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Meet Birthday Life Vintage, A Hidden Divis Business

Meet Birthday Life Vintage, A Hidden Divis Business
By Nuala Sawyer - Published on March 25, 2014.
Not all businesses in the Divisadero neighborhood have a visible storefront. Many are run in home offices and coffee shops, or in living rooms and studio apartments. Birthday Life Vintage, a successful Etsy shop and occasional neighborhood pop-up, is one of these businesses. 

Birthday Life Vintage (found on Etsy, their blog, and their Instagram account) is owned and operated by Allyson Hillerby. You may remember her from the two years she spent serving you coffee drinks at Mojo Bicycle Cafe, or perhaps you've seen her around the neighborhood in one of her bright vintage outfits. A resident of NOPA for the past four years, she's managed to successfully turn her love of vintage clothing into a business. 

Curious about how she got started, we grabbed coffee with Allyson to get the lowdown on Birthday Life Vintage. 


(Photos via Birthday Life Vintage)

How long have you been in the neighborhood?
Before my current spot I was hopping around from neighborhood to neighborhood, but I absolutely love this one. Working at Mojo felt like a family, and anytime I walked out my door I’d see a friendly face from the café. It made me feel like this is my community, as opposed to somewhere I just happen to live. 

Where did your love of vintage clothes originate?
Mostly in high school. I had to shop secondhand as a kid, and somewhere during freshman year of high school it went from being something that embarrassed me to something I thought was ridiculously cool. I had a friend who also got into weird vintage pieces, so after school we’d walk to the local thrift store and pick up really unique things that the kids at school didn’t have. I guess we started dressing kooky as a way to express ourselves and stand out. It was fun to make a statement. Ever since then I've gone through phases with my style, but have always worn predominantly vintage clothes. Now I'm in a stage where I'm trying to exclusively buy vintage clothing—the quality is unbeatable, and recycling these treasures is good for the environment. 



How did Birthday Life vintage get started?
During thrifting adventures I was finding all these amazing pieces that weren't fitting me but were too good to leave behind. I needed a purpose for collecting these pieces I’d probably never see again without looking like a borderline hoarder in my tiny apartment. My friend Sonja had launched an Etsy shop, which inspired and encouraged me to turn this hobby of mine into a business. Before I knew it I was curating my own shop and tackling the learning curve of self-employment.

Tell us a little about the slogan, "That special birthday feel, all year round."
It’s all about dressing like every day is your birthday! Whether it’s a fancy event, another day at the office or you’re just running errands, why not throw on something special that makes you feel fantastic? For me that translates into bright colors, quirky novelty prints, and the occasional cat suit a la Peggy Bundy. Birthday Life is a philosophy of life that is basically an amalgamation of Park and Rec’s “treat yo self” day and my love for the festive and wacky. It’s about having a ton of fun and dressing however makes you feel awesome about yourself. One of the great things about having the shop is helping people feel really stoked about what they're wearing and how it represents their individual personality. When their eyes light up from taking that bit of history back home with them, I know I’ve done my job.

How many pieces do you have in your shop right now?
Online I have about 170–180. In my studio it's a whole other story. I don’t know how I’ve amassed such a large inventory in such a short amount of time! The studio is located in a quirky office building in the Mission with a beautiful floral facade and a silly P.I.-esque door, which really plays into my fascination with film noir. My fellow vintage-slinging friend Jillian and I share the space and have turned it into a by-appointment boutique we call Vintage Vault.

What about your pop up shops in the neighborhood? Where do you do them?
Shawn and Thuy of San Francisco Skate Shop are all for building and fostering a community vibe in NOPA, and they have been so kind as to host Vintage Vault pop-ups in front of their spot on Divisadero on several occasions. This Sunday you can find us out there again with tons of new spring picks, so please roll by and say hello. Occasionally we pop up outside my house, which is conveniently located near the Farmers Market, and we’ve participated in the Urban Air Market in Hayes Valley, as well as other flea markets and fairs in the Bay Area and southern California. We’re always looking for an opportunity to get our collection of treasures out there to the public.

What's your dream situation? Do you want your own storefront?
It's all happened really quickly, and the journey has been a blast. What I'm doing now is opening a lot of doors for me, and I'm meeting really lovely people who share a similar love of vintage and are radiating creativity. I’m toying with the idea of having a storefront, but things are so expensive in San Francisco I'm not sure how feasible it would be here. We are starting Pop Up Hotel, a curated shopping event filled with vintage and handmade goods. We’ll be popping up in different bars and hotels, featuring local artists and encouraging people to explore various neighborhoods in San Francisco. We're launching an event soon, and you can stay in touch via our Facebook page



You can find Allyson's collection of vintage goods on Etsy, or shoot her an email at birthdaylifevintage{at}gmail{dot}com to set up an appointment to visit her studio.