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Stunning Styles From Seek Collective and Love, Iguehi | Introducing two design-forward labels and saying goodbye to Alchemy Bottle Shop. By Nana K. Twumasi

Seek Collective, designer Carol Miltimore's collection of clothing and textiles, was inspired in part by a trip to India. Miltimore traveled to the country on a one-way ticket to attend an artist's residency program and while she was there, she made her way around the country for a few months meeting with various textile producers.

Having worked for a number of big-name brands, such as Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, and Converse, Miltimore was searching for more of an authentic and personal connection between the clothing she was designing and wearing with the manufacturing of the clothing. Since those early days in 2012, Miltimore said, "The dream was and continues to be creating clothing in a way that has a transparent and responsible production chain while retaining a style that is modern, artistic, sophisticated, effortless, playful, and versatile."

Seek Collective offers a collection of beautiful, visually interesting and unique prints you won't find anywhere else. At their online store, you'll find everything from cloth napkin sets, scarves, and clothing for every part of your body, including dresses, tops, and pants. It is truly a slow-fashion brand, and Miltimore designs all the textiles and clothing items, seeing them through many versions before landing on the right one.

"For the prints, the designs are hand carved into wooden blocks and the fabric is printed by hand one block at a time. The handloom weaves often take at least two months to complete," Miltimore said.

After finalizing designs at her studio in Berkeley, Miltimore has her wares sewn in India, where she works with a women-owned factory in South India (she also sources her fabrics in India). Instead of just handing off her designs to a large factory to source everything, she works directly with s smaller but immensely skilled communities that include handloom weaving communities, hand block printers, and natural dyers.

In 2017, Miltimore decided to make a change in her business; whereas most brands produce larger seasonal collections (usually twice a year), she decided that the industry norm didn't suit her production abilities. "At the end of 2017," she said, "I began creating small capsules that launch every month or two, instead of one larger seasonal collection. This way of doing things makes the most sense while working with techniques and craft communities that require so much time so that production is spaced out and more manageable. [Creating] smaller capsules of special pieces that are ultimately seasonless is also more in tune with how I believe the apparel industry should be operating."

There's a lot in store for Seek Collective. In addition to new capsule launches every month or other month, Militmore plans "new small batch products created from leftover post-production so that Seek Collective is zero waste." Though the brand is still growing, it's still operated by a small team, and Miltimore is "constantly striving to find better ways to produce as I believe there is always room for improvement, whether it is through design or environmental standards. It's a continuous process, and I love growing with everyone who is a part of the Seek community." Shop seek collective online at www.SeekCollective.com and follow at @seekcollective on Instagram.

Loud Colors, Rich Patterns

As the child of Nigerian immigrants, Iguehi James always felt a deep affinity for the traditional clothing and fabrics of her home culture. The designer and owner of Love, Iguehi, James said, "I was always exposed to our cultural clothing and always love and respected it … but I also wanted to fit in with my American friends, so I assimilated by way of wearing 'American'-style clothing."

Fast forward many years, and finally the fashion industry caught up with James's appreciation of traditional West African print fabrics. The loud colors and rich patterns first began to see a renewed popularity around 2013, when James noticed many people selling a particular style of voluminous maxi skirts in a range of familiar prints. At the time, the Oakland native was on a budget and purchasing an expensive skirt was an unjustifiable expense. So, she did what anyone with an enterprising mind would do — she made her own.

"I watched some instructional videos on YouTube and discovered my mom had a brand-new sewing machine that she wasn't using. I was so excited; I pulled an all-nighter to finish it." James posted the final product on her social media account and among the encouraging comments, her friends requested they make a skirt for them, too — and soon what began as a hobby turned into a business.

Prior to Love, Iguehi's official launch in 2016, James worked in the health care industry and had never sewed anything before. As of 2018, she transitioned out of the health care industry to focus full time on her brand. The designer doesn't have any formal training in design or production; she intuits the process

"I feel that I have a God-given gift and need to pursue this business," she said.

James tends to sketch her designs right onto the fabric. As a self-taught designer, she said her process is iterative, explaining, "I tend to go through a lot of material before landing on a final design."

It's through this that James delivers her most sought-after designs — in addition to the famed maxi skirt, she also offers an off-the-shoulder crop top, a convertible wrap that can be worn as a dress, top, and skirt, as well as accessories like scarves, head wraps, and clutches. She gets her fabrics from suppliers in New York City and London, as well as directly from Nigeria, since her parents visit frequently and bring back the raw materials.

James has plans to expand her brand to incorporate menswear, and she'll be hosting pop-ups and attending craft fairs and festivals (like this month's Black Joy Parade) so that her customers can get familiar with her offerings. James said she loves that her brand often serves as an introduction to bolder colors and prints.

"I get a lot of interest from people who have not previously worn these types of prints. But my design is contemporary, and I design with the understanding that whatever item a customer takes home needs to fit in with the rest of their wardrobe."

James enjoys being a "safe introduction to these bold styles," and James maintains that there is a lot of "Oakland grit" woven into the fabric of her brand.

"It's so easy for entrepreneurs to get frustrated, like we're working in a vacuum, but I keep loving what I do because of the love I receive from my customers."

Shop Love, Iguehi online at www.LoveIguehi.com and at @loveiguehi.

A Boozy Goodbye to Alchemy

It can be hard to say goodbye to favorite retail establishments, but in a changing and changeable environment, sometimes we must. Now's time to bid adieu to Alchemy Bottle Shop, which closed after six years in business. The shop was a Grand Lake neighborhood favorite for finding unique liquors, wines, and beers and was a great place to discover new brands and flavors via weekly in-store tastings, liquor clubs, and curated tasting parties.

While owners Peter and Tova Mustacich threw their whole selves into Alchemy, they acknowledge that owning and a running a business while maintaining a high standard can be taxing. When the Mustaciches announced the store's closing, there was an outpouring of support, but, as Tova noted, "we appreciate that everyone is sad to see us go, but we also feel a little relieved."

With a young daughter and Peter getting back into a 9-to-5 workday as an engineer, the couple felt stretched. In an announcement via Instagram, the owners said, "Making the decision to sell has been one of the most difficult we've ever faced. Alchemy was truly a labor of love, but since becoming parents, our priorities have changed, and a work situation that doesn't allow us the time or space to care for ourselves and our family in exactly the way we want to is no longer an option."

After an appropriately boozy good-bye, Alchemy closed its doors on Dec. 29.

Tova is looking forward to having some time off but after that will transition into full-time work as a doula, a career that she's been pursuing on the side for most of the past year. Alchemy may come back in a different form — although Tova and Peter are not involved in the storefront›s next iteration. 

"We're really sad to be leaving this community that we love so much but are grateful to be leaving on a high note with so much support from our customers. We're excited to see the store grow and evolve with its new owners, and to see this dynamic neighborhood continue to thrive."

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Seek Collective's strongest point is its interesting prints. Photo courtesy Seek Collective.