Anne Bocci, Queen of Portland
By Aida Toro
Maya Angelou once said, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed”. The quote by the famous writer indeed describes Anne Bocci, a business owner and jewelry designer based out of Portland, Oregon.
“I’ve been designing jewelry for 30 years, and we sold our jewelry line in 60 stores in the Pacific Northwest decades ago,” said Bocci. “Now, we focus on not just our own line, but other jewelry lines, fine artists, and independent designers.”
Bocci opened her boutique, Anne Bocci Boutique, and Gallery, 12 years ago. Its given her the luxury to learn a whole lot about people, business, and life itself. While she was filling the jewelry orders at her shop, she was working at Fred Meyer Incorporated in the corporate communications department 40 hours a week by day as well. Prior to opening up her boutique, Bocci experienced some challenges in her personal life. Her husband Jim really wanted to welcome a child into their family.
“Jim and I are originally from Portland, Oregon and after getting married, we tried for seven years to have children,” she said. “He is from a large family of six children and after seven years of no success and several disappointments and miscarriages, we decided having a child wasn’t a plan.”
With this being the case, Bocci and her husband packed their bags and moved to Hawaii. She worked at the University of Hawaii in the corporate communications department by day, and designed jewelry for retail stores and art galleries at night. Her designs were very successful, and were featured at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Museum’s store.
“After living and enjoying Hawaii for a year, we learned we were pregnant,” said Bocci. “We were thrilled after seven years of heartache, trying with doctors and fertility specialists with no luck. Somehow got pregnant on our own.”
Bocci was 40 years old when her son Jack was born in Kalilua, Hawaii at a local hospital. Jack grew up in bliss as he enjoyed playing in the ocean waters of Oahu and Kauai. Once he was ready to attend school, Bocci and her husband decided to move back to Portland and raise him in the city and let him attend a public school. Back in Portland, she opened her first storefront in 2007 in a quaint neighborhood in Southwest Portland called Multnomah Village.
“It was a tiny store with the core values of supporting independent designers and artists, and backed designs made with quality,” said Bocci. “The idea of slow fashion was relatively new. it was before the acknowledgment and wave of Big Box store’s like H&M selling outsourced imported sweatshop garments for $4.”
Bocci stated that Portland always had creative DNA. From filmmakers, musicians, forerunners such as Nike, Wiser & Kennedy, Will Vinton, Gus Van Sant, to Project Runway. Oregon happens to have more project Runway winners than any other state.
“With my position as a store owner, I got acquainted with Seth Aaron Henderson and thought he was extremely talented,” she said. “We got his designs in the shop and was raving about him.”
At the time, Henderson was selling skirts for $39 out of Bocci’s shop, which not many people noticed. Bocci, however, was very adamant about Henderson’s designs, so she backed him up when he competed in Project Runway.
“We set up viewing parties and supported his efforts competing on the show,” she said. “As the competition went on and Seth was asked to compete in New York Fashion Week, it was clear that Seth Aaron was the winner.”
After winning the competition, Henderson stayed loyal to Bocci and her shop. He continued to sell his original award-winning designs at the boutique. The same scenario occurred with Michelle Lesniak, who was the winner of Project Runway’s Season 11.
Although Bocci runs a successful shop, has been a lucrative jewelry designer, and mentor, she mentioned that entrepreneurship isn’t as easy as it seems.
“Lot’s of people walk in and say, ‘Oh, this is a pretty store, is this your hobby?’. It’s not a hobby, but hours of professional dealing with all sorts of people,” said Bocci.
She also mentioned that the business model and paradigm of retail is shifting. Consumers are taking online shopping much more serious, which is the reason why shopping in stores must be entertaining.
“There is always something about seeing in person, or touching a garment or piece of art,” said Bocci. “Shops and galleries offer a tactile, visual, experience you cannot get online.”
As a shop owner, she feels she needs to focus on the customer's experience and offer them something they can’t get online like a smile and a glass of champagne, which is why she also provides complimentary personal styling services.
“We hope there is a bright future for tiny shops and tiny bookstores, because the customer service experience is so important,” said Bocci.