Our visit to 25th Street Collective (or 25C in short) at 477 25th St, Oakland shows a design/retail hub that is passionately engaged in and focused on giving back to the local community. Lead by Hiroko Kurihara, 25th Street Collective serves as the Oakland design incubator vanguard that helps keeping local design and manufacturing industry thrive with a healthy dose of social responsibility and entrepreneurship.

When I interviewed Bo Breda shortly before Art Institute of California – San Francisco 2012 student fashion show, she recommended that I get in touch with several people to know more about local factories in San Francisco Bay Area. One of them is Hiroko Kurihara. Now that I am ready to know more about the design and manufacturing landscape in the Bay Area, I arranged an on-site visit to 25th Street Collective Oakland earlier this summer to meet her.

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Hiroko is the founding member of the 25th Street Collective Oakland and owner of the 8-year-old Hiroko Kurihara Designs, “a socially responsible company that offers unique high-quality textile creations…strive to foster conscientious consumerism, encouraging people to consider the global and local impact of all their purchasing decisions. With every item sold another is donated, one for one, to a local non-profit that works with people who are homeless” (source: 25th Street Collective). Her company emphasizes empathy; buying and giving become one, and boutiques need to stay engaged in community. Her 100% lightweight wool blankets, scarves, and garments are contemporary and beautiful, as you can see from the picture above.

25C is a L3C (low-profit, socially beneficial business entity) incubator based in Oakland that provides studios, store-front gallery, wine bar, and workshops (as the educational component to provide youths with older folks’ knowledge base) for slow-food and slow-fashion artisans in the Bay Area. These “nano enterprises” practice local, ethical manufacturing, as well as innovative resourcefulness in growing their business while sharing space. In 25C, the members of the incubator share manufacturer’s license. (According to Hiroko, one thing that new designers commonly overlook is the need to have a manufacturing license.)

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In addition to Hiroko Kurihara Designs, the members of 25C offers diverse, stellar talents and finished products. They’re regularly featured on 25th Street Collective Oakland Facebook page and there’s always something new going on!

There’s Ecologique Fashion whose mission is to promote ethical practices and regeneration in fashion industry. (It was Ecologique Fashion that let me know about Scott Ian McFarland.)

In addition, there is samples development service in 25C from Sabrina Fair, as well as more full-service sewing production from Oakland Sewn. The qualifying companies were asked fundamental questions when they request samples development service. Questions such as, “why create a new product into the world, what’s the life cycle look like (pre-production, consumer, post-consumer) for the products, and how the [qualifying] company feels about the made-to-order, no-inventory model,” said Hiroko.

Another 25C member Ghetto Goldilocks uses only recycled and reclaimed materials to produce one-of-a-kind wearable art pieces. Hiroko mentioned there can be a specialized training with organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul for garment sorting, so that designers don’t need to dig for materials from thrift stores. Goldilocks is an example for which such training can be highly beneficial.

Moreover, there are Scorpion Sisters jewelry designers. 98% of their materials is reclaimed. Moxie Shoes, with specifc leather materials from Maine. Platinum Dirt, whose custom handmade creations are made out of reclaimed auto upholstery and leather interiors. And of course there’s O’Lover Hats, whose hats creations we adore.

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Hiroko explained that the next set of challenge for 25C and Oakland zone in general is to build workers-own sewing cooperative, increase on-site production capacity and new technologies, and establish sustainable economy law center. In response to the decline of skillful Chinese workers who are now retired and stay at home (something that Lana Hogue also mentioned during our Betabrand San Francisco interview), Hiroko mentioned legalizing sewing at home (for commercial purpose) is one of those things pursued with East Bay Community law center.

Social responsibility and entrepreneurship (she recommended Stanford Social Innovation for more in-depth coverage) was the main topic during my chat with Hiroko. She emphasized collaboration within existing producers as well as direct investment from the community for continued growth of local maker force’s lives. Producers’ collaboration and inventory listing is important to create a more agile coalition, instead of the old “we can do everything” mentality, which had the local factories end up haphazardly commissioning each other to get things done. Moreover, consumers’ investment in companies they are buying products from is part of the concept of “buying what you believe in” and completes the full circle of conscience.

Hiroko gave an true-story example of a gallery in Brooklyn that showcased work done by women in a homeless shelter. Sales proceeds collected from the gallery went back to benefit the shelter.

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When Hiroko was getting her design degree, “there was no teaching about socio-political labor issue,” she said. “(Topics such as) equity in society and how it doesn’t exist were not part of the education.” Elaborating further, she opened up a blanket masterpiece (pictured above) she made several years ago in honor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire tragedy in New York. Some shirtwaist prints on her blanket are out-of-focus as representations of victims who were not identified at that time (all the victims were fully identified in 2011). As history repeats itself, the tragedy of 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh came to mind. This time, the tragedy prompted big multi-national apparel companies to vow better working conditions for the Bangladesh workers.

Nevertheless, the United States is still very much a consumer-based country. “We need to shift the notion from buying what we want to buying what we need,” Hiroko urged. For sustainable practices, co-creation is key, such as selecting fabrics and colors from available local farms’ productivity. “Check out Fibershed,” she said.

Indeed, many design and manufacturing companies in Oakland are focused on building a socially responsible brand and community. In addition to Fibershed, Hiroko mentioned Oaklandish and Oakland Makers. We also strolled to see 25C neighbors The Moon and Myrrhia Knitwear.

25C is relentless in spreading the love and positive message of local social impact. Every 3rd Thursdays, 6 – 8 pm, 25C hosts art opening with live music, wine, fashion, crafts showcases that no doubt serve as the shining example for the visitors to do more for their own local community.

25C also participates in The Art Murmur, the free monthly First Friday gallery walk, 6 – 9 pm and weekly Saturday Stroll, 1 – 5 pm. Art Murmur itself is a very popular cultural phenomenon for Oakland’s art-based economy, which offshots First Fridays, which draws up to 20,000 people to Oakland’s Uptown district.

Chatting with Hiroko about 25C went beyond an incubator or a shared space for designers. 25C is part of something much grander, a team of warriors who continue to redefine and reshape the Oakland community of shared innovation, sustainable business practices, and foster positive social impacts and individual well-beings. It was really powerful and I’m sure Oakland will continue to grow with focused and driven people like Hiroko in it. Only time will tell how great the growth will manifest.

Thank you once again Hiroko Kurihara for setting aside some time to chat with me! Below are the complete set of pictures Chris took during our visit to 25C:

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Thank you for reading, have a great day,

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