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Specialty boutiques like Kin are adapting to our shopping habits - and it's working

In the midst of gloomy retail news, some specialty stores like Kin are changing up their formula to better fit our shopping habits and are starting to thrive.

Joey Clark in new boutique Kin, designed to look like a womanÕs closet.
Joey Clark in new boutique Kin, designed to look like a womanÕs closet.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

I'm a shopper who picks up her chunky sweaters from Target and her skinny trousers from Kohl's while on the hunt for detergent and cat litter.

But last Thursday when I entered  Kin — a 700-square-foot women's clothing store at 1014 Pine St. designed to look like a walk-in closet —  I knew there was no way I was leaving empty-handed.

Kin's cozy selection of monochromatic dusters, distressed jeans, jeweled slip-on flats, classic white button-ups, and night-on-the-town jumpsuits were exactly the basics I've been looking for this fall to spruce up a wardrobe filled with too many dresses that I once had to have but am now so over.

But, unlike the Theories and Vinces of suburban malls and Center City streets, the separates at Kin are more moderately priced (ranging from $65 for a button-down to about $500 for a leather jacket). And they fit into my busy/loungy lifestyle that leaves little time for, or interest in, ironing. Still, a girl needs to look decent.

"I like taking the guesswork out of fashion for women who have a real life," said Joey Clark, Kin's 31-year-old, don't-call-her-a-millennial, owner. "I want Kin to be an inclusive space where everyone feels comfortable shopping in a low-pressure environment."

Brick-and-mortar retailers have had a tough 2017. National chains Ralph Lauren and Aerosoles closed their Philadelphia outposts. Local haunts Coeur, Third Street Habit, and Knit Wit have been shuttered, as well.

But in the midst of the gloomy retail news, certain specialty stores like Kin; Milano di Rouge on Spring Garden Street; M Concept Shop on South Street; Skirt, with locations in Ardmore and Rittenhouse Square; and Louella, with three suburban locations, including its newest spot on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, have changed up their retail formula to better fit our shopping habits — and are starting to thrive. That's good to know as the holiday shopping season commences this weekend.

"These stores are starting from the point of view of the customer," said Corie Moskow, executive director of Rittenhouse Row, who has witnessed the rise and fall of women's retail during her 13 years on the job. She calls this era in retail history one of adaptation.  "It's not about buying things that look pretty on the hanger. It's about really determining whether or not a piece fits into a woman's life."

How does fashion fit into a busy woman's life these days?

For one, it has to be reasonably priced. Women are still spending money on clothes. But gone are the days when they'll drop $400 to $600 for a dress by Milly. Instead, they'd rather buy a blouse by American designer Amanda Uprichard for about $150 that they can wear with jeans, leggings, or a pencil skirt.

"We buy what sells, not what we love," said Maria Delaney, owner of Louella. She opened the shop in the midst of the changing landscape. The trick, she said, is to know the kind of life your shopper lives so you can determine what she needs.

"This year, our hottest categories are date-night tops, denim, and guest of wedding." That, Delaney said, covers casual cocktail and black-tie looks, too.

The other trick, said Skirt's Maureen Doron, is to make sure your pieces can tie back to athleisure. That doesn't mean the store is full of sweat pants and racerback tops, but whether it's a sequined blouse, a tailored cape, or a pencil skirt, it should be able to be paired back with those.

When she's going from spinning  to work, or from yoga to play, there has to be an ease in the clothing.

"Just when you think it can't get any bigger, it did," Doron said of athleisure. "It's all women want to wear."

The most important part of this still-evolving retail experience is styling. This happens in two places: on the Instagram feed, often our first encounter with the store. And then inside the store. The best shopping experiences these days are like styling appointments, where the salespeople pay attention, show you pieces you might like, and, unlike days of old, offer you the "no-pressure" sale. (Even though they know they have to make the sale — they know you aren't coming back next week, because who shops for sport anymore?)

Clark, a former stylist at Amazon, has totally nailed the styling side of the business.

She opened Kin — so named because she considers her customers family — in October. Before that, she was a manager at South Moon Under in Wayne and Center City. She also worked for a year with Doron at Skirt.

She quit Skirt last year to move back to Arizona to help care for her ailing father. While there, she decided it was time to "live her dream." She wrote the business plan for Kin.

Clark worked travel for buying and shopping for the store into her business plan. But most important, she said, she earmarked a generous amount to hire a professional photographer, who comes in twice a month to shoot outfits she styles for her Instagram feed. The idea, Clark said, is to have enough outfits for a daily Instagram post.

"We have to," Clark said about her Instagram obsession.  "People want to see what they are walking into before they walk into it. And they want to know if what we do speaks to them."

It's important, Clark said, that her models are ethnically diverse. (Clark herself is Mexican.) And that they represent women of all sizes — Clark wears a large because of her broad shoulders. Clothing in the store ranges in size from 0/2 (size 24 waist) to 12/14 (size 32 waist.) And, ladies, the jeans have a lot of stretch.

"I don't think fashion has to be exclusive, hoity-toity, or obnoxious," Clark said. "You can come in here with your yoga clothes or the latest MM6 bag and still be treated fairly."

After browsing the Joie DiGiovanni jewelry — Kin sells it exclusively — my eye wandered right over to a blush V-neck sweater from the Fifth Label. I tried it on with a pair of pull-on black leggings (that, regrettably, didn't come in my size.), and it was a wrap. I left a few hundred dollars lighter, with the V-neck, a pair of distressed gray jeans that have been on my shopping list for some time, a wrap sweater, and a white button-down shirt with cute vents cut  into the back.

It's been less than a week, and I've worn every piece already. The jeans? I've worn them twice.