Situated at the tail end of Broadway, a short walk away from the noise and excitement of the Ace Hotel across the street, sits a cozy little shop that’s bringing Los Angeles minimal, well-made products for everyday living.
“Yes,” as it’s named, is a simple affirmation adopted by owners and husband-wife duo, Brad and Jenna Holdgrafer, that brings together their love of adventure with items that support a life of endless possibilities. From getting married and living on a sailboat to becoming entrepreneurs, “yes” has always been the answer for Brad and Jenna, and through their experience living on a boat and always looking for new adventures, they’ve realized the importance of buying less, but better.
The focus of Yes is to provide timeless, well-designed, and functional products that’ll help people live life better. Yes first began as an online shop, but lucky for downtowners, the flagship store has just recently opened, so now you can peruse the diverse gallery of products in person. I stumbled upon Yes just on my walk to Verve and couldn’t have been any happier to have found such a beautifully minimal store with an equally unique story and intention to go along with it. The Holdgrafers’ approach to business is truly inspired, and I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to sit down with Jenna and talk about her and Brad’s journey to opening up the flagship store, what’s next for the Yes brand, and how LA has inspired their lifestyle.
Why did you and Brad decide to start this business? What made you guys decide to take the leap into entrepreneurship, and why e-commerce?
Brad and I decided to start this business because we wanted to work together! This shop is the perfect blend of our talents, passions, and experiences. I have a background in retail and merchandising, so I’ve always wanted to open up a shop. Brad’s is in advertising, marketing, and design. The shop was the perfect way to blend everything together. We chose e-commerce as a way to get our feet wet in the industry, always knowing that a physical location would come eventually!
Having traveled and lived in so many different places, what made you and Brad decide to put down roots in LA and eventually open the Yes flagship store in downtown?
It actually took a while to get to that point. We lived in Orange County for a while on a sailboat and then we went up to Portland where Brad worked for an ad agency, but we’ve always loved southern California. It just felt like home to us. We love the culture down here and how it’s so laidback, the sunshine of course, and we have a lot of friends and community here, so it was an easy choice. I’m originally from Chicago so I love the city, especially the diversity of LA. I love all the different little areas and little coves of unique things to do and see, whether it’s food or art. There’s just so much going on that we felt inspired and felt like we could finally settle down in one place. But at the same time, there’s still so many options that we can still feel like there’s a new adventure around every corner. As for the store, we felt like downtown had the most potential and honestly was just the most exciting for us. With so many things going on around us at places such as Verve and the Ace Hotel and being next door to Alma, we thought it would be the perfect little area. It’s still very community oriented, yet there’s still so much growth happening that we just wanted to be a part of that. We wanted to grow with the community.
How do you define the growth that’s happening?
Downtown is being cleaned up and we’re just excited to see more hotels, restaurants, and shops come into this area. We’re excited to be here, see it, and be a part of this slow transformation.
Where do you guys find the designers you work with and what’s something you look for in that designer that’ll make you want to work with them?
Well sometimes we do a lot of research to find what country makes the best products and sometimes we just stumble upon unique designers that have a similar approach to our style. In general, we look for well-designed products made with good material. We look at functionality, the designer, and the store behind the concept. For example, Japan is known for stationary and writing utensils, so when we wanted to start carrying desk items, we knew we had to go to Japan for that. And so that’s how we found Postalco, who makes all our notebooks, and we found Craft Design Technology, who makes all our pens, scissors, and erasers. Scandinavia and Finland are known for really beautiful, well-made glass, so when we were looking for home, bar, and kitchen items, we knew we had to look there. And that’s when we found Iittala. Iittala is a glass company from the 1800s and they’re still making glass today. So we do our research on where the best products are made and try to find our designers that way, or sometimes we just stumble upon them. Tina Frey, for example, does our resin dishes and she’s up in San Francisco. She works with resin, which is a really unique material because that’s what surfboards are made out of, so we thought that was really Californian and something that would go well with the rest of our products. We love finding people who have been in the business for years and years but we also like to showcase modern designers who are just getting started like Tina.
Left: Tina Frey // Resin Dishes; Right: Iittala // Glassware
What’s been the biggest challenge in opening up your store?
