Entrepreneur takes the leap from home to boutique

Customers browsing or trying on items at Ruti Clothing & Lifestyle in Palo Alto might notice something different about the labels — for one, they’re in Hebrew.

But that’s not turning shoppers away. In fact, women have been flocking to Ruti Zisser’s boutique in Town and Country Village since its grand opening nearly three months ago.

Israeli designers make all of the clothing and accessories Zisser sells; items range from $60 to $200. Rarely does Zisser purchase an item for her shop without trying it on first.

“I look for clothing that is flattering to women of all shapes, sizes, styles and opinions,” said Zisser, a Palo Alto resident and Tel Aviv native. “Clothing is not meant to hide our flaws, but to enhance our attributes.”

 

Ruti Zisser (right) assists Elaine Andersen of Palo Alto with her purchase. photos/amanda pazornik

In addition to clothing, Zisser and her two employees, Marlene Gordon and Brenna Dean, also sell Israeli gift items. Everything from handmade jewelry, mezuzahs and books on Tel Aviv are displayed on a series of wooden shelves near a large window for passers-by to see.

 

“A lot of people come in and know what a mezuzah is,” Zisser said. “They also recognize the Hebrew. Most of my customers aren’t Jewish, but they really like seeing items from Israel.”

Zisser, who is married and has a 3-year-old daughter, got her start in a small studio adjacent to her Palo Alto home, where she would host trunk shows for mostly Israeli friends. The racks were filled with clothing imported from Israel, and it didn’t last long on the hangers. 

With every trip back to Israel, Zisser would buy from more designers to meet the increasing demand of her clients. As word spread about Zisser’s unique lines, women started driving upward of two hours to purchase her clothing.

Within two years, Zisser’s mailing list had grown to 4,000 names.

“I had a lot of American women with no connection to Israel who fell in love with the clothes,” Zisser said. “That pushed me to open a store.”

While dining at Calafia Café, an upscale eatery in Town and Country Village, Zisser became envious of its location. Across the street from Stanford University and Palo Alto High School, she thought the shopping center would be an ideal spot for her shop. 

She fell in love with a 500-square-foot corner space on the center’s exterior, but first had to convince management of her moneymaking potential. 

“This spot was slotted for a store that was sure to be a success,” said Zisser, who was well aware of the risk she took by launching a business during a recession. “The manager didn’t want a store that would close after a year.”

After much negotiation, she obtained the suite. “It’s a great place,” Zisser said. “It feels like a boutique.” 

To exude that boutique feel, Zisser again sought inspiration from Calafia Café. Rustic yet modern, the café’s décor was exactly what Zisser envisioned for Ruti Clothing & Lifestyle. So she hired the café’s designer and got to work on creating her vision.

Clothes are displayed on nontraditional racks, made from slabs of dark wood that are suspended from the ceiling on thick chains and rope.

Shelves above the clothes feature accessories, including oversized purses, travel books and vintage literature. A few mannequins dot the floor, and a floor-to-ceiling framed mirror brings customers out of the dressing rooms for a full-length look.

“The clothes are for real women,” said Zisser, who noted that nearly all of the brands are machine washable. “They don’t just look nice on the hanger. If a piece is really unique, I’ll often try it on first to show how it’s worn.”

Zisser said she plans to open a second store, ideally in San Francisco. She attributes the success of her retail fashion venture to her loyal clientele, as well as her passion for fashion.

“I could cry,” she said. “It’s that exciting for me. I’m in love with the clothing.”

Ruti Clothing & Lifestyle is located at 855 El Camino Real, Suite 64 in Palo Alto. Information: (650) 391-9719 or www.rutiboutique.com.