For Berkeley's Shayla Dopp—owner and designer of DOPP Shoes—shoemaking began as a hobby.
"Footwear was always something that I've been dissatisfied with," Dopp said. "The whole concept of shoes being uncomfortable if they're beautiful and ugly if they're comfortable is an archaic idea I've never understood."
It's a sentiment many of the fashion-inclined understand.
"I've worn some shoes that were definitely not made to be worn," Dopp said.
But Dopp took this interest and frustration a step further. In spring 2016, She traveled to Arizona to take a shoemaking course—on women's heels, specifically—and since then, she was "hooked."
Dopp spent a year working on shoes as a hobby. "From the many drawings to refine the lines . . . to the choosing of the materials, I've never been so satisfied with a process. " Eventually, Dopp made her line a real thing, and "took the necessary steps to turn it into a business by getting a factory in LA."
Dopp's interest in marrying eye-catching styles with comfort is evident in her deceptively simple designs. Her core collection includes a range of handmade leather shoes, from the "Greta" mule with its circular stacked heel; the "Cindy" pump with a wooden heel evocative of a prism, and the new "Rachel" boot, with a familiar western-inspired style but made modern by its cheetah print. Taking inspiration from the women in her life, Dopp names her shoes after her mother, Cindy, who she says is "never boring" and "full of surprises," and Rachel, her sister, who "is one of the strongest people . . . [the boot] needed to be gorgeous, fun, and tough." Even the colors Dopp choses, she said, "correlate to my life's story."
As her popularity grew, Dopp—who initially operated a showroom out of her house—found the perfect storefront on Allston Way in Berkeley, right off Shattuck's main drag. She said the building is "exactly the architecture [she] was looking for, large arched windows, and small." Finding a retail space was necessary, as Dopp has found that her products sell better when people have a chance to try the shoes on. But running the store comes in a close second to the actual creative process, of which Dopp said, "I draw all the time. I rework constantly. I'm always touching leather and thinking of what I want to next. I try to cut myself off while designing and stay in my world of art books and music; put some lilies on the table and create."
A self-described "one-woman show," Dopp may consider branching out to include styles for men, or even kids in the future, but for now, she's focused on women's footwear.
"I look forward to adding more styles to the collection, including a flat soon," she said. "I love what I do and only hope others will enjoy my product as much as I do."
Shop the DOPP shoes collection online at www.Dopp.city or in person at 2115 Allston Way, Berkeley.
As a 10-year-old growing up in St. Louis, Mo., designer Kristina Lacson McConnico's father taught her to use a sewing machine, a skill he had learned from his mother. Making clothes was a family affair. McConnico's mother operated a dressmaking business in the Philippines. Her own mother and aunt were always making clothing and costumes for McConnico and her sister.
"There was always a sewing project in the works," McConnico said.
In the summers, she preferred to spend her time planning and constructing her wardrobe for the next season. So it only makes sense that McConnico has dedicated herself to her clothing line, Lacson Ravello.
McConnico brings serious chops to her business. She has worked for such heavyweight retailers as Gap and Bebe, among others, which gave her valuable experience. There are a lot of balls to keep in the air, from production to marketing.
"I gained experience in designing and developing a line on a mass scale which . . . has helped immensely with developing and producing a product on my own," she said.
However, there is a downside to big business. For McConnico, working in design at a large company meant having one's initial ideas revised and changed such that they strayed from the initial vision.
"What was once an original idea from a designer's head may not even be recognizable at the end. As a 'solopreneur,' I'm in the driver's seat for producing my vision. It's not always a smooth ride, and I have to take ownership for the pitfalls," she said.
While designing clothing and running a business may be challenging, McConnico is in it all the way. She takes inspiration from a range of sources, such as the people she comes across in everyday life; her childhood in the '70s and '80s, French fashion trends; and, of course, there's that California casual influence. She said her spring 2019 collection is "a fresh take on the '70s . . . Donna Summer in her 'On the Radio' days. Instead of going to MacArthur Park, she takes to the streets of the Marais." Above all, she said, "The pieces must be versatile and practical as well—and can be dressed up or down. I call it 'effortless style.'" Eschewing fast fashion. McConnico sources her fabric from all over, importing natural blends, sustainable fibers, and deadstock fabrics from Europe or Asia. She likens it to a "treasure hunt:" It's fun but challenging, too.
While Oakland may not be New York City's fashion district, McConnico said, "We are fortunate to live in the Bay Area, which has an existing apparel manufacturing infrastructure . . . It's great to see that they're working with both small and big brands. We are also lucky to live within a community of consumers and stores that appreciate and seek out locally made products."
And although the designer has no immediate plans to open a brick-and-mortar store, she will continue to sell directly to consumers and also via in-store pop-ups. You can take a look at, try on, and purchase Lacson Ravello's spring line at Dandelion Post in Oakland, Rue Atelier in Berkeley, and Onyx in San Francisco. Or visit the shop online: www.LacsonRavello.com.
The beauty of fashion is that there's something for everyone. And surely, the industry has its pain points, but Ron Eclarinal and Morgan Brow, co-founders and co-designers of DWNSTRS clothing brand are choosing to focus on the positive aspects: the ways our garments can offer comfort as well as expression. The duo first met at work, where, as they note on their website, they were "creating product for an office culture [they] couldn't relate to." When asked to elaborate on that sentiment, Eclarinal said, "We don't relate to the general tech culture or aesthetic; you don't need nine pockets to hold your phone and a lipstick and your iPad and a burrito, and not every shirt needs to be a vehicle for a gimmick. We think clothing should get back to basics: good design that lasts."
It's something that many modern designers would agree with.
Their nascent line—they started discussing the idea of a clothing brand in January 2018—is populated by basic, seasonless items like tanks, shirts, pants, sweats, and more, all presented in neutral, everyday tones. In this time when inclusive fashion is finally reaching the mainstream consumer, all of DWNSTRS' designs are meant to be unisex.
"There are so many challenges in creating a garment that will reach across a huge variety of sizes and body types," Eclarinal said. "But we're committed to it and pushing forward with solutions." He added that he and Brow have "similar tastes in certain clothing, so it makes sense to incorporate this while designing our lines. We began by dreaming up a uniform style that allowed for gender to become neutral . . . Clothing is an identifier first, and we were interested in the idea of blurring that initial perception."
As with many up-and-coming designers, the duo is committed to producing their wares locally and in small batches.
"Our materials are all sourced from U.S.-based mills and suppliers," Eclarinal said. Pieces that are not created in their studio are "sewn in the San Francisco Bay Area at factories we've had relationships with for years." This allows them to create 10 to 20 pieces in each style, and to get from conception to production within six months,—something that would be unheard of from an incorporated fashion line outside of fast-fashion heavy-hitters like Forever 21 or Zara.
The brand is still expanding with Eclarinal and Brow currently working on their spring 2019 line. Collaboration is welcome.
"Let us know if you're interested in fitting some styles with us so we can nail it," Eclarinal said.
You can shop DWNSTRS at www.DWNSTRSBrand.com or keep up with DWNSTRS on Instagram at @dwntrsbrand for news about new items and pop-ups. Expect to find DWNSTRS at the next Renegade Craft Fair.