An Interview With Brad & Jenna Holdgrafer, Founders of Formerly Yes

An Interview With Brad & Jenna Holdgrafer, Founders of Formerly Yes

Los Angeles, CA

Firstly, tell us about Formerly Yes. How did that get started?

We always say Formerly Yes started as answer to a question. Can we find a way to blend work and life, be creative together, and do it all on our own time?

The store has always been rooted in a way to better ourselves creatively and hopefully encourage people to do the same. We try and carry products that allow people to do that too. 


What were you doing before that? Have you always been interested in the retail space?

Jenna was in fashion and customer service. I was in advertising. We had always had some sort of interest, but it wasn’t our first goal. We started online only, but missed being able to feel a part of Los Angeles, we felt like we needed something tangible to balance the “minimal” feeling of the products we sold. A human touch. The physical location started as a way to both involve ourselves into Downtown Los Angeles and also see if we could also design a retail space.


How do you run a store with so little product in it? Do you find it more or less challenging than traditional retail?

The trick to selling so little product is to have little hands.  It allows us to delicately handle the products. If a product is too big to manoeuvre we can generally handle it between the two of us.

Kidding, we like the illusion of having a little product. We only put one thing out at a time. So customers can focus on what they are buying, we have multiple of the item in the back of house. But, we wanted to break the mold of retail stores filling their shelves with multiple quantities of something. Visually it works better and we think it makes the customer appreciate the product more. The space is designed to make the products feel like museum pieces, but museum pieces you can use and play with.

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For having so little product, Formerly Yes has a very strong brand identity. Where does that come from? How did you land on your brand identity?

We really wanted to have two things create our identity. Being in the advertising industry you see some of the biggest businesses in the world with these amazing identities but spending millions of dollars to feel more human. Our goal was to start by simply being human, making the store an extension of our life.

Our goal was to start by simply being human, making the store an extension of our life.

Let the product we carry be our identity but also let myself, Jenna and Ernest (the dog) create the real identity of the brand. It’s becoming more and more difficult to curate unique items, but the three of us are something that will always be unique to Formerly Yes.  


How are you discovering new brands?

We start with the designer and we trace the brand or distribution from there.  We never buy products based on the brand. Some brands support their designers better than others, the ones who celebrate their designers generally have more of an appreciate for how their products are used as opposed to selling it simply because it will sell. We also think people will hold onto their products longer because they admire a designer, where as brands go out of style or out of business. That creates a bit extra value, which in turn adds to it’s timelessness.

What's your favorite brand right now that no one has heard of?

Well that’d spill our best keep secrets!


Social media (Instagram, specifically) has been a huge success for you guys. How did you translate what was going on in the store to your social and grow it so successfully?

I don’t know how it grew so much so fast, but it was all organic. We generally have a rule not to turn it into an advertising platform. Just as a window into what it’s like to hangout at the store, us living our everyday life. We try not to ever post pictures of product anymore, but instead use it as a way to get people into the space, once people come in we feel like we can point that customer in the right direction. We also approach it with the same values as the products we carry. No spam, we never post just because we have to post. Creating content for the sake of content, yuck!


How do you see Formerly Yes evolving?

We always have loads of ideas. They generally involve us moving slowly, making sure its a wise use of our time and money. That it’ll bring value to people in someway or form. We see other brands being huge and slowly losing their values for an extra buck. We hope we can stay grounded, stay happy, continue to run Formerly Yes exactly how we’d like. It’s more of a way to practice becoming than it is a business.


Any tips for working with your significant other?

Have different strengths, respect those strengths and support a platform to let those strengths flourish. Respect each other. You’ll disagree, sometimes your right, sometimes their right, sometimes you’re both wrong.  Knowing which is which will make you love each other more.  If at any point the business puts too much strain on the relationship, go out of business. Put each other first, the business is only just a business.


What can we expect to see from you in the near future? Any fun projects you're working on?

We are working on a bunch of fun new partnerships.  I hate to over promise so we’ll just have to wait to share!


Follow Formerly Yes on Instagram and visit their store in Downtown Los Angeles at 954 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90015.