Meet Joan Shepp

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: N/A
Education: Self-taught

She introduced the locals to a then little-known designer named Yohji Yamamoto. “Before I could put his clothes on the sales floor I had to stand in front of the mirror and try to figure them out myself. Sometimes a shirt had three arms, or one arm.” She soon developed a cult following among the fashion cognoscenti and a reputation for choosing the most fabulous pieces. Still, she kept the business small in those days: “I would close the doors at 3 so I could run home and pick up the kids from school. Nothing is more important than that,” she says.
Almost thirty years later, Joan’s store has a large new location and a fitting new name: Joan Shepp. But her philosophy remains unchanged: “I love what I do. I may never make a lot of money in this business, to tell you the truth, but I’ll have everything that’s fabulous.”

How would you describe your style?

I only wear clothes I really love. I don’t buy new things every year. I tell my customers, ‘you shouldn’t buy anything unless it makes you feel good. It’s not about what they say is in style, it’s about your own style.’

Your store has a very cool look.

When I opened this shop I was just divorced and had no money. I saw this space and it was disgusting, but it had high ceilings. I gutted the whole thing, painted the walls white, did the floors and was done. And I put everything on wheels so I could change displays without having to get a man to help me every time.

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Your kids are clearly very important to you.

I have two wonderful daughters. One works with me as a partner and the other one is a 4.0 student. She’s like, the student. They are both so great.

You work with your daughter now?

Yes, she is really good. She can help someone who’s 90 or someone who’s 25 because she has an ability a lot of people don’t have: she listens. She forgets what they look like, doesn’t try to hard sell them. She just listens. She holds up three things and lets the customer guide her toward what they want.

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Do you have a favorite designer?

I would say Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester. I’ve carried Yohji for 25 years. He’s always done architectural clothing, and every piece is very creative. Recently, I like Philip Lim. I’ve only carried him in the store for a short time, but I appreciate his execution and his creativity. People feel a connection with him.

ImageI’m carrying a new line of shoes—handmade by a man in Italy. Very fashion forward—they’re not for everyone. But my passion right now is to support the smaller people who take pride in doing something very beautiful.

Do you have a signature piece?

People would say I wear a lot of black. The only item I wear all the time is my Hermes watch–the one with the strap that goes around twice. And I wear silver Rosa Maria rings—five rings, each with a little stone. Most of her jewelry is big and clunky but very feminine.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Philly?

Zama is a new sushi restaurant opened by chef Zama Tanaka. He came to the store when we had our launch party this year for Y3—Yohji’s new line with Adidas—and made sushi for the crowd all night. Everyone said it was really awesome.

A favorite wine?

Sancerre. I’m a white wine person.

Who inspires you?

Anyone who steps over the line and takes a chance and is creative. Not just in fashion. Look at Geri [FOF founder] for example. She got out there and she made it happen. I’m sure problems came up for her along the way, but she persevered.

I speak a lot at design colleges. I love when someone young comes up with these creative things and just goes for it. There are two parts of the younger generation–the ones who want to leave at 6, and the ones who are excited about growing and learning and are so talented. Those are the ones who will be successful.

Do you have a passion project?

Two friends and I make dinner at Ronald McDonald house once a month. It’s a place where families can stay while their children are being treated at the local hospital. The kids are all seriously ill and the parents need a lot of support. We shop, buy all the food and cook for about 150 people; we make pierogies and we have a great dressing for the salad that they look forward to.

What’s your beauty routine??

I’m not very particular about soap, but I can tell you what I use on my hair, which I’ve always worn curly. I just wash it and put in Curl Crème by Bumble and Bumble and let it dry and it comes out great. And I use Kiehl’s Crème de Corps body cream after I take a shower.

What about a favorite book??

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. When I started to go into business, people were not supportive of women, let alone a woman who wasn’t married. Especially banks. And that book says, ‘you have to keep going—you don’t give up. You’re strong.’ I was glued to this book. I’ve read it about five times.

What’s your secret favorite spot in Philly??

I like to go to Rescue Spa. The woman who owns it, Danuda, does the best facials. She’s amazing.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career??

Never stop learning. Ever. There are a lot of people who aren’t in business right now because they didn’t want to try something new. I’m still learning.

Do you think you’re going to stay working forever??

My business isn’t really a job to me—it’s a lifestyle.

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