BY ISOBEL O'HARE
Ashley Arabian is the owner of Wanderer, a boutique and apothecary in Taos, New Mexico. She describes the typical Wanderer customer as "the woman who immerses herself in nature, embraces the open road, and nurtures her creative spirit." In addition to clothing and accessories, Arabian's Wandering Apothecary features beauty and self-care products for the witchy woman who likes to keep her toiletries rooted in nature.
ON LIVING IN TAOS
I've been having an on-and-off relationship with Taos for six years. I'm really committed now.
I started Wanderer in April. That's when we opened, and I moved to Taos just the month before. And it wasn't new to me. I had done an internship with Earthship five or six years ago, and I stayed here for a while and I worked at the Taos Inn. I loved it, but I wasn't doing anything that would ground me here or provide a sustainable lifestyle for myself to stay here. So I left and did a little bit of traveling and woofing and bartending and all that. And then I started a shop--and was aiming to have a fashion brand--in San Francisco, but the challenges were really great there.
When I said I was going to open a store--I was visiting a lot last year and I was like, I think I'm gonna move here, I think I'm gonna open a store--a lot of the girls who--I socialize mostly with girls my age or around there, and they were like, "Thank goodness. I want to be able to shop in Taos and get something that I can afford. I don't want to spend $400 on a pair of jeans." And most of my clothing is under $100. There's a dark side to that, too. It's not like my clothing is handcrafted in America. But in San Francisco, I had a business where I made sure everything was made in the USA. And I found out by doing that that it's so expensive, people do not care, and just because it's made in America doesn't mean it's sweatshop-free. At all. That doesn't mean that one bit. I had no idea where the stuff was made. Just because they said "Made in the USA" didn't mean that it wasn't some shady factory in L.A.
I love it when I get people from out of town coming in here because it's just nice to see new faces, and they do spend a little bit more money, but my favorite is having locals come in because they're like, "Oh my gosh, I can shop here because it's affordable. That's so great." And it's a little bit trendier than a lot of stuff in Taos right now. It's a great way for me to meet the community as well. Everybody seems to provide a little bit. Some people are designers or jewelers, and they provide insight into how businesses do around here. Just getting into the community through the shop has been really wonderful.
ON TRYING TO RUN A SMALL BUSINESS IN SAN FRANCISCO
I'm from the Bay Area. I grew up in Burlingame and I lived in San Francisco on and off in my adult life and throughout my twenties. But I only had the store for just under two years before we were operating at such a big loss that it was bananas to keep going like that. So I just called it what it was.
I couldn't afford the rent, so I ended up doing mostly pop-ups and long-term pop-ups. But that was like owning a catering business. You're packing up, you're unpacking, and you're finding new gigs. But it was tough. It wasn't sustainable.
If you want to have a store in an area where people shop, you're neighboring yourself with Rebecca Minkoff and Marc Jacobs, and rent is $20,000-$30,000 a month for a space like this. No way. And here it's $1/square foot. I don't get a lot of customers, but the lifestyle here is not that of San Francisco. It's OK. I can make it work.
ON BEING A WANDERER
I've always sort of identified as a wanderer. I've had a really hard time finding what home is for me, and also what is going to work for me as far as career and job and passion. And I just juggled so much stuff my whole life, and I think that a lot of people do that as well. A lot of women, and men, feel the same way and it makes you feel like you're inadequate or you're lost when in fact there's nothing wrong with searching. There's nothing wrong with trying new things, and if it doesn't work it's OK to go and try something else. It doesn't mean you're quitting or giving up on something. It just means you're trying new things. And I really want to put a positive image on people who identify as wanderers.
ON THE WANDERING APOTHECARY AND BEING A WITCH
I think Urb Apothecary is one of my favorites because it's the best quality in terms of beauty and self-care. Everything she puts out is so cool. I just ordered a bunch of her stuff. She makes these little charcoal masks. I just really like the way that she packages and the way that she brands. Her quality is incredible.
