Longtime residents of the East Bay and fans of high fashion know about Sherri McMullen and her bright, airy storefront—the eponymous McMullen—that's nestled on Grand Avenue, just barely over the border in Piedmont (the store's first location was on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland).
2017 was a big year for McMullen. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, McMullen participated in an in-store panel discussion, Influential Women in Fashion: An Intimate Conversation, featuring herself as well as Amy Smilovic, founder and creator of the well-known label, Tibi, as well as Tamu McPherson (editor-in-chief of style blog All the Pretty Birds). It was moderated by Rajni Jacques, fashion director at Teen Vogue. It's no surprise McMullen keeps such fashionable company—she can even claim Ayesha Curry as one of her clients—after her long career in the industry. McMullen spent years as a buyer for Neiman Marcus, and moved to San Francisco in 2000 to take a job as a textile buyer with Pottery Barn Kids, where she helped launch the brand. "It was a great experience, but I always knew I wanted to create something for myself," she said. Her desire became a reality in 2007, when she opened the original McMullen.
Setting up shop in Oakland appealed because, as McMullen said, she has "always enjoyed the sense of community and the spirit of the city." And, perhaps most importantly, she felt there was a dearth of designer boutiques. "My friends and I were traveling to San Francisco to shop, even though we all wanted to support local businesses," she said.
Though the Grand Avenue space was "raw" when McMullen came across it—it lacked flooring, water, or electricity—it also had "two large windows," and as she "looked out the windows, I was able to start envisioning my store and the layout." She knew it was the right space for her.
Of the neighborhood, McMullen appreciates Grand Avenue and all it has to offer, including restaurants like Boot and Shoe Service and Grand Lake Kitchen. She also frequents the Grand Lake farmers market on Saturdays and loves walks around the lake with her son.
What does it take to keep the store stocked and buyers interested? McMullen said she does "a lot of research before I go to market in search of new talent."
"I always shop with my customers in mind, and I tend to take risks on designers I believe in, even if they are emerging. I listen to my gut and hope my customers enjoy the pieces as much as I do," she said.
These days, skirts, low heels, and unique storytelling pieces are what customers are most after. The aforementioned Tibi has produced striped silk pieces for the season (costs range from $595-$1,195), and Simon Miller is making bonsai handbags, a new take on bucket bags that are made of calfskin leather or nubuck suede. Also in stock are designs from such brands as Ulla Johnson, Apiece Apart, and Ganni.
McMullen is a dynamic store. It holds regular events, including designer trunk shows and fundraisers for local charities. At the recent panel discussion, a portion of sales of tickets went to support students of the School of Fashion program at the Oakland School for the Arts. In spring of 2018, changes are afoot for McMullen: a move to a larger space planned to give "customers an even better experience right in the heart of Oakland's Uptown district."
"Women will be able to buy everything they need" to dress themselves "head to toe in the best designers from around the world, including local gems," McMullen said. Customers can also look forward to housewares and children's wear down the road, she said.
Visit McMullen at 1235 Grand Ave., Piedmont, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun., and online at www.ShopMcMullen.com.
If anything is true, it's that denim isn't going anywhere. And if you are in search of some high-quality denim for yourself or the male-identified person in your life, Two Jacks Denim should be high on your list.
Tommy Mierzwinski opened Two Jacks' doors in March 2013, naming it after two famous Jacks—Messrs. London and Kerouac. It's in Oakland on a popular strip of Broadway. Mierzwinski said he wanted "to create a community of selvedge denim fans in a city that I love and ride my bike to work." The high cost of retail space and some stiff competition from similar shops in San Francisco played a role as well in his decision to set up shop in Oakland. Some of his research involved driving around neighborhoods he thought would be good options, which is how he settled on the Broadway location. Mierzwinski called it "a drive-by discovery." Mierzwinski said he loves "the vibrancy and diversity of the people and place," and the other locally owned businesses that surround his shop.
"The Hive was the first downtown destination developed in Oakland's renaissance. Downtown Broadway was once Oakland's main street-shopping district, so it feels good to be a part of its rebirth," he said.
Perhaps the most important thing about Two Jacks is that everything in the shop is made in the U.S.A., by artisanal small businesses. High-quality materials and master workmanship are a crucial part of the equation, too—something consumers often neglect as fast-fashion has grown to take over most markets.
"Our menswear goods, which include jeans, trousers, jackets, shirts, and a full complement of accessories, are curated based on quality of workmanship, fabric, style, and makers with whom I want to work," he said. "I like to compare our clothes to small batch bourbon that is produced in the same way."
Mierzwinski's passion for the creative process is evident in the way he talks about the goods he sells. Currently, the store stocks Neppy Stanton Jeans made by Rogue Territory in Los Angeles. "The incredible Japanese denim is made with cotton and hemp yarn," he said of the jeans. "The irregularly spun yarn produces white flecks that protrude slightly in random patterns to create a unique texture and a subtle 'snowy' appearance."
Why not buy from a person who's fascinated by the product he sells? No doubt customers will be able to get the same level of detail about other products in the store, such as the raw selvedge denim that's selling well these days from brands like Tellason, 3sixteen, Raleigh Denim, Railcar, and Shaabi—made in Alameda—among many others.
The store is doing well. Two Jacks will be celebrating its fifth anniversary during March 2018, so there will be a number of events to look forward to in celebration.
Two Jacks Denim, 2355 Broadway, Oakland, Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m., and online at www.TwoJacksDenim.com.
For Felicia Reyes, creator and founder of Los Reyes Co., a T-shirt is more than just a T-shirt. A T-shirt can be a way to communicate who you are, what you believe in, and show solidarity with others. The artist and designer got her start in 2011 while living in New York City—she was raised in the Bronx—when she partnered with friends to create FromtheBronx.com, which offers T-shirts and accessories with, of course, a Bronx theme. After moving to the Bay Area in 2011, Reyes started feeling the itch again to get back into designing and screen-printing, but it wasn't until Hurricane Maria hit in 2017 that Reyes was spurred to get back to work. She has strong ties to Puerto Rico—some of her family were visiting the island when the hurricane hit and were out of touch for two weeks. She "took a helpless feeling and turned it into action. I decided that as a way to raise money and contribute to relief recovery in Puerto Rico, I would make T-shirts and sell them to raise money for donations." The shirts, emblazoned with the slogan Isla Del Encanto ¡Puerto Rico Se Levanta! (The Island of Enchantment/Puerto Rico Will Rise) helped Reyes raise over $1,000 and counting for recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
In addition to her Isla Del Encanto shirts, Reyes has produced a line featuring a cheeky "Oak Bae" slogan, printed on T-shirts, buttons, hoodies, and even a onesie for your Oakland-born baby—all produced at the Grease Diner print shop in Oakland. Reyes has steadily been adding more designs to the line, and she plans to deliver fresh new looks every season. This year, you'll spot her at pop-ups at the Oakland Museum of California and other venues around the Bay Area. Until then, visit Los Reyes Co. online at LosReyes.co and on Instagram @losreyesapparel.
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Amy Smilnovic, Sherri McMullen, Rajni Jacques, and Tamu McPherson were at McMullen for a 10th anniversary soiree. Photo courtesy Drew Aliytzer Photography