Probably managing the contractor. Coming in blind to everything that needed to be done in the timeline of things I think was one of the hardest parts about it. Making sure things got done on time and understanding how long different things take because there were so many renovations that needed to be finished. Fortunately our contractor was amazing and was somebody we trusted, but it was still very difficult since we wanted things done quickly— we were just excited to open. There was no floor and no ceiling; the space actually used to be a marijuana dispensary, so it was just trashed. A lot of the buildings in downtown are not that well taken care of and dilapidated, so we knew going into this, we were definitely going to have to do renovations, but this was a little more than what we bargained for. But at the same time, it was great starting with zero because we got to make it exactly what we wanted. It took us three months, but we were finally able to open up for business.
When you first started online, how did you begin to get the word out and amass such a large following? Especially with so much noise on the Internet, how did you guys differentiate yourselves and your brand?
We were committed to doing it differently, and that was the main thing we had to do online— be different in some way. We could’ve done a SquareSpace website and used a premade template for our products, but that’s already been done, and Brad’s really passionate about web design and graphic design, so we wanted to really customize our website. Everything behind our website really ties back to our minimalist approach so when you check out or shop on the site, you’re using as little clicks as possible, and you can scroll through endlessly. We rethought out how people shop online so that also allowed us to get nominated for a couple of awards. We were nominated for a Webby and made it to the top 5; we got a red star on siteInspire, which is a rating system for websites; and we also got on Awwwards for being the site of the day. In general, we really try to take a unique approach to everything we do. Like the photos on our website for example, we could have used the stock images that our vendors provided us but no, we went to the studio, we worked on the lighting, and shot each product so that every single photo had the same shadows and the same feel to them. Just from our site alone, we were able to create something totally new and got a lot of recognition for it. I think too with our Instagram, Brad really tries to take beautiful pictures and create a unique theme. We do a lot of dark images, which is really different from all the bright, white pictures you’re used to seeing on there. That’s something that we really focused on: making sure all the details lined up so that we would stand out. So a lot of people heard about us through the Webbies and our other awards. We also got on Cool Hunting, had a few features online, but that was about it. We took the same approach with the store: do something well, offer something beautiful, be in the right area, and the right people will come in.
What social media platform has been the most beneficial for you?
We actually only use one platform and that’s Instagram! Brad and I aren’t actually that into social media, so our customers are largely on Instagram. I would say about 90% of our customers coming in, if they didn’t just pass us on the street, they’re coming in because of Instagram.
Top: Boskke // Cube Planter; Bottom: Josh Herman // Volcanic Glazed Vases
How has the community responded to your presence in downtown?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive and so beyond anything we’ve ever dreamed of. Literally it’s just me and Brad doing this and sometimes Brad’s brother, so it’s crazy how much attention we’ve been getting. We’re just getting out, and people are coming in and Instagramming, and more people are coming in because of Instagram, so it’s just a constant flow, which is really exciting. And you know, I always hear about how people in LA are snobby or too cool, but that’s not the case with anyone we’ve met coming through our doors. Everyone is so nice and welcoming, excited for us, and interested in what we’re doing. Yeah, we don’t have any signage out front; we’re kind of unmarked, and there’s no product right in front of the door, but I think that gives people a feeling that they just found something special. Nobody really knows about it, so it’s kind of like a hidden gem. I love when I find those types of places so it’s cool that we can be that type of place for other people.
How has having a flagship store in LA shaped and inspired your brand?
We definitely want to cater to the downtown lifestyle, so for people who live here, we want to carry items for small living, like our Hasami dish set, which is perfect for that because they stack so nicely. Being in LA and in this area particularly, we’re really conscious of people who live in apartments and smaller houses and how people can still have great functional living pieces that are catered towards a smaller space in the city. LA is just a place of constant inspiration so we also carry books on the LA culture. We have everything, from books on surfing and photography to 70s skateboard culture. We even have a new book coming in that’s all about Rodeo Drive in the 80s. We’re just fascinated and inspired by the community, so we definitely want to incorporate that into the store.
Where do you see the Yes brand in the next 5 to 10 years?
In order for us to stay challenged and keep doing new things, we want to start designing and creating a line of private label items. Brad might actually go back to school soon for industrial design. He’s really good at graphic design but designing products is completely different, so hopefully in 5 years, we will be starting to design our own line. We have a lot of ideas, from small things like notebooks, up to things like pots and pans. We definitely want to continue to carry our staple, core items like the Yanagi tea kettle. It was designed in the 50s and it’s just as relevant today as it was back then, and it will be for the next 20 years. At the same time, we will be bringing in new things, especially for returning customers who want to see new things. Books are a great way to always keep things fresh. We’ll probably keep rotating our selection— probably on a weekly basis. We’re just going to continue to follow our own standards, which is functional, well-designed, and well-made products with a store behind it, and that standard can really go all over the place in terms of products. We might get into personal accessories like wallets and maybe apparel and shoes. Or we can go into hygiene and start doing lotion and skin care. Our assortment of items will continue to change and grow. We’d also like to do some workshops in the store and think about how we can use this space to cultivate community and get to know our customers better.
