Wink Fashion Boutique and Salon in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
Just Give Me a WinkOctober 2014
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Hickok
Red Bluff's popular fashion boutique and salon, now in its fifth year, wasn’t a long-yearned-for
dream of its owners, Sarah Rider and Sophia Swarthout. Rather, it’s the culmination of a sudden idea that was jumped on and worked towards quickly rather than casually tossed aside in another case of “If only...”
The entrepreneurs met at swim practice and began chatting as their kids put in laps for Sun Oaks Aquatic Racing. Rider and a friend from Napa were having a clothes party at her home and invited Swarthout to attend.
The ensuing conversation started ideas popping. What if neither of them needed to leave Red Bluff to find styles they liked? What if Rider could give up the commute as a writing instructor at Butte and Shasta colleges, as well as Chico State? What if Swarthout’s sister, Amber, could
have a space to do hair? What if they changed things up in their lives a bit?
The conversation started in July. “By August, we just sort of worked things out,” says Swarthout. “Everything just fell in line.”
By “falling in line,” she means that they opened the doors to Wink Fashion and Salon with collected furniture from their homes and display cases created by repurposing old items. “Everything looks a little funky in there,” says Rider.
“When we started out, we just wanted a place to shop in Red Bluff,” she adds. “We barely knew each other. We just thought, ‘Well, why not?’ Why not at least try?"
Their instincts were guided by their personal tastes in clothes, a taste Rider describes as an appreciation for “things that were classic but also things that were more of
They were also guided by an understanding of their individual strengths. “I’m the leftbrain person. I do all the books,” says Swarthout, who holds an accounting degree from Cal Poly. “Sarah’s the right brain person. She does all the fashion and the creative stuff.”
Five years later, downtown Red Bluff has begun to flourish, and more boutiques have opened. The two welcome their neighbors and say their focus has changed to the bigger picture of a vibrant downtown community. “It’s not just Wink, it’s downtown,” says Rider. “Let’s bring everyone in. It’s a win-win.”
That shift in focus has brought effort to mentoring two young students who work at Wink and hope to enter the fashion industry. It’s seen the evolution of their popular annual fashion show to a larger event that occurs twice a year and encompasses multiple downtown boutiques and their owners.
It’s meant taking on coordination of the annual veterans’ appreciation breakfast and supporting the Mr. Spartan competition at Red Bluff High School.
It’s also meant bringing in their own kids. Swarthout’s youngest son now does ad layouts for the business. Rider relishes that her three children see her being creative and can envision multiple possibilities for their own futures.
As the downtown area grows, the two have decided to step up the offerings at Wink. Not only did they take over the tuxedo rental business from Gayle’s Boutique when it closed, but they are bringing in TOMS Shoes and Hard Tail made - i n - the -USA “athleisure” wear.
“We’re going to offer some higher-end lines that we really believe in and we think other people will, too,” says Swarthout.
What will never change is their commitment to a "let’s go for it!” attitude and to the integrity of
their friendship, which includes attention to individual needs. “It really is like a marriage situation,” says Rider. “If something hard comes up, we know we can work it out.”
“I would never do this myself,” says Swarthout. “It’s what we’ve created together.” Although the endeavor has undergone its ups and downs, she says, “The bottom line is that it’s worth it.”
Lola, the sassy Wink mannequin named by customers after a Facebook contest, sits in her gold-painted glory on a bench outside Wink to welcome visitors. Rider and Swarthout keep her up to date in their latest fashions and fun wigs. She’s the first indication that fun comes with the fashion at Wink. It’s as if she winks at her guests and says, “It’s worth it, indeed.”
Join Rider and Swarthout and their downtown neighbors at the Sip and Shop fashion show and passport wine tasting from noon to 4 pm Oct. 12 at Enjoy the Store in Red Bluff.
Wink Fashion & Salon
629 Main Street •Downtown Red Bluff