OAKLAND -- Sometimes a job loss has a silver lining.

After Tamera Duckett, owner of Kostüm on Piedmont Avenue, was laid off as West Coast regional recruiter for bebe women's clothing in 1999, she began to carve a new career path that eventually led to opening her own store.

"It truly was one of the best things that ever happened to me," said Duckett, who has 20 years of experience in the fashion industry.

Duckett branched out on her own for the first time, launching LuxBath.com. The website for luxury bath and beauty products flourished for six years until health problems forced Duckett to quit.

"It was a good time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life," said Duckett, who holds a degree in political science and international relations from UC Berkeley.

However, with health issues looming and no health insurance, Duckett temporarily returned to the corporate world, taking a job with a recruiting agency in downtown Oakland. A year later, Duckett and her German-born husband, Robert Spreitzenbarth -- a fashion photographer -- made a decision to follow their dream of opening their own apparel store. They considered a space on College Avenue but weren't sure if they'd do better on Piedmont Avenue. In a fortuitous move, Duckett asked the advice of the former owner of Kostüm.


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"She said we'd do well anywhere; then she asked if I'd like to partner with her at Kostüm -- which was then called Sophisticated Lady," said Duckett, who honed her fashion and marketing skills at I. Magnin and Bloomingdale's. "When I told her I really wanted to do my own thing, she offered to sell me the store.

"My mother said, 'It's the opportunity of a lifetime; you need to do it.' "

Nearly five years later, business is booming at Kostüm, which sells in-season designer, contemporary and vintage clothing in sizes 0 through 24 and accessories such as shoes (size 5 through 13), hats, handbags and jewelry.

Duckett kept all the original staff when she took over the store and now has six employees, including assistant manager Rika Votichenko.

"She's a consignment pro with a fantastic eye for merchandise," Duckett said of Votichenko.

Duckett said customers tell her Kostüm looks just like a regular chic boutique.

"My goal was to make it like a designer boutique with quality merchandise at affordable prices," Duckett said.

Votichenko said the store draws a broad spectrum of customers.

"We have girls who are 14 who find things they like as well as customers in their 70s and 80s," Votichenko said.

Crocker Highlands resident Orit Vogel was browsing through some colorful tops at the store recently.

"I'm not looking for anything in particular, but I always manage to find something," said Vogel, who is a regular customer. "I've found some of my best fancy dresses in this store that I've worn to weddings and galas. I've also done well with jewelry and skirts."

Vogel said she found great rhinestone and enamel jewelry pieces and a calf-length leather fuchsia skirt that she treasures.

"It's a great store, everything's easy to see -- it's well curated," Vogel said.

Duckett is more than happy with her decision to set up shop on Piedmont Avenue.

"It's the best thing -- I live just eight minutes from here," she said. "I love my neighbors and have great relationships with other merchants on the street."

Duckett is a member of the Piedmont Avenue Merchants Association and always participates in the Piedmont Avenue Stroll on the third Thursday of each month when stores stay open until 9 p.m. and offer refreshments, discounts and giveaways.

"Stroll night is getting busier and busier as more stores participate," Duckett said.

She's looking forward to the September stroll, as she will be fresh from a New York buying trip and will preview some of the latest fall fashions. Duckett said it's a great feeling to sell consignment clothing.

"It's the best feeling ever when people bring us clothes that are still in good shape, instead of just tossing them," Duckett said. "If you're not enjoying them, let somebody else use them -- and make a little money."

FYI
What: Kostüm, a women's clothing and accessory consignment shop
Where: 4020 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-654-1718
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
Information: www.kostumonpiedmont.com or 510-654-1718; consignments by appointment only