Two women with a dream and an eye for style capture Laguna’s vibe at Amenah.
By Sabrina Azadi
They say location is everything and Amēnah clothing boutique has one of the most sought-after locations in Laguna Beach, near downtown and Main Beach, with a view of the ocean across the street. Better yet, once inside, shoppers will find the perfect balance of what you want to wear and what you never knew you needed.
Friends, former colleagues and now business partners, Amelia Shales and Hannah Levy knew they wanted to open a boutique together not long after they met while working as fashion buyers in LA. With hard work and determination, they drew on their business contacts and their unique vision for size inclusivity, sustainability and locally made fashion and turned that dream into a reality in one of the most idyllic spots in town.
Although there’s a beachy vibe to the boutique that makes it relevant to its surroundings, there’s a sophistication, too: City girls can relate to these clothes and products. Apparel joins a carefully curated selection of homewares, ceramics, perfume oils and jewelry, with several items created in collaboration with local artists. Their private label’s well-made yet affordable and simple designs keep customers—local and otherwise—coming back for more.
Here, Shales and Levy talk about their honest approach to fashion, what they’ve learned in the last year since the boutique opened, what makes them stand out, Laguna style trends and more.
How would you describe Amēnah?
Amelia Shales: Amēnah represents our interpretation of California in all senses. We wanted customers to come in and instantly feel our vision of California—from fashion to scent and even the home.
Hannah Levy: Amēnah is a lifestyle beach-chic boutique with a focus on luxury fabrics, locally produced items and size inclusivity.
Your combined names spell Amēnah, which means “honest” in Arabic. Why does that word resonate with you both?
AS: Amēnah is a woman’s name in Arabic—meaning an honest girl—which, to us, perfectly encompassed what we wanted to represent. Amēnah had to be different; we wanted transparency, and having a story about each piece was essential, whether it was about the fabric used in a dress, or an oil used in our perfume.
HL: From conception, the whole idea of Amēnah has been based around honesty—two girls with a passion for fashion, design and textiles just working to make their dream come true. The coincidence of our store name having such a powerful dual meaning was a wonderful and pleasant surprise.
What sets Amēnah apart?
AS: We started Amēnah because we had a desire to learn more about the products we live with. We felt strongly [that] people should be able to wear beautiful pieces that were attainable, sustainable and thought through on a deeper level. This thought process and adherence to our brand ethos is what we feel really sets us apart and brings people back into our store.
HL: Amelia and I adore fabric and textiles. Whenever one of us comes in wearing something new—of course, we tend to notice these things—one of the first questions we ask is, “What is the material?” We obsess over butterlike fabrics and quality construction, which translates to the clothing and lifestyle items of our store.
Can you tell us more about how you met and your background?
AS: Hannah and I both have backgrounds in fashion design and actually met working together as buyers where we became friends and constantly talked about our dreams to have our own brand. After working together for about a year, we decided to take a leap and start Amēnah and haven’t looked back since.
HL: I started off being interested in costuming and loved working at the costume shop in college. I then studied fashion design with the hope of learning more and forming potential business relationships. While working as a corporate buyer, I was very happy to have met Amelia.
Can you explain your unique size system?
AS: Hannah and I have totally different shaped bodies. I am tall and curvy and she is very petite, so that really influenced us to create our size system. We number 1-6, which is equivalent to a range of small (1) to 3X (6). Growing up, I never saw people with my body shape represented and, often, brands wouldn’t even make clothes in my size that were styles I wanted to wear. I felt like the industry just wanted me to wear a kaftan and hide, and I wanted to wear sophisticated, cool pieces. We wanted to offer stylish pieces for all body shapes that focused on proper fit and style over everything else.
HL: We think it’s important for our customer to focus on the construction and feel of a garment first and foremost. In carrying a wide variety of styles with size inclusivity, and fits to complement different body shapes, we’re able to give our customers a selection of looks to make them feel confident and unique.
What are some of the benefits of working with your friend?
