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The Working Life: Jen Smithwick

The owner of downtown's Bryan Lee boutique stays ahead of the curve on fashion trends

Jen Smithwick, owner of the Bryan Lee fashion boutique on State Street, is wearing two of her favorite pieces — her Ravin Remy five-pocket skinny jeans with her black Velvet Heart jersey blazer.
Jen Smithwick, owner of the Bryan Lee fashion boutique on State Street, is wearing two of her favorite pieces — her Ravin Remy five-pocket skinny jeans with her black Velvet Heart jersey blazer.  (Jenn Kennedy photo / www.kennedypix.com)

If you’re looking for a turnkey store for all things fashionable and cool, Jen Smithwick has assembled just such an enclave in Bryan Lee. She offers fashion and jewelry to give any Los Angeles boutique a run for their money.

Raised on a citrus farm in Fillmore, Smithwick’s father is a fourth-generation grower for Sunkist. He also has a Ph.D. and teaches high school history. This may explain Smithwick’s ability to navigate well through both the country life, which she says is in her heart, and Santa Barbara, which she has come to know as home.

Smithwick began working at Bryan Lee, 802 State St., in 2000 while finishing her degree in dramatic arts from UCSB. She was strong in sales, which she credits to her genuine love of people.

“I have customers that come in time and again because they know I will give them honest feedback and direct them well on what to buy,” Smithwick said. “People trust me.”

It’s hard not to trust that huge smile, which easily gives way to angelic dimples.

During the first few years at Bryan Lee, Smithwick took on more responsibility in the store and eventually bought out the original owner in 2007. At 28 years old, she owned one of the trendiest downtown storefronts in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of a crushing recession, and she had very little business experience. In the years since, she has learned a lot by wearing a variety of hats and staying ahead of the mysterious curve of fashion.

Smithwick says social media has been a key tool for reaching her customers. She tweets on Twitter about featured items or sales, and sees in-store traffic increase without fail.

“It’s incredible. I can mention a new arrival, and people will write back with questions,” she said. “I’ll take a photo with my iPhone and they’ll come in to buy the item the same day. It dramatically helps my business interact with our core audience of trend-setters.”

In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Smithwick works with several local organizations and companies to cross-promote. She currently has two retro beach cruisers, compliments of the WheelHouse, parked in the front of her store to promote the cycle chic movement. There are also playful displays for Fat Tape and Heeluxe, both Santa Barbara-based companies.

“I try to buy and support local vendors as much as possible,” Smithwick said. “It’s the locals that have kept our doors open and who really drive what we stock.”

Asked about her fashion inspiration, Smithwick said she subscribes only to Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazines. She leaves her fashion buying decisions to her gut.

Forever seeking up-and-coming styles, she said she likes to break designers before they hit mainstream. As for current trends, she said men’s fashion is heading away from flashy and more toward American heritage. She describes it as rustic and raw. Conversely, women’s fashion continues to have a 1980s and early ‘90s influence, with hints of lace and floral bohemian. And, against her wishes, Smithwick said flared pants are making a comeback.

Clearly a fashionista, Smithwick owns a collection of denim she calls legendary. She said her favorite pieces are her Ravin Remy five-pocket skinny jeans and her black Velvet Heart jersey blazer.

She said she has plans to expand Bryan Lee to Austin, Texas, in the future, calling it a liberal, creative town that perfectly fits her vision of a style boutique.

After living and breathing work for years, Smithwick said she plans to return to acting this year. She cites a need for balance and sees acting as a liberating creative outlet.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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