Natasha Harden / Halmoni

Halmoni is a vintage boutique store based in Oakland, California that is owned and operated by Natasha Harden.

Not only functioning as a store, Natasha takes pride in the fact that Halmoni has served as a community hub that hosts events and been a positive presence within the community.

HalfKorean.com had a chance to talk with Natasha to find out more about her background and Halmoni.

Let’s start by letting us know what’s your mix?
I’m half Black and half Korean!!

Where were you born and raised?
I was born 1981, year of the rooster and raised in the Boogie Down Bronx in NYC! I left New York in 2003 and have lived on the west coast ever since.

What was your previous occupations before starting your business?
I have always had jobs either in customer service positions or working with children. I initially thought that I would be a kindergarten teacher because I love little ones and all the creativity that shines within them but that wasn’t the case.

My last retail gig before the creation of Halmoni was customer service with Trader Joe’s. I was known as “the sample lady” for almost 5 years but it was nice because I felt like I had a cooking/TV show. Even though the job wasn’t fulfilling my potential, I know that working there helped to prepare me as an entrepreneur, mainly because I was able to perfect my customer service skills.

Do you speak Korean?
YES! 조금 (a little bit). My mom definitely spoke Korean to my sister and I when we were growing up. She always made sure we greeted elders respectfully in a Korean bow and everything. She also enrolled us in Hangul (Korean language) after school. I even took Korean in college because I wanted to be fluent. My mom helped to give me a head start in the language and I am thankful that I can carry on basic Korean conversations and have knowledge of some major vocabulary. I also know when someone is talking smack. Thanks, mom! 🙂

Growing up, what were your mixed Korean experiences like?
I think that the history of U.S. militarism in Korea and the notion of Korean comfort women, has skewed some people’s view on mixed children. Because of that, there is such a stigma in the Korean culture that people sometimes have a negative connotation to mixed race people. I love who I am because I have lived with two cultures in my life…I love that I grew up eating kimchi with everything. I also love that being black sparked my curiosity in African American studies when I was in college.

Have you been to Korea?
I have been to Korea a few times but only as a child. I have not gone as an adult and would love to sometime soon. I’d love it to be a mother/daughter trip that I take with mom and big sis. I want it to me my version of Kimchi Chronicles (love Marja Vongerichten and found out about her and the show through HalfKorean.com) to discover my culture further through food and fashion, of course.

Now, let’s talk about Halmoni. We love the name! What made you decide to name your business Halmoni?
When I first started my business, which at the time was a street pop-up style boutique, I operated under the name Grandma’s Closet–I thought that name was so clever. But when I signed a lease to my brick and mortar shop, there were other businesses in Oakland and the world with closet in the name so my partner and I came up with Halmoni to highlight my Korean ancestry and my love of nostalgia. Halmoni is much more personal for me and I’ve branded my business to reflect that. Even the tags in the shop have photos of my own Halmoni on them. I love showing parts of me through my entrepreneurial endeavors.

How many people are involved in the business?
I am front of the house he is back of the house for now but one day we will add more people to our team. I think it’s nice when you walk into a business and you actually interact with the owner.

Does your halmoni know that she is on your tags?
I like to believe my halmoni knows that she is on the tags…watching me from above. She passed the year before I opened Halmoni so she didn’t physically see the shop. But I like to think that if I didn’t have her blessing the shop wouldn’t be here today.

We are sorry to hear about your halmoni’s passing but we are sure that she is watching from above full of pride for you! Since the business has a Korean name, we are curious if customers have a hard time pronouncing the name? Does it spark curiosity as to what it means?
Some people have a hard time pronouncing the name but others blow me away when they hit it on the head. It has helped me in my 60 second pitch because I say, ”Halmoni sounds like harmony but means “grandmother” in Korean because I wanted to highlight my Korean ancestry and love of nostalgia.” I like that it sparks curiosity because it creates a way for me to talk about my family, my life and my brand.

How long has the store been open for business? Also, how long did it take for you to get the business up and running?
Halmoni has been open since July 2011, so we are coming up on our 2 year anniversary. It’s actually pretty magical with how fast it all happened. It took about a weekend for me to go from selling clothes in the streets of San Francisco to having a brick and mortar location. I signed the lease the last week of May 2011 and was open for business less than two months after that.

Have your parents and family been supportive?
I think that my parents are supportive. I think they definitely worry sometimes because being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks so I think that they always worry about me having stability. I want to grow my business so that I can take care of my parents the way they did for me.

How has the business been accepted within your community?
The neighborhood loves Halmoni! When we first signed the lease many of the the storefronts next to us were empty. Now the neighborhood has a washhouse, a cajun seafood restaurant, cafe, tattoo shop, beer garden, and even a new skate shop is due to open.

Halmoni is not only a vintage boutique, we are also a community hub. We show our community values by hosting events in the shop like art parties and clothings swaps to help bring the neighborhood together. People love it.

What type of items do you feature/sell and how do you go about obtaining your inventory?
Halmoni specializes in vintage statement pieces for men and women. Being from NYC, I have an in your face POV and translate that into how I curate the shop. We also offer personal styling, closet assessments to build a foundation on your existing wardrobe and vintage/thrifting excursions where I personally share tips on how to spot true vintage.

I love the hunt for vintage clothing and treasures because I love digging through piles at flea markets and estate sales with the goal of finding vintage in good condition–which is gold to me. It feels like finding the needle in the haystack. It is pure fun and joy for me and I enjoy every part of the hunt. Find more things that I love by checking out The Boogie Down Blog.

What are some goals you have for Halmoni (both long and short term)?
I want Halmoni to grow into a fashion brand that includes publications and our own line of retro clothing for men and women. I also want Halmoni to be a foundation that helps girls and young women by empowering them through fashion, strategic thinking and entrepreneurship. I also want there to be Halmoni scholarships and fellowships for college and professional development.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I am so glad to know about HalfKorean.com because we all want to see other people who look like us. I am always blown away at how many amazing half koreans there are in the world. You can catch me at halmoni.net and on Twitter and Instagram. I also started my own hashtag #bigbellyfashion to highlight girls with big bellies that love fashion and don’t have a baby in their belly. Not that there is anything wrong with babies in your belly…it’s just that sometime when you are fat, people ask the silliest things.

Any final words to the mixed Korean community?
Please keep sharing stories so that we can constantly learn and see different POV’s within the Korean community.

Thanks to Natasha for sharing her experiences and business with us. We wish her and her business much continued and future success!

For more information regarding Natasha and Halmoni, please check out the website, Facebook, Twitter. You can also follow Natasha’s blog here: The Boogie Down Blog.

Back to Spotlight


Halmoni Vintage & Treasures
 

Halmoni tag featuring Natasha’s 할머니 (halmoni)
 


Natasha outside of Halmoni Vintage
 

Natasha at work
 




(Images courtesy of Natasha Harden)
 
Halmoni
1601 2nd Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606
510-788-0296

Tweeter button Facebook button Myspace button Youtube button
%d bloggers like this: