While Bay Street has become a main Emeryville attraction, it's not typically known for housing retailers with local flair — it's the place you go to shop at familiar stores like The Gap and Uniqlo — but one local designer has dared to set up shop among the proliferation of chain stores and name brands. Yetunde Olukoya, owner and designer at Ray Darten (the store's name is a combination of the names of Olukoya's three children), has brought some color and uniqueness to this shopping destination.
Olukoya opened the store in November 2018, after existing as an online-only brand for the two years previous. The path from designer to business owner to store owner happened quickly. While attending medical school, Olukoya said she "would take apart clothes, make new styles out of them, and I also made multiple outfits for myself, family, and friends with my mom's sewing machine." As a mother, she kept this industriousness going, making whatever came to her mind, using the brand's noticeable Ankara cloth (Ankara is a traditional African cloth) in a range of vibrant prints and patterns. After her young daughter requested a dress, too, Olukoya started to design mommy-and-me outfits, and later, she said, "With the relentless support of my family, I took the bold step of sharing this passion with the world, and I'm loving every minute of it."
While Olukoya's designs begin as sketches, creating them is a family affair. She runs ideas by family and makes adjustments based on their input. Once a design is set, she works with fabric suppliers and production facilities. All of this is typical for any designer, but in Ray Darten's case, all the fabric for the designs is sourced in Nigeria and other West African countries, and production takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, where each piece is made by hand. Of this, Olukoya says it "represents a fundamental pillar of our vision as not just storytellers of African elegance but also playing a role in helping drive its economy." Giving back to Africa is a top concern for the brand and its proprietor. Ray Darten regularly donates to and support initiatives to provide children in Lagos with educational supplies and toiletries. Olukoya said she understands that her brand represents a form of storytelling and sharing Africa's rich heritage.
Opening the Bay Street storefront has been exciting, and Olukoya is happy to have put down retail roots in the Bay Area.
"The Bay Area represents a very special place to our brand. It was the first place I ever sold my handmade pieces I had been sewing for months," she said. "It also represents the first place we had our first fashion show and pop-up shop event. The love was so real, the words of encouragement, wisdom, the heartfelt prayers continue to be a motivation to me."
Olukoya's decision to establish a Bay Street location was intentional. "We also made a conscious decision to make our first location easily accessible to all parts of the Bay area, and Bay Street stood out as the No. 1 location."
The brand's eye-catching designs are not for the faint of heart, but they are worth taking a chance on. With affordable prices and items for men, women, and children in a range of sizes, the wares are not to be missed and are meant to be worn.
"While the designs are stylish and classy, I make sure they're versatile and comfortable as well," Olukoya said. Ray Darten, 5663 Bay St., Emeryville, www.RayDarten.com.
Many are familiar with Alameda's Crown Memorial State Beach, so before or after your next beach day activities, take some time to explore Alameda's up-and-coming West End business district. On your wanderings, stop into J. Gallerie and J. Couture, twin business on Webster Street near the famous Pinball Museum. Both opened fairly recently (J. Couture opened in 2018; J. Gallerie in 2019), and they present an opportunity to support the local Alameda economy.
The local economy is especially important to the stores' owners, husband-and-wife team Joann Guiarte and Bobeck Parandian.
"Our goal for economic development on the West End of Alameda is one of the reasons behind opening the stores," Guiarte said.
Each represents an area of passion; J. Gallerie carries art, antiques, and modern furniture, while J. Couture lives up to its name with a range of vintage and modern clothing and accessories. Both accept consignment and carry items sourced by Guiarte and Parandian.
To keep the community engaged, J. Gallerie hosts "Art and Wine" on the third Friday of every month 6-10 p.m. to "showcase the local artists and their art along with guest pop-up chefs to serve light bites and wine parings by sommelier Pierre Gulick."
If you still need convincing, Guiarte said, "The West End downtown district is up and coming. Eclectic stores can be found on this street that cater to all." J. Couture and J. Gallerie, 1517 Webster St., Alameda, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Partly a place of mourning, and partly a place of wonder, The Chapel of the Chimes at the end of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland is a necessary stop on any urban explorer's tour of The Town. Entering its 110th year, the columbarium has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. In honor of this benchmark the Chapel has partnered with the Love UR Community Network (www.2LURC.net) and the Oakland Branch of the NAACP to launch Thursday After Next, a night market that takes place at the Chapel on the second Thursday of every month.
Kim White, office manager at the Chapel of the Chimes said, "Thursday After Next features 24 local farmers, six food trucks, and numerous artists, crafters, and specially selected small businesses will participate. There will be fun for all ages."
Thursday After Next is primarily a fundraising event.
"These fundraising efforts benefit college-bound youth, at-risk young adults, and underserved men and women of the diverse social economic communities around the greater Bay Area," White said.
If you want to leave the kids at home, or haven't got them in the first place, Thursday After Next also features a 21+ VIP art installation and entertainment lounge which, as White says, will feature tapas treats, beverages, live music, and much more.
Learn more about Thursday After Next at the LURC website, www.2LURC.net. Each event takes place on the second Thursday of every month 5-9 p.m., rain or shine.
Ray Darten puts bright, bold designs on the backs and bodies of its customers. Photo courtesy Ray Darten.