“Well…Ruben was my first kiss…” Alexis Mayoski says as she stamps puckering pink lips onto punch-cut tags. She points to a figurine of a kissing boy and girl atop a glittery teal counter top. ”So I sort of made a theme out of it,” she shyly giggles.
Seven years after one quintessential teen dream came true, Lex Mayoski accomplished another adolescent aspiration. In August, she and boyfriend Ruben Gonzales opened REX Recycled Fashion. “I always wanted to have a store and I had been saving up clothes for so long, it seemed like it could happen,” she starts to explain. Gonzales, standing at her side, adds “You should have seen my basement–there were so many clothes.”
Among her inventory are a teal and gold beaded top, a slim green suede dress, a grey tribal cardigan, a hand-painted T-shirt, and Oxford heels. “She has to love every piece in here–that’s the only thing I can say. I don’t think you can name her style,” Gonzales laughs. He fiddles with the zipper on his tailored leather jacket, and says a bit more seriously, “You know, we just had to go for it. You gotta sacrifice a lot of stuff: only peanut butter and jellies for a year, no going out. But it’s worth it.”
For the two Northern Illinois University grads–Gonzales in business and Mayoski in fashion–opening a boutique seemed like a natural combination of their talents (and their names: Ruben + Lex = REX). Just a few years after graduating, the couple pooled their savings and purchased a store space in the Pilsen neighborhood, where Gonzales’ parents and Mayoski grew up. To the east, there are galleries and artists’ lofts. To the west, there are bustling taquerÃas and panaderÃas. “We’re kind of in the middle, so we were worried about having low traffic, but we think we can be a bridge between the two areas,” Mayoski explains, wearing a fitted red flannel blouse, a canary yellow cardigan, a sheepskin jacket and huge bug-eye sunglasses.
There have been times when the duo has been forced to question their welcome in the neighborhood. “One day we came to the store and someone had written ‘Fuck Your Fascist Beauty Standards’ on the front,” Gonzales says. “You know, I was mostly just disappointed. The comments about some businesses here gentrifying and trying to be something better than the neighborhood are so false. I would love to sit down and talk to the person who did that and let them know we are Pilsen people, this is a Pilsen store, and we love our neighborhood.”
There are already signs that REX’s presence has been beneficial to the area. A local artist’s stained glass–slightly creepy, eyeless portraits–line the walls of the boutique and fliers for plays and restaurants sit on a bedazzled pedestal near the front door. Mayoski often suggests other vintage shops in Pilsen if she doesn’t carry what a customer is looking for. REX offers drinks and discounts to customers on Pilsen’s Second Fridays. For their advertising campaign, REX used a local photographer and friends and acquaintances as models.
Mayoski begins to write on price tags that have been cut out from past neighborhood event posters. On each pair of hot-pink lips, she writes a price–$1 for a pair of earrings or $30 for a fur vest–that stands between a shopper and a new kick of style. “When a customer walks in, we want to impact them with the clothes that they put on,” Gonzales says. “We want to make them feel good, give them something to…”
“Confidence” Mayoski interjects.
“I’ve worked in stores where we had to say ‘Oh, that looks so cute on you.’” Mayoski’s enactment drips with saccharine falseness. “But here, I’m going to be honest.”
So far, REX’s philosophy has been successful with their customer base–mainly college students, Pilsen residents and avid thrifters. “I want the customers to love the clothes and feel good in whatever they find here,” Gonzales says.
Mayoski gets a glimmer in her eye when she hears this, but it’s not clear whether it should be attributed to Gonzales smiling at her or to the shopper who just walked out of the fitting room in a cinched-waist sequined blouse. “This store,” she says, “It’s kind of a love thing.”
REX Recycled Fashion, 939 W. 18th St. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-8pm; Sunday, noon-6pm. (312)330-0169. rexrecycledfashion.com