AS: Hannah and I are very different and I think the best part about working together is seeing our contrasting ideas and styles come together to really make something better than what we would have come up with on our own. I really appreciate that process and am thankful we have each other to navigate being young business owners and are now deeper friends.
HL: I think that having worked together before really getting to know each other was greatly to our benefit. Amelia is dear to me, and through our ups and downs, we are the only ones who can understand what the other has to deal with.
What does Laguna Beach style mean to you?
AS: Laguna Beach style is casual, laid-back and beachy. Hannah is from New York and I am from the San Francisco Bay Area and we both lived in LA for a number of years, so Amēnah has a little touch of a sophisticated city vibe that we have found our customers really love and makes us stand out.
HL: Loose and relaxed—with a chic essence. Laguna Beach women are fashion- and fabric-conscious and appreciate quality construction and fit.
What is your personal style philosophy? What is Amēnah’s style?
AS: My personal style philosophy is to wear pieces you feel most yourself in because then your confidence will always shine through. For me, I have always been drawn more to silhouette, design and a rich texture rather than prints or color. I think neutral and muted tones give you so much freedom in styling.
HL: The right choice of fashion can boost your confidence. When you look good, you feel good. Therefore, you should dress in what feels best (and drape yourself in a mountain of gorgeous fabric). The Amēnah style is very timeless and chic. We love a good fit, comfortable fabrics and beachy styles.
Can you tell us more about your clothing line?
AS: Our clothing line is made all over. We were designers and buyers previously so we had relationships with people all over the world who made clothing. We use those relationships, mostly with LA-based designers, to curate our collection each season. A lot of the items in our store like our jewelry, candle line and skin care line we have designed ourselves or work with locals to create.
How has art inspired your unique approach to retail?
AS: Laguna is saturated with incredible art in all different styles that we find really inspiring. I truly, more than any art, find the scenery of Laguna most inspiring: The beaches and landscape are stunning and continually remind me of the mood we want everyone to feel when they step into the shop.
HL: Art is the backbone of design. Color, light, composition, texture, lines, shapes [and] space are all considered when designing a garment, for example. We consider all of these when we add something to our collection.
Why did you choose Laguna Beach to open your store?
AS: Hannah and I knew we wanted to open the store near the beach and had looked and researched for some time for the perfect location. When we both came to Laguna, we knew we needed to be here and had a strong connection with Laguna instantaneously. It was an emotional decision as much as it was a business decision. It just felt right.
HL: We love the sense of community here and the coziness of the downtown area. Being near the beach doesn’t hurt, either. Most importantly, we felt like our vibe would work well here.
You’ve been open a year. What have you learned in that time?
AS: We have learned so much in this year. Retail is drastically different than the corporate side so we had to really teach ourselves everything. Working directly with customers is very rewarding and challenging, but we have loved getting to know all our local clients and build those relationships. The community in Laguna really supports one another and that has really been incredible as we learn.
HL: You have to be conscientious of what your customer will think of and how they will react all the time. We have to ask ourselves a ton of questions before we make any decision so that way we can offer something we can stand behind.
What’s your favorite item of clothing right now?
AS: My favorite piece … of clothing we have in the fall collection is our satin jumpsuit with pleating details. The fabric feels incredible and I’m obsessed with wide leg pants right now.
HL: Our resin [tortoiseshell] buckle, rib-knit midi skirt is absolutely stunning. Our customers have been loving tortoiseshell accents and details, and so have we.
What can you tell us about some of your collaborations with local artists?
AS: We are always working with different artists and creative people from jewelry designers to incredible woodworkers who make us one-of-a-kind furniture pieces. We are working with a new artist [named] Pamela Sable who makes these insane single-line drawings that I am still in awe of.
We have collaborated with potters at … Costa Mesa [Ceramics] … to design our own kitchen items, … Pamela Sable to create artwork for our shop, as well as jewelry artists in Laguna Beach to design dainty necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings.