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Julia and Jenny of Retrofit Republic | Curators of Style

Style | Curators of Style: Retrofit Republic

A stylish profile on Retrofit Republic

Dorothy Santos Arts Editor

by Dorothhy Santos
Published September 2013 | Archive Issue of Asterisk SF / Style Issue

Walking into the home and shop of two spritely, beautiful, and meticulously well-dressed women may sound a bit intimidating. Yet Jenny Ton and Julia Rhee are far from the stereotypically hard-edged, unapproachable individuals often associated with mainstream fashion culture. With lightning-bright smiles, disarming style, and their perennial sense of fashion, the Retrofit Republic founders have the uncanny ability to curate looks and styles that consider the many body types and personalities of their clients.

Julia and Jenny of Retrofit Republic | Curators of Style

Their styling firm combines a fervent sustainability practice, sophisticated and elegant fashion, and, most importantly, community service. Their brand of styling can be seen in magazines, music videos, look-books, and online fashion blogs. They offer refreshing new approaches to contemporary fashion through engagement with their digital communities, as well. With the duo’s tips for incorporating color, combining different textures and fabrics, and accessorizing for all individuals on Retrofit’s various social networking platforms, the world has the luxury of these two stylists at their fingertips. In the past year, Rhee and Ton have partnered with organizations such as Thick Dumpling Skin to create The Real Bodies Manifesto project. This particular lookbook highlights and celebrates the diversity of bodies often neglected in high-fashion magazines and the media. These bodies are given a platform to express their richness and beauty through the extremely well-curated work of Retrofit Republic. Their collaborative eyes and passion for visual arts and design create opportunities for people in the community to see themselves and become visible to the public. Although activism and social change are not commonly associated with fashion, these women are a testament to the power of presentation and the impact of details, of turning clientele into community. Both women live for the moments when they can care for others, representing their communities in ways that amplify the beauty within through styles that match their clients’ personalities and lifestyles.

Julia and Jenny of Retrofit Republic | Curators of Style

At the core of their business practice, they aim to change the face of fashion with a concentration on showcasing women and people of color in leadership roles within their communities. Their successful project Community Heroes is an annual lookbook highlighting the San Francisco Bay Area community leaders who affect major social, cultural, and political change. In their most recent iteration, they styled the following individuals: Angie Chang (co-founder of Women 2.0), B. Cole (founder of Brown Boi Project), Bryant Terry (chef, food activist, and author), Dan Nguyen-Tan (on the founding team of Public Bikes), Erin Perez Hagstrom (creator of Calivintage), Jeremy Tooker (founder of Four Barrel Coffee), Meg Mateo Ilasco (author, co-founder, and creative director of Anthology Magazine), and Valerie Luu and Katie Kwan (founders and chefs of Rice Paper Scissors). When asked why they started this particular lookbook, the duo stated, “We didn’t like seeing the same homogeneous models and unrealistic paradigms of beauty in the fashion industry. Beauty is a diversity of body types, gender expressions, and backgrounds. With community organizing and nonprofit backgrounds, we began working with our activist friends and inviting them as models for our look-books. We thought it would be meaningful to highlight our community heroes in a nontraditional way, but professionally styled and photographed. Highlighting and bringing visibility to their remarkable and invaluable work has always been our intention. It has become our signature and most popular lookbook.” The face of fashion they are trying to paint for the public is one of vibrancy, diversity, and brilliant style, while rupturing the ways in which we consume.

Glasses at Retrofit Republic

The hope Ton and Rhee possess is rather simple. They want to impart a strong sense of care with every interaction. While many people do not like to be told what to wear, Rhee and Ton take great pride in helping build the confidence of their community members one outfit at a time. Giving back also includes donating proceeds from their events to charities and nonprofit organizations they work closely with, such as Kearny Street Workshop and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. While the kindhearted ladies of Retrofit Republic know to look beyond the surface, they also acknowledge that everyone must contend with visual perception. This is where they offer their eyes and ears to create the sophistication people seek in their attire.

There are different ways we can change the world, but there’s something particularly noteworthy about Retrofit Republic’s approach to incorporating the community. With their immigrant roots, passion for activism, and backgrounds in social-justice work, the women of Retrofit Republic are deeply invested in people.

Simply put, they make looking good and doing good seem effortless.
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