Global villager: Erica Varize

Global villager: Erica Varize

Erica Varize. Photo by Maria Lopez.

Erica Varize, 37, presides over a large clothing store, Evarize, on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, a city where she has lived most of her life. And she just may be her own best advertisement for the clothes she designs. At 4 feet 11, Varize is a tiny woman—but looks much taller when interviewed in a pair of her high-and-wide trousers that land at the natural waist with a gentle bell-bottom. “These trousers make your legs look really long,” she says of the colorful pants, patterned in a swirling red, green, and blue print fabric that’s made by workers in Uganda. “And when you sit down, your behind is not showing out the back.” (She longs, she says, for the end of skinny jeans.)

STYLE: Varize, the mother of two preteens, says she designs for the “hip and sexy soccer Mum” who is mostly in pants during the day and occasionally gets dressed for events. Some pieces in her clothing line (which is called Evarize, like the store) are made with tribal fabrics but have modern lines reflective of the fashionista-pleasing Marni collection this season (though Varize has been doing this look for years). The storefront features her bestseller, the Angelina, an asymmetrical T-shirt top with a dolman sleeve; a new line of grey jumpsuits; loose denim dresses; and long, body-skimming event dresses with deep dramatic backs that glide along the body without clinging—and with forgiving ruching at the waist. Accessories include affordable shell and stone necklaces, scarves, and leather belts and bags.

SALES: Varize’s grandmother gave her a sewing machine when she was 9 and she’s been whirring ever since. She first started creating clothes for sale 12 years ago. In 2005, she launched Evarize; today she not only designs but also sews most of the 30-piece collection herself, with the assistance of interns (there have been 38 to date).

AHA MOMENT: Born to a Japanese-Hawaiian father and an African-American mother, Varize says she felt connected to Africa from an early age. At 19, with a broken heart and “woe is me” attitude, she headed to Guinea to live in a village without running water or electricity. She taught the children, and the adults taught her, she says, about gratitude and jewelry and cloth. She came back determined to incorporate tribal fabric into styles that could be worn daily with ease. “I wanted to show that you didn’t have to be all wrapped in a dress with ginormous puffed sleeves,” she says, referring to a traditional African style.

TEACHING CAREER: Varize supports a school in Uganda, where she sources her fabrics. Closer to home, she has taught sewing and design at Richmond High, Oakland’s Hoover Elementary, and many other schools. Each summer, she leads a sewing and design program for fourth- to 12th-graders that she calls—what else?—Sew What.

PHILOSOPHY: “I really wanted to use my gifts in a way that would change lives. I don’t just want to make pretty dresses—that’s great, but I want there to be a story behind it.”

Designer: Erica Varize (brand name: Evarize)
Evarize Fashion Cafe and Sewing Center, 2700 San Pablo Ave., Ste. 100, Berkeley, (510) 845-0376;
McMullen, 1235 Grand Ave., Piedmont, (510) 658-6906; 831 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 272-9838;
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