Affordable, trendy fashion for women and teens awaits at soto in Woodland Hills and Westlake Village

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soto, short for South of Topanga, is an innovative clothing boutique for women and teens, with two locations in Woodland Hills and Westlake Village. (That lower case “s” is not a typo for all you grammatical sticklers).

Co-owners and best friends Jodi Perlman and Pam Frank speak passionately and animatedly about their business. They have definitely got a story to tell.  They opened their first store on Topanga Avenue three and a half years ago after endless talks of fashion and business since they met in a “Mommy and Me” class 15 years ago.  They are each moms to three children.

Co-owners and best friends(l-r) Jodi Perlman and Pam Frank

Co-owners and best friends(l-r) Jodi Perlman and Pam Frank

“It was one of those times when you meet someone and you just click,” said Jodi.

“It was like Jodi courted me,” quipped Pam. “We’d go to the movies, have coffee and just talk.”

“There just weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything in that we wanted to say,” added Jodi with a smile.

About four and a half years ago, they started talking seriously about opening a shop.

“We had both worked in fashion and retail for years and knew that we wanted to do something together, so we decided to just roll the dice to see what would happen,” said Jodi.

They talked about location and agreed they wanted a cozy community environment that was less than 1000 square feet. Larchmont Village immediately came to mind, but since they were San Fernando Valley residents, they needed a place closer to their respective homes in Encino and Calabasas.

The Topanga Avenue store has more of that canyon feel. Photo: Karen Young

The Topanga Avenue store opened in March 2006.

One rainy weekend day, they rolled up to a small storefront on Topanga with a “for lease” sign — and it was 868 square feet.  After a slew of persistent phone calls and negotiations, the place was theirs and they opened for business in March 2006.

They recently celebrated the first anniversary of their second store in Westlake a few weeks ago.

Explaining their partnership, Jodi said, “We’re like pieces of a puzzle that fit together.  Pam is responsible for much of the buying and I am a salesperson on the floor.”

Pam also designs an exclusive line for soto called Hippie Love, which includes tees, sweats and a line of simple silk shirts, as well as cloth environmentally conscious peace sign bags that customers take home with their newly purchased goods.

Both soto stores have become a destination for those looking for trendy clothing items at affordable prices. “It’s an area that we really felt was missing in the marketplace,” said Pam.

Dressy and casual dresses range from $29-$59. Photo: Karen Young

Dressy and casual dresses range from $29-$59.

“We wanted to have a store where girls could walk in and find something that they could afford with their own money,” said Jodi. “Women can come in and buy without feeling like they overspent.”

Lots of boots are on order for fall and winter ($29-$50). Photo:Karen Young

Lots of boots are on order for fall and winter ($36-$49).

Entering soto is like walking into your best friend’s closet (okay, a really large closet) because you’re greeted like a friend.

“The concept of our store is built on relationships. We’re not just selling clothes.  People come here because they enjoy the feeling of the store,” said Pam.

“We give old-fashioned service,” added Jodi. “We’ll drop clothes at someone’s house if we need to.”

Most importantly, they say they will not let a customer walk out with something that does not look good on them.  Their employees are paid salaries and do not work on commission.

“We want to put a smile on our customers’ faces.   Body image is so important. We want our customers to feel good about themselves,” said Jodi.

They give part of their proceeds to selected charities each month and also have School Months where 20 % of the purchase goes to a local school.

Jewelry runs the gamut from a fun costume selection to artistan designs such as Isabelle and Marcie D.  Photo: Karen Young

Jewelry runs the gamut from a fun costume selection to artisan designs such as Isabelle and Marcie D.

Most everything at soto is under $100, with a great percentage of the clothing in the $29-$59 range.  Exceptions are unique hand-made jewelry by Isabelle and Marcie D and some select clothing items.

Buddha Bags are big sellers.

Buddha Bags are big sellers.

The store’s hottest items for fall are boyfriend blazers, high waisted skirts, tanks and t-shirts embellished with studs, grommets or sequins, anything with zipper detailing, tunics and leggings with texture and prints.   Also, wraps and sweaters ($27-$58), casual and dressy dresses ($29-$59), flowy shirts ($26-$50) and pants ($29-$39).  There is a fun selection of costume jewelry ($6-$22) and even boots ($36-$49) and shoes ($18-69).

They have a great selection of non-branded denim that start at $29 and go up to $98 for brands such as See Thru Soul and Blank.  Non-branded denim is comparable to JBrand in fit and style with the feel of AG Jeans.

“We love denim with a little stretch in it,” said Pam.

Some of their favorite brands to carry?  Echo for wraps and scarves, Free People for high style items, Big Buddha for purses, and Alternative Apparel for cozy tees.

soto has sales twice a year in January and July and whatever is not sold, they donate to Casa Pacifica downtown.

soto Westlake is more like Topanga's grown up sister in terms of the store's decor and sophistication.  Photo courtesy soto

soto Westlake is more like Topanga's grown up sister in terms of the store's size, decor and sophistication. Photo: courtesy soto

For Jodi and Pam, who like to joke that they are “sisters from another mother,” the soto philosophy is to “spread love” and  “spread peace.” The rest of the tag — “spread soto” —is all about giving back to their community, and of course, making their customers look and feel fabulous…without breaking the bank.

soto 4865 Topanga Canyon Blvd Woodland Hills, CA 91364-4228 (818) 346-7686;  2899 Agoura Rd Westlake Village, CA 91361 (805) 497-2257  Check out their brand new website with limited inventory because the stores are just packed!

Karen Young is the  Publisher/Editor of My Daily Find

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.