Clothes to the Edge: How hell on earth is affecting our outfits

A merely two-year-old polemic documenting the clothing industry’s contributions to catastrophic climate change via “just-in-time” inventory methods that fast-fashion retailers like Urban Outfitters rely upon has been rendered out-of-touch by pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions. That’s evidenced in news photos of queued-up container freights at California shipping ports. And Urban Outfitters, on Bancroft, was already shuttered during Covid lockdown. At this pace, one might conclude an apocalypse is not pending, but has already safely arrived in our world.

It’s turbulent for us sapiens, but life could get worse if second-, third- and fourth-responders burn out. First-responders are already depleted from resignations of police and nurses in the face of vaccine mandates. To replenish their ranks, it seems we must carry on.

But how? The first half of author Dana Thomas’ Fashionopolis introduction would have any reader so scared of clothing’s effect on the environment she might clamor for nudity mandates. Un-recycled garments apparently destroy human habitat with water-hoarding fabric fiber crops grown in countries without labor rights. Alas, there is a way: local clothiers are harnessing the regional intimacy ballooned by Covid-virus travel quarantines with a repurposeful panache as only Bay buyers can.

An example of reuse raised high beyond thrifting-to-chic is the four-week-old retail space occupied three nights per week by father-and-son-run Diffusion Studios on 2315 Telegraph Ave.

Alexander Avilez, a Bay Area native, ran his clothing store through Instagram for years. Finally, through coordinating with Neyborly real estate leases, Avilez is realizing his dream of a brick-and-mortar “art gallery” used-T store. Avilez and his son Brandyn source shirt and denim inventory with a developed eye for pop culture and art history. They are curators who mine estate sales and swap meets for concert Ts, 1990s movie-tome long-sleeves, even Chuck Jones-animation hoodies. They offer graffiti garments on cotton so vintage and weathered one “Zephyr”-tagged T brought to the register by a London tourist appears to someone who doesn’t understand its synthetic weave as if it might dissolve in a gust of wind. “That’s not for sale, but is merely for display,” Alexander told customer Justine Breier this month when she hoped to buy it for her 12-year-old son. Like a painting, this priceless collector’s T had a title, “SOUND AND FUSION.”

That London shopper was no outsider, however. Breier’s connection to that crew of taggers is one generation removed, yet personal. Zeyphr (Andrew Witten)—once written up in a 1980 Village Voice article lamenting urban blight—inspired the proteges she ran with years after the former’s first appearance in the press.

Speaking of Village Voice and the disappearing press: visible this fall at clothiers are reading libraries of vintage magazines for shoppers to flip through but not buy, including at 510 skate-wear shop on at 2506 Telegraph Ave. And a purple T composed by a late San Francisco graffiti “writer,” the tagger who went by “ORFN,” hangs on Diffusion Studio’s walls. Alexander describes ORFN as a local artist “who was once on the cover of SF Weekly,” which shuttered two weeks ago.

Said Breier’s friend and fellow expat Fiona Flynn, “my ex-boyfriend’s art school classmate was Barry McGhee,” and while she lost touch with that love interest and moved east, McGhee’s career after graduating from San Francisco Art Institute flourished.

Also threading generations via garments is a UC Berkeley freshman from an adjacent socio-geographical milieu. Imagine Napoleon Dynamite, but hot. Tall, under a mop of curls, Mark Verzhbinsky had so much style it peaked from beneath his long slacks, even in these face-masked times.

On Verzhbinsky’s feet were custom-made Rick Owens-inspired boots he’d ordered online with special instructions that the Northern Mexico cobbler attach a wooden heel. Verzhbinsky’s heel twist resembles Elton John’s 1970’s look depicted in 2019’s “Rocketman.” And weeks before Covid lockdown, using a before-times February 2020 birthday-gift sewing machine, Verzhbinsky constructed two identical jackets—one of which has already sold through Instagram—using materials he bought at a remnant super retailer called “Scrap” in the San Francisco Bayview neighborhood.

Verzhbinsky found, at Scrap, fabric from a more wasteful time—the year 2014, actually. The late artist Al Hirschfeld’s drawing of San Francisco art collector—and oil heir—Gordon Getty was silk-screened onto hundreds of chair slip covers for just one San Francisco Symphony event, Getty’s 80th birthday.

But the jackets are now of this time. The East Bay’s dressed pedestrians are living their cultural history via the clothes on their back in a style that helms from graffiti, which itself may derive from proto-taggers of the 20th century whose paintings hang framed on Diffusion Studio’s walls: Keith Haring, Barry McGhee, miro and Picasso.

A customer in 510 proudly showed the store owner his black hoodie adorned with that store’s iconic logo he’d drawn himself freehand and filled in with his custom color choices. The 1990’s-drawn logo, which could be recognized just by its silhouette, was drawn by the Bay’s Benny Gold.

Diffusion Studios, the Sneaker Shop and their neighbors are hosting a car-free Grateful Dead block party on Sunday, Oct. 24.
AJ Fishhttps://twitter.com/aljfish
A.J. Fish is a Bay Area freelance reporter.
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