At the intersection of 18th Street and California Avenue, there are a number of small eccentric shops and restaurants that boast uniqueness and individuality. Kaur Three is one of those places.
“We originally thought of Kaur for New York,” explained Rasdy Sanduh, co-owner of the petite men’s and women’s store which specializes in carrying micro-designers’ clothing. “But I just kept thinking, D.C. is just hungry for something like this. You have a lot of cute little shops but not as many that have this unique flavor.”
Sanduh, 30, graduated with a degree in political science and international relations from the University of Pittsburgh and got a contracting job in D.C. for a telecommunications company soon after. She originally planned on spending four months in the metropolitan area. Six years later she’s the co-owner of a boutique that many consumers consider an escape from the doldrums that typical retail shopping can bring.
“I knew how hard it was for me to find something fun, something different,” Sanduh said. “This store [specializes] in these funky designers that are just out there that love to be in little boutiques. Their whole flavor is the whole micro-feel. Something unique, something edgy.”
Kaur buys most of its specialties out of New York, but not all of the designers hail from the Big Apple.
“They’re from all over but most of them have their showrooms in New York,” Sanduh said. “Local designers supply the accessories, the jewelry. I like to incorporate that into the store because I think that’s important. [Local designers] have great ideas and I love to bring them in here and let them show their work.”
The store’s distinctive panache can also be applied to Sanduh and partner Zoe Duensing. The store went from a shared love of fashion and a far-fetched dream to becoming reality.
“Zoe studied fashion and I learned design and sewing from my mother. The love for fabric and detail and beautiful prints between myself and my friend turned into Kaur,” Sanduh said.
That was a little over three years ago. Now the store is bustling with business and carries designers from all over the world. Featured in Women’s Word Daily, Lucky, In Style and People, many designers seek out the boutique to carry their pieces because of its distinct style and unpretentious take on fashion.
“We carry anywhere from 10 to 15 designers for men and about the same for women. There are some tried and true that we carry each season but then we like to try new designers,” Sanduh said.
Sanduh tests new designers’ pieces in the store for a season and if it sells then chances are she’ll continue to carry them. If they do poorly, she chooses another. Though the designers may change, the criteria for choosing pieces to carry remain the same.
“[I’m] definitely [looking for] rich fabrics, beautifully made, beautiful tailoring. You have to pay attention to everything from the buttons, to the type of suede they use and what they do to it. It has to be about color and just gorgeous prints and what catches you,” said Sanduh. “It’s got to be very unique. You know that thing that you dream about at night and you’re like ‘I have to have that piece.’ I think about that when I look at each piece from each designer.”
The cost of these items range in price depending on the type of fabrics and the season.
“Summer tends to be on the lower end [in terms of cost] and winter [is more expensive] because there are richer fabrics and tweeds and suedes and leathers. I try not to go over $350. Occasionally we get some really special pieces in that go a little above that but you can get something for as little as $10 or as much as $350.”
It is this range in prices and designers that sets Kaur apart from most retailers, especially high-end vendors such as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, but most consumers are not easily swayed.
“I really don’t do a lot of micro-designer shopping,” said freshman Rachel Case. “I do most of my shopping in mainstream stores. I’m from the Midwest so we don’t have a lot of micro-designer stores around us.”
Freshman Meagan Cross, also from the Midwest, agreed with Case. “I prefer the mainstream designers because there aren’t a lot of micro-designers where I’m from,” she said.
Cross explained that if she went to a store like Kaur she would buy something if she thought it was unique and worth it, but only if she couldn’t get a look-alike at a more conventional store.
“If I know I can get pretty much the same thing from the places I usually shop at, then I’ll get it from there. But if it’s something really different and I liked it a lot then I’d get it,” Cross said.
Sanduh factors in consumers like Case and Cross who are apprehensive about shopping anywhere but familiar retail chain stores, but she would much rather focus on consumers who are a little more receptive to the vision of micro-designers and the creativity they bring to the industry.
“The micro designers just are this amazing up-and-coming industry that will take over eventually. Marc Jacobs started out [as a microdesigner]. They all start out somewhere and it’s just such fresh pieces and amazing designs and these amazing, unique ideas that are out there and you just don’t see them. Marc Jacobs sets the trends but there are a lot of other pieces out there that have their own flavor and we like that. You can get designer pieces anywhere, so you want something with a little twist, a little edge.”
The mixture draws and deters shoppers alike.
Emily Gibson, a resident of the Adams Morgan area, has been a patron of the Kaur Three since it opened.
“I live down the street and I saw it when it opened. I pop in here every once in a while,” Gibson said. “I’ve only bought one thing from here but I like the lines that they carry. Sometimes it’s hard to find your size. They may have only a few of something so I just check back.”
Checking back is what senior Edwin Avanessian is used to as a micro-designer connoisseur. He frequents smaller boutiques much more frequently than retail chain stores.
“Micro designers are more of what I’d be interested in,” Avanessian said. “I’m not really into the mainstream style like Gap or J. Crew. It’s too plain. You see it everywhere.”
Junior Peggy Tierney is torn between the ideas of retail shopping and boutique shopping.
“For basic things like jeans or regular t-shirts I prefer mainstream stores but there are a couple of boutiques that I like to go to for the real special pieces,” Tierney said. “I have to say I shop more mainstream stores just because when I buy things I want to make sure that I can still wear them three or four years from now, but every now and then I’ll go to a smaller boutique for something cool.”
Sanduh agreed that it would be easier to concede to carry high-end designer items to attract more customers and sales, but where is the fun in that?
“We could easily carry D&G [and] Christian Lacroix in here but it’s a little too mainstream. We kind of want the look but just a little off that. You want something just a little edgier and a fresh concept. Main designers stick to this sort of thing but we like to mix up the vibe a little bit.