Left: Taku Shinomoto // Hasami Porcelain; Right: Craft Design Technology
What do you guys do outside of running the store? What else are you and Brad interested in?
To make ends meet, Brad still does some freelance graphic design work. In terms of hobbies, we actually just moved into a rad spot in Echo Park, so we’ve been fixing it up, painting the walls, and really making our house our home and a place where you can see how the products that we sell in the store make sense in a lifestyle. I also really love to garden, and Brad loves to surf and skateboard so we’re always active outside. We also have a dog named Ernest and we have a lot friends out here, so between all of that, we are definitely keeping busy. The store is the priority right now so we’re really focused on meeting new people, building new relationships, finding new products, and marketing ourselves more.Lyngby Porcelain // Matte Vase
What are some of your favorite spots to hang out at or dine at in LA?
We love Grand Central Market for lunches— we often ride our bikes down there and pick up some pizza from Olio or ice cream from McConnell’s. We love Bar Ama and Kazu Nori for dinner meetings or Verve for coffee meetings, and in my opinion, Guisados is the best Mexican food in town! As for restuarants, we love Republique and spots in Koreatown. In Echo Park, there’s also this spot called Masa that has really good deep-dish Chicago pizza, so we love going there when I get homesick. We love to play tennis at Griffith Park, and we go to Malibu a lot. We’ve also recently been visiting a lot of case study houses.
What are case study houses?
So in the 50s and 60s after the war, there was a huge housing boom and suburbs were created. It was when the soldiers were coming home and the baby boom was happening, so suburbs were being built like crazy. Suburbs basically consisted of the same house duplicated many times over, so in order to stop and reevaluate that, there was this project called the Case Study Houses, where different architects were hired to create well-designed houses that could be easily duplicated. The idea was to fix the issue of creating the same house over and over again but doing it with architectural intent. They were also easy and cheap to remake, and they actually made these houses in LA. Now they’re privately owned, but Brad and I like to drive around just to see them. We like to hunt them down on our days off, and you can actually see them on our Instagram too. We’re just really interested in the architecture of the city so it’s become a big hobby of ours that’s also very unique to LA too.
Left: Craft Design Technology; Right: Hasami Porcelain
How would you guys describe your style?
Our style is very simple: lots of whites and solid colors. It’s not very frivolous or eclectic. It’s really just simple pieces that speak for themselves— essentials. It’s classic in the sense that we only buy really good pieces that we know are going to last and won’t go out of style. We started out on a sailboat so you can only live with so much, and it really trains you to start thinking, “Do I need this?” “Is this necessary?” We’ve taken that mentality and applied it to our life and our habits.
What made you guys adopt this kind of lifestyle? Was there a specific moment when you both realized it?
We got married and that’s when we were figured we wanted to start off this marriage with an adventure, so the boat became our first home. It just happened. We were living in Newport Beach at the time and sailboats are just part of the culture down there, plus, sailboats are just very affordable to live in— buying a boat was cheaper than a year’s worth of rent! It was great; we went on sunset cruises, and on the weekends, we’d sail down to San Diego— it was amazing!
What kind of advice would you give to others wanting to start their own business?
Biggest advice: DO IT! Opening up a shop has always been a dream of mine that I looked at in the far off future. It was Brad who encouraged me to pursue it now, and I’m so happy he did.
And since We Design LA is also run by a husband/wife duo, what has it been like for you and Brad to be partners in life and in business?
I’m all for husband/wife duos and have so much respect for other partners who want to blur the lines between life and business. It can be very tough differentiating between the two, but in this day and age, work has become such a huge and overwhelming part of life that I’m just so happy I can share it with my husband. It makes working hard and working long hours easier when he’s with me at my side.
Don’t forget to shop the collection here or visit the flagship store right here in downtown! Follow the Yes story on Instagram @isjustyes.
954 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015Broadway, design, dtla, housewares, lifestyle, los angeles, new, office, Shopping, yes