Words by Javacia Harris Bowser
Growing up in Columbus, Georgia, Lauren Amos always felt different. While most of her peers listened to Phish and Grateful Dead, she favored hip-hop and punk rock. They wore Patagonia gear and Bass hiking boots while she sported a goth look one day and a metallic mini skirt the next. Lauren says she wasn’t trying to stand out but had no desire to blend in either. “I was just looking for authenticity. Fashion helped me express what I was feeling on the inside, on the outside. It made me feel a little bit more complete.”
Today Lauren helps young people looking for an authentic style of their own through her streetwear and sneaker boutique Wish, located in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta.
A visit to Wish is a full-sensory experience like no other. You walk into the store and the sounds of artists such as Prince and Erykah Badu flow from speakers overhead. Glass cases displaying fashion-forward footwear are embedded in the floor beneath your feet. The clothing racks on the walls boast streetwear styles you’d see on the runways of a fashion week event. Descend downstairs and it’s a sneakerhead’s paradise, a labyrinth of unique footwear with scores of books lining the walls and shelves.
Lauren opened Wish in 2004, and the store soon became a staple for Atlantans looking for the latest and hottest streetwear and sneaker brands. But Wish is more than a boutique. Simply put, it’s a work of art. So when Lauren opened The Gallery by Wish in 2018, steps away from the retail store, it just made sense.
Ever since The Gallery opened to a crowd that nearly overflowed onto the street, Lauren has been adamant about using this space to highlight emerging artists. “I was an art student and so I always remember how tough that is, coming out of school and figuring out what to do next and how to market yourself,” says Lauren, who studied art history and photography at the Atlanta College of Art (now part of the Savannah College of Art and Design).
Julie Hogg, managing director of The Gallery | Wish, shares Lauren’s passion for celebrating new artists. “Wish has always been a place to ‘break brands,’ as we say in the apparel business, meaning we want to showcase new and upcoming brands that we feel strongly about and give a voice to these new designers. The Gallery was created with the same thoughtful intention,” Julie says. “We feel strongly about the level of talent in our city. Why not give a voice to the local community and give them a platform to grow? For some artists, it’s their first real show, and that is so special to us.”
Lauren sounds like a proud parent or delighted teacher when reminiscing about a new artist whose work was purchased by the High Museum of Art after it was shown in an exhibit at The Gallery: “To see that kid so excited to know that he had a curator interested in his work—at the end of the day, that is what gets me going.”
An avid art collector and member of the board for the High Museum of Art, Lauren is drawn to the work of artists who use art to raise questions and shed light on social issues. “I really believe in the power of art and think artists have a very important and very different role in society than the rest of us do,” Lauren says. “They are able to say things in various ways that express our humanity and cross boundaries.”
The Gallery has featured exhibits that tackle topics such as race, women’s rights and empowerment, and the effects of social media.
Most of all, Lauren wants both Wish and The Gallery to serve as spaces where people of different backgrounds can come together. On any given Saturday, Wish is teeming with Atlanta’s creative class. Customers browse brands you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the city, or even the state. They chat with each other about the latest in hip-hop news or with Wish staff about an upcoming sneaker release.
At Wish, everybody’s cool—but not too cool. Lauren makes sure of that. “Sometimes you go into these stores and they’re too cool to help anybody out, and the last thing I want, and that we want as a company, is for somebody to come into the store and not be treated with respect,” Lauren says. “I don’t want anyone to feel like they don’t belong. There’s too much of that in this world.”
Wish employees are expected to stay abreast on the latest brands and educated on the importance of opting for high-quality items over fast fashion.
Assistant general manager Christian Davis remembers shopping at Wish as a teenager. “I was that young kid in high school coming to this store shopping and wanting to be in the know, and now I’m actually working here,” Christian says. “Now I’m one of the curators and telling the people information, and it’s dope.”
General manager Justin Leary says working at Wish is a dream come true. “This is my favorite store, so it’s really easy for me to come to work,” Justin says. “One of my biggest passions is good streetwear. Here I’m able to be a part of the culture of a place that’s always inspired me and influenced me. I’m able to add some inspiration and some influence to that same place now.”
At a time when streetwear and sneaker enthusiasts could shop exclusively online, Justin says it’s imperative that brick and mortar stores such as Wish go above and beyond. “It’s really important that you create an experience for people,” he says, adding that Wish does just that.
For Lauren, it simply seems right for fashion and art to co-exist as it does at Wish and The Gallery. “They both give people the freedom to express themselves, and they both have the opportunity to invite conversation,” Lauren says. “An artist’s painting might be about a social issue that opens conversation or just a beautiful democratic experience where people feel good and laugh together. Wearing a piece of clothing can do the same thing. How many times do you see someone wearing something you love and this gives you the opportunity to strike up a conversation? In that very special moment it may not matter what a person’s gender, sexual preference, race or religion is. It brings people together.”