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La Library

Borrowing is No Longer Just for Bookworms

Imagine you had a really cool bohemian aunt who had traveled the globe and every day you could go over to her house and lounge on her couch, play with her little dog, and borrow whatever you liked from her closet…for a monthly fee. That’s what La Library, which opened in February on Guerrero Street between 15th and 16th streets in the Mission is like.

While browsing the racks, I heard one of the patrons exclaim “It’s just like playing dress up!” That may be. Though, Shaye La Library, proprietor of the shop, describes the set up as a socialist boutique. Patrons of the shop can both buy and rent clothes.

The seed for the concept was planted when Shaye was a teenager. She spent some time traveling the world, working a variety of odd jobs and sometimes squatting in buildings. Around that time she also created her first business plan -- a mall as an alternative community. Though she says it was based on her teenage idealism, she does still advocate for a shift in our thinking about how we think about things that we choose to possess.

Here’s the deal. You can rent clothes at La Library for 10% of the retail price. So, if it’s a dress for $90, it will only cost you $9 a night. Of course, you must clean it before it comes back or you will be charged full price for the damage or a $25 cleaning fee if it’s something that can be laundered out. You can also set up a monthly clothing budget, stopping by as often as you like during that time and picking up something covered by your rent. When you bring back what you rented, it will go back out on the floor for the rest of the month for 10% of the original price. You now can reinvest your money into another outfit. You can do this as often as you like until the 30 days are up. You’re free to cash out at the end, or you can keep the item for good. Though, there are a few consignment items that are not for sale. These are items that the owner loves -- the owner being the consigner, but maybe only wears once or twice a year. A few items that you cannot rent are lingerie and stockings, such as the selection of lacy underthings from Mary Green, like a yellow sports bra ($9) and a long ivory slip ($24).

The set up is a little haphazard, with rickety floors with loose wooden boards and some of the clothes sitting in piles. Shaye admits the shop is a work in progress. But, be patient as you should be able to find something just right for you. In fact, the spot is made for taking your time. When I stopped by one Friday afternoon, Shaye’s neighbors were hanging out on the large antique couch, chatting about upcoming travels and petting Shaye’s little white dog Keiki.

Many of the non-vintage items in the store are created by local designers such as Oakland’s Jen Jennings, whose Serial Cultura line includes geometric scarves ($110) and Berkeley’s Diva Pyari's, whose hand printed cards are made in the Gocco method ($6). Another local designer label is Outback that uses one-of-a-kind fabrics for pieces like the skirt made of Tibetan fibers ($69) that could work well as travel wear for an artsy trekker.

Not only is Shaye the proprietor, but a designer herself. She’s been working on some new designs and the line should be ready by this June. Shaye even designed some of the dancers’ costumes in the recent performance of “Eyes of Eve” at the Cowell Theater.

Other clothing I spotted included a pair of new little black shorts with ruffles ($20), a vintage quilted black mini dress ($50) and 60s mod-style brown and black dress ($50 -- rental only).

Accessories found in the store include rings carved out of shells ($15), earrings and headbands of cloth strips ($15 each or two for $25), and a necklace made of cloth flowers ($34). There are also a few fun non-clothing related items for sale, such as magic beans and spice in a can growing kits ($7).

Unfortunately for the men, there isn’t anything available for them. Also, I noticed that a lot of the clothing is made for very tiny-boned women, a turn off for anyone who isn’t super skinny.

In addition to apparel, La Library hosts women-only workshops on Sunday afternoons. Themes of the workshops rotate from week to week. Check her website (, which should be fleshed out in the next few weeks, for upcoming classes. Or just stop by.