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Catch Up With Ruti Boutique's Founder | Plus, two indie holiday craft fairs to put on your radar: The Craneway Craft Fair and Girl Gang Craft. By Nana K. Twumasi

Although she started her work in 2009, Ruti Zisser opened her first store, Ruti Boutique, in Palo Alto in 2014. Since then, her brand's rise has been meteoric. Unhappy with her career in tech, Zisser transitioned into design and retail after realizing the joy of sharing her closet with others gave her.

"While I always loved my clothes, I liked giving them away even more, since I always had a little closet and a big appetite for new things," she said.

Zisser now owns a number of boutiques across California and New York City and even one in Texas. Made especially for women aged 35 and up, Zisser's architectural, drapey designs are hard to miss and are made for a range of occasions, whether you're looking for office-appropriate items or upgrading your casual wardrobe.

The Fourth Street store in Berkeley is well-appointed. Inside, the design and lighting make for an alluring, upscale experience, and the store's friendly staff members are ready to help you find just the right thing.

"I love Fourth Street. It one of the only streets I know in the United States that is like what I'm used to from hometown in Tel Aviv and Europe. It is a magical street," she said, adding, "small but has everything from a great book, excellent coffee, up to furniture."

About her designs, Zisser said, she adopts a unique process and strongly believes in each item.

"We've always been told that beauty hurts — that we must give up comfort in the name of style and compromise sophistication for whatever is fashionable. That's where Ruti comes in." Zisser said. "I have three rules for design: It must be cool. You don't need to sacrifice the cool factor to achieve a look that is classic and sophisticated. Our clothes lend a smart and effortless touch to the woman on the go. It must be flattering. Our clothes are designed to flatter a woman over the age of 35 without making her look like she's trying too hard. It must be practical. Eighty percent of my collection are clothes that I wear every day; 20 percent of my collection is aspirational. It's for the woman I daydream of being."

Zisser's collection are well-made investment pieces, meant to be well-loved and well-worn.

At a time when the brick-and-mortar game is challenging — Zisser acknowledged that these days, online shopping has made it really easy for people to stay home and order what they need — Zisser and her team developed a proprietary customer service system to make things easier for customers. Leaning on her experience in the tech industry, Zisser said, "We have been laser-focused on leveraging technology that serves customer needs and tastes, while also creating a new generation of relevant and progressive brick-and-mortar stores that can drive the category into the future."

These initiatives include tools like facial recognition and improved customer data security.

"The traditional e-commerce approach might work for high-frequency, low-cost items, but when it comes to high-touch products and truly personal customer relationships, we knew we had to develop a better approach," she said.

Zisser will be visiting the Fourth Street store on Dec. 6, to debut her holiday collection. Find more details at Ruti.co and visit the store 1829 Fourth St., Berkeley, open daily.

Holiday Craft Fairs

With the holiday season comes the opportunity to find unique gifts for the loved one who has everything. There are few better places to do that than by shopping at the Bay Area's range of indie craft fairs. A number of them occur this time of year — from Renegade to West Coast Craft — but the ones that happen in the East Bay are perhaps the most exciting.

Let's start with the long-standing Craneway Craft Fair, which was established in 1970 to support KPFA radio. Niamh Lyonheart, who took over producing the fair last year, is quick to note that "the craft fair has an extremely loyal following, and there are many artists who have been doing this fair uninterrupted for 30-plus years." Craneway is unique in that it doesn't rely on big corporate sponsorships, and it is dedicated to not only supporting KPFA, but also, as Lyonheart said, to support "the community of artists and craftspeople in the Bay Area and beyond."

Visitors to Craneway can expect to find over 200 artists and craftspeople selling their wares, and over 6,000 visitors (so plan your trip accordingly). This year, Lyonheart reports vendors such as "Texture Clothing coming down from Bellingham, 3rd Season coming up from Los Angeles, local illustrator Sophie Tivona, Julems Ceramics, and the nonprofit, the NIAD [Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development] Center." Recurring favorites, such as designer Susan Eastman, Rupam's Herbals, and Modern Shibori, will attend as well, she noted.

If you prefer a different flavor of craft fair, try Girl Gang Craft. This nascent but thriving craft fair was established by Phoebe Sherman, the local creative who's been heavily active in the East Bay's maker scene since 2017. The fair, which has grown to become California's largest women-only craft fair, focuses on empowerment and has always "wanted to keep things affordable for the artists," Sherman said, noting that for many craft fairs, booths can cost up to $700 to $800. Although the fair this year will be bigger, Sherman is determined to keep the fair's mission at the forefront, which has always been "to support local ladies that are trying to make a difference in the world and trying to make a living."

This year, Girl Gang Craft "strives to provide inclusive plus affordable space for creatives plus entrepreneurs to sell and succeed," Sherman said. "You can expect to find rad items from local makers here." At the holiday show, visitors will also be treated to a healer's lounge, featuring massage, acupuncture, aura photography, and tarot readings. A variety of makers and shops, like Dylan the Jeweler, Sumsaara accessories, and Exau olive oil will attend, with many, many more.

Both fairs take place in December, timed perfectly for last-minute gift buying. Visit Girl Gang Craft on Dec. 14 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., where over 120 makers and small businesses will be participating. The Craneway Craft Fair takes place Dec. 21 and 22 at 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (both days) at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond and will feature over 200 exhibitors. Admission is $12 for ages 18-64, $10 for youth, seniors, and differently-abled folks, and free for youth under 18.

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Ruti Zisser caters to women 35 and older. Photo courtesy Ruti.