Another cool new brand that's local that's really interesting is Moira's Bee Products. She's a beekeeper in Taos, and she's making propolis toner and a royal jelly balm. If you learn a little bit about the healing properties of honey and byproducts of bees in their hives, it's insane. My brother was telling me that the Vikings used to take the entire hive and throw it into a big vat that they were fermenting and making mead out of. But they would put the whole hive in there. And you can't do that now because we have to save the bees, but they called it the fountain of youth or youth elixir. This is what made people live forever.
I try to carry Tarot cards in here as well.
Of course you have the Wanderer's Tarot.
I know! Her stuff is cool. It's not me. Everyone asks that, but her cards are awesome. That's what I personally use.
I asked you a question the first time I came here and you gave an interesting answer. I don't know if you remember the answer you gave, but the question was, do you consider yourself a witch?
Oh yeah! What did I say?
I think what you said was that anyone who uses things from the natural world to treat their ailments or who is working with natural materials in some way is a witch.
I think that's true. I think it's because of Taos where you feel so struck by nature, and you really feel it in your core here. It gets in you. And I think that's why people are feeling the pull of the mountain, or they're drawn to Taos because you start understanding nature a bit more. And as a woman, I started feeling more of a woman. I started really feeling my femininity and feeling strong in that and trying to understand the cycle of the Moon and the cycle of myself, and being close to nature and being really blown away by it all. And feeling totally restless. I was super caffeinated on the night of a full Moon. That's nuts to me.
And the Wandering Apothecary was me saying I can't get enough of this stuff. Let's get some books in here on this and let's get some products that reflect this kind of thing because I think I've met so many people who are witchy women and they love learning about the earth and how they can use it to cure ailments, but also use it on your body, whether it's a naturally made body butter or oil or essential oils or teas, or anything that you can put on yourself or ingest. It's like you're taking in Mother Nature and it's wonderful. And I think that when you go back and you learn about what witches really are, that's pretty much all it really is.
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You totally miss these things when you live in a big city, or maybe you're just filled with the chaotic things of your day-to-day life. And I find myself needing to slow down sometimes. You worry, am I doing OK? Or how's my relationship going? Or do I have enough friends? Whatever your worries are in life, they're all-consuming because we can't escape our brains. But nature helps with that, and sometimes if I'm having the worst day or something's not going right, I'll take [my dog] Bear on a hike or something and it just slows me down. And it's OK. It's just life.
ON HER FAVORITE STORE ITEMS
I fucking love this dress [by WYLDR]. And I just posted a picture of me wearing it with a horse.
Actually, this brand is awesome. It's called Wild Child. She just makes really good quality leather bags. I have friends that make bags. My friend Schuyler--she's Artifact Urban Design--she makes really cool jewelry and beautiful bags. And she's local, so you should definitely check her out. And this Wild Child is a different style, but it's still super bohemian and I love it.
I love the Native Bear cards. She's gotten really popular, but I don't think I'll ever stop carrying her stuff. She's rad. And going with the 70s vibe and being nature-based is something that I strive for as well. I love her cards.
Concrete Polish Jewels is a jewelry line [created by] this badass girl who has a store in Philadelphia called Ritual Ritual. And all her stuff is based on witchcraft, but a lot more witchy and darker than what I have in here. She takes natural earth elements and casts them into rings and pendants, and they're just really strong statement pieces. I look to her as an example because I'm just picking up the craft myself and I'm trying to teach myself and take lessons and learn how to make my own jewelry. And I look at this girl and think, man, if I could get to that level I'd be pretty proud of myself.
I also carry Manos Zapotecas, which are really cool bags that are made in Oaxaca. It's all fair trade and everything is handmade, and the company is just so cool. This woman went down to this village in Oaxaca and saw a whole town in poverty and saw that everyone had looms in their homes. So she started a business and employed everybody in the community to make pillows, rugs, and handbags from their own looms. The business flourished because they're awesome products. So I think it's incredible what she did and I'm proud to carry that line.
