Shop Philly: SA VA Boutique

Fit model Candis Wood wearing a Beckie cowl neck dress made from organic cloth at Sa Va Boutique. ( Hillary Petrozziello / Staff Photographer )

A year ago, Sarah Van Aken unleashed gallons of mashed potatoes over pristine fabric in a furniture-less warehouse in North Philadelphia – an expression that may cause few locals, accustomed to unending oddity within the once industrial warehouses of Fishtown and NoLibs, to blink.

After the taters crusted over and hardened Van Aken then allowed red dye to ooze between the cracks, thus creating a custom pattern that can only be discovered at SA VA Boutique.

The moderately-sized store located at 1700 Sansom Street in Center City is home to a thriving local business that not only specializes in unconventional creative design, but also emphasizes a belief in sourcing organic, local, fair trade materials.

“It’s been one crazy ride from hand dying hundreds of yards of fabric to organizing fashion shows on the street,” said Van Aken. “I do it ‘cause I love it. It’s what I dreamt of.”

Van Aken began selling men’s custom shirts in 2006, a business that expanded into the realm of celebrity chef uniform design and manufacturing. Garments originally manifested in a Bangladeshi workshop, but the SA VA show went on the road and wound up in these parts after operating costs skyrocketed in 2008.

“I don’t think I would be able to do what I’ve done in New York,” Van Aken said. “I was able to create a business in Philadelphia as an incubator when it was small because of the community and its resources. New York exhausts me now. I wanted a better quality of life.”

Fast-forward seven years, one recession and countless stunning creations later and the designer’s dream has expanded into four brand representatives in 27 states.

SA VA’s spring line features custom-dyed, handmade garments that are feminine while retaining a no-bullshit approach to style. So Philly. Many “sleepless nights” turned into an unmatched collection of approachable pieces that are suitable for any daily lifestyle.