"When a Shop Is Not a Shop"

Mawter Made features Diana Kim '98 who has owned the Portland, Ore., boutique Stand Up Comedy for more than 15 years.

Diana Kim ’98 has owned the Portland, Ore., men’s and women’s boutique Stand Up Comedy (standupcomedytoo.com) for more than 15 years. She designed it to feel less like a shop and more like a curated closet filled with meaningful clothes and accessories from handpicked designers—hence the tagline, "when a shop is not a shop."


I was born in South Korea but came to the States when I was little. My dad joined the army to expedite our citizenship, and we moved to Oregon after he finished his tour. He became a postal worker, and my mom worked in a factory. They saved enough money and then started the classic entrepreneurial things: dry cleaner, laundromat, little restaurants, bodegas. That’s part of the reason why opening my own store did not seem out of the realm of possibility.


Early on, I wanted to go to a women’s school. I had read a lot of old American literature, where women went to these very special places. I also had a feminist awakening at that point in my life. I was a history of art major and women’s studies minor and headed the Bryn Mawr College Concert Series, programming shows. That was my start in curation.

My friends shared my interests in music, design, and fashion. We’d visit museums, and I was excited by the feelings that art elicited. I figured I should work in a gallery or a studio, so I knocked around New York, Philly, and San Francisco freelancing after graduation. Then I applied to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, starting as a fellow and later working as a curatorial assistant over six years.

I don’t know that I’ll ever find a place like Bryn Mawr again. As time passes, I realize how rare and special being in an all-female environment really is. Same-sex education had a profound impact on me, and I want that for my child.


While at the Walker, I started developing an idea for the store. I had always been deeply interested in fashion but felt sort of ashamed of it, guilty because it seemed superficial. Despite these conflicted feelings, there’s a sense of generosity and personal freedom with clothes that I love. Boutiques had started to proliferate mostly in New York and Los Angeles, with emerging small brands. In my off time, I researched designers and styles.

After a big administrative change at the museum, it felt like the right time to make a move. I wanted to be near my aging parents in Portland. There were no shops like this there. Real estate was cheap, and I could open with my savings. I spent a year planning the store, lived in my parents’ basement, rented a retail space, and recruited five designers I really liked. I was careful about money. When working with something so small, you control every aspect of it; that’s what got us through those early years.


I opened in 2007. The shop was somewhere between a store and a living room and a hangout space—not a lot in it, but it was stuff that I really cared about and believed in. One jewelry designer, one denim brand, one outerwear brand—that kind of vibe. People heard by word of mouth that it was a place with books, ephemera, clothing, and other products you couldn’t get anywhere else.

There are many amazing people out there making very cool products, but I always ask myself before I take on something new: Is that right for the store now? Real fashion ideas are not just happening in LA and Paris and New York; people are interested in these things all over, and we have to create an environment for that.

My store has survived. I support my family doing this. I’ve touched a lot of people who have told me they really love coming here. For me, by those definitions, it's a success.