Celebrating a decade: Cool clothes are the muse at Substance of Taos


The owner of Substance of Taos, a women's clothing boutique in a beautifully renovated adobe building on Doña Luz in downtown, is quick to admit the secret that makes her job so satisfying: "I get to hang out with all the coolest women in Taos," said Jennifer Martin.

So it's with joy that the store will mark a major milestone next month. It'll be Substance's 10th anniversary.

For a retail store that opened on the crashing wave of the 2008 recession, making it 10 years in Taos is quite an accomplishment.

How did they do it? "People stepped up," said Martin. "We have the support of our community."

Indeed, as Monday's (Aug. 6) waning afternoon light played off the natural plaster walls of the shop, women of all ages streamed into the store, browsed the neatly curated racks of earth-tone shirts and local jewelry and chatted with their friends and the other customers.

The store opened closer to the Plaza under the former owner Molly Massen and moved to its current location in 2010. Martin, originally from Wisconsin, bought the store in June 2013, the same time her business partner Eliza Lowther Hadley opened a salon in the room off to the side of the Substance showroom, Martin said.

At that time, there was a rumor about town that Substance was too expensive for the average Taoseña, Martin said. It probably wasn't unwarranted in a rural county where, according to U.S. Census data, 22 percent of people live in poverty. But Martin has made it part of her mission over the last five years to change that reputation a little at a time, bringing in a broader range of price points and more affordable lines whether for a fun summer outfit or a signature gala.

At the heart of all of her efforts is the love of fashion and quality, timeless pieces that make people feel luxurious, that people want to invest in and show off around town.

"I let the clothes be my muse," said Martin, who uses the palette and fine textures to "keep the store looking fresh" and "shift the energy" of the space with the changing seasons and new designs.

At least two to three times a year, Martin goes to the lively Los Angeles fashion market where designers and fashion vendors occupy floors and floors of downtown buildings, she said. She has her loyal vendors that are regular brands in the store, but also enjoys the challenge of finding one or two new designers.

Unlike other store owners, when they go to market, "We're always trying stuff on because we want it to feel good. I go through every single piece…to bring in the best of the best."

Some lines include Free People, which Martin says is perfect for anyone from a teenager to people in their 70s or older. There's Voloshin and also several denim companies with production based in the United States.

Besides the clothes, Substance is the flagship store for Vapor, a Taos-based makeup company that has a growing following across the country. All their employees are trained to provide makeup consultations.

And the salon makes for a great synergy, said Martin and Lowther Hadley, because loyal customers on the store side inevitably try out the salon and vice versa.

Mahalia Bohsali, a 20-year-old who has been going to the salon for nearly five years, told The Taos News it's the women who run the store who keep her wanting to come back.

The store will host a 10th- year celebration sometime in September.