Old Mill District boutique influenced by outdoor sports and street fashion

By KM Collins
For the Old Mill District

As the Old Mill District continues to celebrate Women’s History month, we shine the spotlight on one of our original retailers, April Lawyer, a fashion guru who magically captures Bend Style and forecasts trends in her eclectic boutique along the Deschutes River, Vanilla Urban Threads.

A former elite downhill mountain biker – she earned a silver medal at the 2001 X Games and has a runner-up World Cup finish to her name – Lawyer melds a combination of premium denim and wearable clothing labels from the fashion world with street wear from High Desert favorite surf, skate and snow brands, all under one roof.

“The great thing about Bend is that you can go to a nice dinner dressed to the nines or wear jeans and a comfy flannel,” Lawyer says. “I love that. Fashion in Bend is all over the map and that’s what makes my job so fun! We have our super trendy fashionistas, we have our casual comfy crowd, and everything in between.”

Lawyer’s ability to brew up the perfect Central Oregon outfit began with an initial retail venture as a child when she sold trinkets and candy from her bedroom window. Later she started a small clothing company called MAVENN which sold hoodies and T-shirts. Eventually, she partnered with her coach (in the downhill bike racing off season) at Tangerine, a boutique shop in California. Following several injuries and a friend’s career-changing accident, Lawyer decided to go all in on a retail shop of her own in 2006.

“I realized how lucky I was to have had such a great outdoor sports career,” says Lawyer, who was also a pro snowboarder in multiple disciplines. “But, I was ready for the next chapter. I considered some great opportunities in the bike industry, however, working at Tangerine brought me so much joy and I couldn’t let go of that. It truly was the perfect outlet full of rushes and highs and lows to help me switch gears from my crazy racing life.”

Fourteen years later, you can find Vanilla in its original location in the Old Mill District.

“My goal with Vanilla was to merge both the boutique fashion world and the surf, skate, snow world that I grew up in,” Lawyer says. “I strive for Vanilla to be accessible to a wide range of customers with different tastes and budgets. We carry contemporary brands that you would find in most boutiques (FreePeople, Bella Dahl, Flynn Skye, Spell, Matisse,Wrangler, Frame, Sundry) and favorite surf, skate and snow brands (Vans, Billabong, Volcom, Oneil, RVCA, Obey, Roxy).”

Lawyer credits her athletic background for much of her success in the fast-moving and ever-changing fashion game.

“I feel like racing truly prepared me for the retail world!,” she says. “I learned so much traveling and racing and I don’t think I would have survived this many years of retail without all the lessons racing taught me. I learned how to communicate and talk with all different types of people, how important it was to work hard for results, how to deal with pressure and competition. I learned how to negotiate and be an advocate for myself and my teammates.

“Most importantly,” Lawyer adds, “I learned the importance of pouring your heart and soul into something that you love and how powerful that can be.”