ON MILLENNIALS AND THE 2016 ELECTION
Our generation gets so much shit for being useless, narcissistic--I don't know. We just get a lot of crap for being the Selfie Generation when in fact everyone I know works two jobs. Everyone my age works their ass off. Everyone my age is drowning in debt because they went to college. They're educated. And they're not useless. We just have different expectations for our futures.
We're not expected to have lengthy careers. We're not expected even to have children or families. And it kind of allows us this new path of discovery that we can give ourselves. It may not be the most stable thing in the world, but it's acceptable and I think we're realizing that. I think we're taking advantage of it. And I think the one thing that our generation is also getting back to is going out and discovering the wild. There are a lot of young people who are national park rangers. A lot of young people are really into outdoor sports, and they're sort of paving a new way into going out into nature. I think it was National Geographic that had a cover that said how the Millennials were rediscovering the wild. And I think that's amazing. I think we get overlooked.
It's pretty glum-looking out there in the future. I just think we have it different than other generations before us. And I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because there is a little bit of residual guilt that's instilled in us. We don't live the way our parents or our grandparents did, but they didn't have a choice then. Things were different then. It wasn't as acceptable for women to go to college. It was very acceptable for people to get a career and start a family. That's just what you did, and things have changed so much and we have it differently. And I think we get a lot of shit for it, but I don't know. We're doing wonderful things. I know it's gross how much the phones are in our hands, but we're also utilizing technology in the most amazing ways. People are funding their friends' recovery surgeries, or they're funding new small businesses. They're doing their own thing. They're being brave and using these tools, and it's the best way that you could possibly use technology, in my opinion.
I have so many concerns. I have friends who are in fear of hate crimes. I'm just scared that it's going to be acceptable for us to start back-tracking as a country, and that's definitely going to happen. But I also have seen a lot of people start saying that they're going to leave the country. The Canadian immigration website crashed on the night of the election. It's nuts. And it's totally understandable to look into something like that, but I think that as a person in this community in Taos--I started this business because I wanted to start a life here. I'm not going to give up on that.
I'm not going to give up on this community and I'm not going to give up on my country. I really love America, and for me to just walk away because I'm not happy with our president--I think that it's important to stay here and fight for what you believe in, get our rights back, and fight for yourself as a woman and your rights. And also, realize that there are a lot of children in this world who need guidance, and I think it's smart to stick around and let them know that there are kind people in this world who are accepting [of others]. No matter how they're feeling, no matter how different they feel, no matter how hard times get, you need to be there for your community and just think a little bit more on a smaller scale, too. I mean, big picture, let's get out there and protest--let's do big things--but let's also think about our small world, our small community, and be there for people who are younger and can't leave and need to grow up in a safe world. We have to be examples for them. So I'm not going anywhere.
ON HER FAVORITE PLACES TO WANDER IN TAOS
[Bear and I] go on hikes all over the place, but maybe three times a week we go to this trail that's just across from Divisadero Trail. It's really short. You just walk along the water and maybe it's a half hour, so it's perfect and so beautiful for us to go and walk before we go to work. And it changes--sometimes I feel like they've changed the path on me because the surroundings change so much with the seasons, so it's really cool to see. It's always something new. I love Arroyo Seco. It's so cool. I want to live there. It's just so cute and quaint and there's good food and a funky bar, and nice little shops. Every time someone visits, it's on the to-do list.
ON WHAT SHE HOPES HER CUSTOMERS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM WANDERER
I want them to wear clothes that they feel really, really good in, and I want them to come in and not be intimidated by price tags. I want them to think, "Cool, I can shop here. I can afford this stuff and I'm going to look good in it." And then that front room--the apothecary area--I hope that they leave the store realizing that they don't have to buy products with all these different chemicals or a million different ingredients in them. And I hope that they start to enjoy looking into more natural products. They're better for you. We pay so much attention to what we eat and our diet, but I think it's just as important to pay attention to what goes on our skin. I'm not trying to educate anybody, but I hope they get interested in it. I had no idea about any of this stuff and how cool it was. It's fascinating. And I hope others discover something cool as well.