To "gather" means to "come together, assemble, or accumulate." It also means to collect items from various sources and bring them together. Both of these meanings express the philosophy of Gather, a workshop space where participants can, as co-owner Daisy Mclellan said, "make and buy beautiful things for [their] gatherings." A joint effort by husband-and-wife team Daisy and Christian Mclellan, Gather spent the first five years of its life in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood as a combination retail and workshop studio. While the Mclellans loved the community there and the neighborhood, some life changes as well as the lease on their storefront coming up for renewal made the couple pause and consider whether it was time to make changes to the business. "Ultimately we decided to close the retail portion of the business down and move the workshop component closer to where we live in the East Bay," Mclellan said.
Gather is now at 421 40th St. where it shares an address with Dandelion Post boutique (which recently relocated from its Telegraph Avenue location in Temescal). The partnership, Mclellan said, developed long before either store existed. "Jamie, the owner of Dandelion Post and [I] have worked together in the past," she said, adding the Dandelion post owner "knew we were looking for a new space in the East Bay." Dandelion Post's new space happened to have an extra studio space attached, and this space ended up being perfect for Gather's new, workshop-based focus.
"It is the ideal location for us," Mclellan said. "The neighborhood has so much to offer our students, with amazing restaurants and shops and the BART just a few blocks away."
Offering workshops wasn't part of Gather's original plan. When the space the Mclellans initially rented in San Francisco was larger than what they needed, Mclellan said, "We decided to start hosting workshops taught by the makers we carried. After five years of running the two components of the business we found that people we more interested in having a unique community experience making things than just buying things."
The belief that consumers should be more connected to the items they purchase, by way of learning how those products are made, is one that fuels Gather. "For us, taking a workshop is a form of self-care. We don't take enough opportunities in life to learn a new skill, take time away from work and just do something different," Mclellan said.
The Mclellans have no plan to slow down. In the near future, there are many workshops to look forward to, including Candle Making (Aug. 15), Hand Cut Acrylic Earrings (Aug. 26), Sandal Making (Sept. 21), Modern Calligraphy (Sept. 28), and a variety of others. Gather also offers private workshops for team-building activities or special occasions. The space is only open when workshops are in session — but the Mclellans welcome contact if you'd like to take a peek. Check the website at www.GatherSF.com for more info about upcoming workshops and events.
The first thing you see when you visit Aiken's website is a question: "Do you think you can make a difference when you buy beautiful clothes?" It's a question we should all be asking. Owned by Randy Brewer and Fred Whitefield, Aiken is designed to combat the "dirty" apparel industry.
"The apparel business accounts for 10 percent of all greenhouse gases, 20 percent of all industrial water pollution, and 25 percent of all insecticide use in the world," Brewer said. "Aiken's mission is to help clean it up by offering beautiful clothes whose materials, production, and transportation had a lighter impact on our planet."
Brewer has been involved in the fashion industry since 1985 as a buyer for Villains as well as Rolo, independent boutiques in San Francisco. When Brewer decided to open his own store, he wanted it to be about more than just buying the coolest new denim line; he wanted it to reflect his passion for environmental issues and all things green, Brewer said.
Aiken opened in 2009 and carries ethically-made fair-trade goods for men and women. Everything is made in the United States whenever possible and constructed from eco-friendly materials like cotton and Tencel.
"We endeavor to curate a fun selection of casual street wear from brands who believe in protecting the planet. Sustainability comes in many flavors. Made in USA is one aspect of sustainability because it minimizes the impact of greenhouse gases generated by oversees shipping. We also believe in made in USA because it supports our domestic economy and supports American workers," Brewer said.
Brewer and Whitefield love their Fourth Street location. "Fourth Street has a small-town feel," Brewer said, "with its tall shade trees, unique shops and restaurants. It's a great place to shop and hang out. For many years it had been our dream to open a store there."
Given Aiken's sustainable and eco-friendly mission, a lot of planning and deciding goes into which products you'll find in store. Offering a glimpse into his process, Brewer said, "We attend trade shows, research online, and count on friends in the industry to let us know when something relevant comes up. The rule for us is it must be current sellable styling that is also made in a sustainable way. So many eco-friendly lines don't take into account that their product has to have wide appeal to make a difference."
If you have the same concerns about fashion's impact on our planet — and you should — then Aiken is worth a visit. Aiken's owners understand sustainable fashion can be expensive. "Fast fashion might seem like a good deal when you buy it, but the cost for the planet is high, and the life span of that product is short. Buy well-made, long-lasting products that have low impact on the environment and you will make a difference," Brewer noted. In short: You can definitely make an impact with your dollars. Visit Aiken's Berkely location at 1809 Fourth St., which is 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved East Bay business, but we must bid a fond farewell to Berkeley's NEEKO (2505 San Pablo Ave.). The shop, which has occupied a stylish corner of the world for four years, shut down in June. Its owner, Ashley Ford, cited a number of issues that led to her decision, including a lauded secondary store in San Ramon that proved to be a financial drain, as well as the long rainy season this past spring that significantly cut down on foot traffic that NEEKO couldn't recover from.
No matter the reason for shutting NEEKO's doors, Ford has fond memories, and a positive outlook. "My entire adult career has been in this industry, and it holds a special place in my heart. The NEEKO location itself is so special and it's held space in the community for many amazing conversations. Dressing women and getting to know my local ladies is what I'm going to miss most."
While Ford does hope to keep her activities in the industry going in one way or another (NEEKO's Instagram page, @shopneeko, will keep going), she's now turning to more personal pursuits.
"I'm taking some time off to travel," Ford said. "I'm excited to immerse myself in beauty, architecture, and culture … I plan to sharpen my skills in design and excited to see what new avenues to focus my passions in." You can keep tabs on Ford at NEEKO's Instagram account.