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Buy Weekly

Buy Weekly: Meet Rachel Berks

Buy Weekly: Meet Rachel Berks

Apr 10 2024

A new bi-weekly series from Rachel Berks, Gotham’s VP of Creative + Merchandising

Welcome to the first edition of Buy Weekly! I’m Rachel Berks, Gotham’s VP of Creative + Merchandising, and this column will highlight my process and adventures as I search high (wink wink) and low for the coolest products out there for Gotham Lifestyle.

From the time I was very young, my mom showed me the ways of retail therapy. Some of my earliest memories take place in shopping malls in the eighties. We had a magnet on our fridge of Barbara Kruger’s “I shop therefore I am” and we both took it at face value, not necessarily sharing in Kruger’s critiques of consumer-driven culture, but appreciating a common desire to shop.

Barbara Kruger – I shop therefore I am, 1987, screenprint on vinyl, 125 x 125 cm

I remember a trip to NYC when I was in 8th grade and a devout Sassy magazine reader, and the highlights were the vibrant intersection of art, culture + commerce at Keith Haring’s Pop Shop on Lafayette Street, as well hours spent combing for gems at The Antique Boutique. When I moved to NYC a handful of years later to attend Sarah Lawrence College, I would spend my weekends wandering around the small shops in the East Village – Kim’s Underground, Liquid Sky, Patricia Field, Other Music, Search + Destroy and many more.

Haring at the opening of Pop Shop, New York, in 1986 © Nick Elgar/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

But it was my teen summers at Buck’s Rock Camp that led me to appreciate art and craft in all its forms, and I’ve often credited those blissful days as the spark of my interest in design + objects. The creative acumen of my fellow Buck’s Rockers in the fields of glassblowing, ceramics, printmaking, painting, weaving, sewing, music and more, would eventually become a catalyst for what I would bring to retail almost two decades later.

Photos from Buck’s Rock Camp yearbooks, 1994-1996

After a few other careers (modern dancer, waitress, creative director for a modeling agency), I found myself unemployed and living in Los Angeles, where I met a graphic designer who wanted to open a retail shop. The LA queer community that we were both a part of in 2011 was filled with young artists and designers who were looking for an outlet to sell their unique + unusual products. So, we opened Otherwild, a store/design studio/community space that lasted 11 years (though my former partner only stayed for the first two) and sold an incredible array of objects from an extended community of multi-talented humans. Through this platform, I was able to contemplate Barbara Kruger’s statement more deeply, and be considerate about thoughtful consumption under capitalism, by sourcing goods that were made with care, and resisted exploitative production practices.

Otherwild, Los Angeles, 2019

In 2015, I saw a photograph from the 1970s of a woman wearing a shirt with the slogan, “The Future is Female” and I decided to redesign the tee and offer them for sale through Otherwild. I made an initial run of 24 tees which sold out overnight. Thanks to a perfect storm of events (defunding of Planned Parenthood, the relentless attack on a woman’s right to choose, and a woman running for president), a cultural phenomenon was born. During this time, Joanne Wilson reached out and invited me to be on her podcast. We had a lively and interesting conversation about retail, feminism, and the #metoo movement, which was on everyone’s minds that fall.

Berks wearing “The Future is Female” sweatshirt in 2016.

After COVID and the massive change that a global pandemic brought, I decided it was the end of an era for Otherwild. I’d been living back in NYC for years, and with the shifting of consumer habits, it was just too hard to keep it going. I reached out to Joanne Wilson’s longtime “Chief of Everything” and my friend, Alex O’Daly, to see what Joanne was up to. It was total luck and beshert (Yiddish for preordained, fated) that I happened to hit her up shortly before she received her license to open Gotham, which at the time she referred to as “the Colette of cannabis”. I asked Alex who’d be the buyer for the non-cannabis items, the goods that would make the store unlike any other dispensary in the world… A few meetings later, and I had landed my dream job.

Berks with Joanne Wilson, fall 2017, after recording the podcast for Positively Gotham Gal

It’s now been almost a year a half that I’ve been with the company, and this marks my first time writing for Gotham Pulse. My job brings me a lot of joy, as I search for innovative and inspiring products for our shelves around the globe, and I am excited to bring you all on a journey of the curatorial process of Lifestyle at Gotham.

Stay tuned for my next installment of Buy Weekly, which includes lots of 90s nostalgia as well as a playlist!

xx Rachel Berks

VP Creative + Merchandising at Gotham