and the quality and sustainability of the item hasn't been considered. We can do better. It's that mission that gets me up in the morning!
Describe your personal aesthetic in three words.
Simple, sophisticated, confident.
Can you share a little about the lines you carry and why you have chosen them?
I look for lines that are well-made, feel good on the body, and create a peaceful feeling for the wearer. That means finding the best fabrics, often natural fabrics that feel special and luxurious on the skin and that will last a long time. I also look for both classic and avant-garde shapes that aren't restrictive and that encourage a freedom of movement for the wearer.
I look to women to create these designs because they know what it will feel like to wear the garment in the multitude of various situations we encounter throughout our day, from hanging out with kids to going to work or going out for a nice dinner. I look for clothes people are going to want to live their life in and get a lot of use out of.
A lot of what we carry can be dressed up or down to suit multiple purposes saving the customer time, money, frustration and closet space! To name a few of our favorites, we love Le Vestiare de Jeanne, Revisited Matters, Pansy Co. and Diarte among others.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our customer is someone who loves beautiful things. Seven Sisters style is all about empowerment, freedom, self-love and love for others.
How do you like living and owning a store in Portland? How has the PNW shaped your sartorial preferences for yourself and your customer?
I feel incredibly lucky to live and work in Portland. It's a place where entrepreneurs and creatives are really embraced and supported. People come out for all kinds of crazy events here. We really have a lively culture of going out to eat at amazing restaurants, getting to attend special fashion events and sales weekly, and having all kinds of creative events from group preserved food exchanges to flea markets to walking maps of fruit trees you can pick from for free, etc. etc. People experiment here and that's what's exciting about this city.
We've been fortunate to create a business here because it's something people want and are excited about. Folks here really care about things being "ethically made," just in case you didn't already know that from watching Portlandia. Right now, as the city grows, I think we are experiencing a shift from being a super casual city to one that mixes the ease of the casual with more stylish and thoughtful fashion choices.
What is the vibe of your physical retail space?
Friendly and relaxing with delightful little surprises around every corner.
Who are some of your personal icons?
Icons for me are women who've really understood and expressed the female experience in all of its complexity; Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Carrie Mae Weems, and Mary Oliver. Style-wise, Yoko Ono, Rei Kawakubo and Momoko Suzuki always make me pretty happy.
What do you enjoy in your life outside work?
I love going out to a nice meal or when my partner cooks for me with fresh Northwest ingredients. A good bottle of wine is always a nice treat, too. I spend a lot of my free time exploring art, fashion and reading. I'm kind of an introvert, but I love talking to customers at the shop and to friends over a cup of coffee.
What is next for you and Seven Sisters?
I think that as we grow designing a house line is going to be important. I'm really excited to continue thinking about that.