Indie Interview: Blakely Bass, owner R.A.G.

If you’re into indie fashion in San Francisco, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of R.A.G., a Hayes Valley boutique that rents rack space to an ever-changing crew of local designers. This month, R.A.G. is closed for renovations and a thorough “greening.” In the meantime, you can learn more about the store’s owner Blakely Bass and what to expect when the store reopens at the end of March.

In the midst of her renovation process, Bass took a break to talk to SF Indie Fashion. Check it out. If you’d like to be interviewed by SF Indie Fashion, get in touch.

First, tell me about the remodel you’re doing on the store. What can customers and designers expect to see when you’re done with the space?

The remodel will have taken a month from start to finish (late Feb to late March) but it will be well worth it because it involves almost the entire greening of RAG. I had originally thought about becoming an SF Green (certified) Business in November 2006 and had filled out the application which required that my business comply with all applicable regulations, conserve energy, water and other resources and become an environmentally responsible business within our community. This meant for example, using recycled copy paper, reusable mugs, nontoxic cleaners and a percentage of compact/low voltage fluorescent lighting, among other suggestions. I started doing more online research until I discovered reams of tissue paper for bagging clothing that was 100 percent recycled and non-bleached and referring to green business listings (on www.sfenvironment.com) until I had come across local green building resource centers such as The Green Fusion Design Center in San Anselmo. I knew that my store was in great need of painting and repairs to aging wood throughout the store (the building having been built between the years of 1895-1906) and a whole new fresh new look so I decided to take my chances now and close during the rainy season to do the remodel. To start off, I began by purchasing low and no VOC(volatile organic compound) paints to paint the entire store (more expensive but less odor and better for the environment) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) redwood to trim out the entire facade of the store and inside above and around the front door. In the next 2 weeks I am also working with the SF Green Business program and PG&E’s new green team who are coming into RAG to give lighting suggestions and rebates for better energy efficient lighting. Upon reopening RAG, I will be using my newly purchased green cleaning solutions and am preparing to properly dispose of old paints and chemicals according to SF Department of the Environment’s suggestions.

I believe too that my customer base will appreciate the “greening” of RAG and will feel more at home and cozy in the space once it has a new color palette of light yellowish-greens, light blues and natural wood grains.

Let’s backtrack a bit. I’ve read about how you launched R.A.G. several years ago, but I’m curious about your inspiration. Have you always been interested clothing? Retail? Design? What was it that gave you that ah-ha, I want to do this moment?

Honestly, I was never a clothes horse growing up and became interested a year before I opened RAG (2001-2002) in attending sample sales/trunk shows in SF. I had several friends and their friends who I visited at different sales and after about a year formulated the RAG store concept. I had asked 15-20 designers around town what they thought about having a store that better showcased their designs as local designers by renting their separate racks in a gallery-like setting and displaying biographies in store and on a store website. They were all thrilled with this idea of a “Residents Apparel Gallery” since most of the local boutiques didn’t just carry local designers and you couldn’t tell which lines were local designers and which were from LA or Toronto in most stores. I really liked

this part of the artistic community too and I wanted to help these new friends out. It was during that year of 2002 that I went home to the Florida countryside to ask my mother to sit down with me for a couple intense weeks of “sewing boot camp.” After all, she had made beautiful dresses for herself in the 60’s and 70’s and dresses for me as a child. I

came out with a better understanding of following patterns and the lingo used.

Later on, in owning RAG I began to realize that it wasn’t just helping our starving artists here in our community but it was also really doing a community service. By using only local designers who design and produce in the Bay Area I am helping employ more people locally in the manufacturing process and helping reduce the amount of fossil fuels being used in shipping- not much different then consumers buying from local food growers. I could also be sure that child and slave labor were not being used. In summer 2005, I participated in Global Exchange’s Sweat Free Coalition and spoke in front of the board of supervisors at City Hall in support of factory workers getting paid a living wage. Needless to say, I was thrilled that my formative years in high school and college green clubs weren’t the only environmental causes I had worked on so far.

Do most of the designers you showcase at R.A.G. come to you? Or do you actively seek new designers out? If so, where do you look for them?

When I first started RAG I really hit the burgeoning sample sale circuit which is usually held at clubs and bars and had posted ads on Craigslist.org but as time went on designers heard about RAG from word-of-mouth and I have now circulated in 350 new and old designers since 2002. I plan on attending more sample sales in 2007 and also upon

Re-opening RAG I will be carrying fewer designers each month at RAG to better showcase fewer people. In the last year I have also began selling my own designs at RAG and have participated in 3 or 4 sample sales around town.

What changes, if any, have you seen in the San Francisco independent design scene in recent years?

I have definitely noticed that there are more sample sale events and more stores opening that are catering to local designers since I have opened. I have also watched 5 designers in RAG go on to open their own stores for their line in the Bay Area.

What’s your favorite thing about San Francisco’s independent design landscape?

I really love the diversity of tastes and designs. It is really fantastic that you can dress like you want here; you can follow the trends or create your own ones.

What would you like to see change?

I would like to see more fabric being shipped here and even produced here. This would help to bring back more manufacturing and the garment industry. But due to high rents in the Bay Area that may not happen again.

Give us your thoughts on Hayes Valley as a neighborhood. It’s changed a lot in the last few years. What do you think about the changes?

I think that the changes to Hayes Valley are mostly good. We now have a park and no ugly freeway off ramp. There is a little less crime but it definitely still exists and won’t go away completely. There are more restaurants and unique concept design stores; however with the beautification comes higher rents and that worries me.

Where do you shop for clothing?

I shop from RAG and occasionally buy non-local designers from my friends who own stores locally to keep them in business too!

What item in your closet have you owned the longest?

Embarrassingly it would have to be some of my old bras from high school!

What advice would you give others who want to start boutiques in San Francisco?

I would tell them to find a niche in the clothing market that hasn’t been done yet and open your store in or near a shopping district. Also, I would now tell them to try and go green!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

“Remember To Think Global, Buy Local!”

About RAG

In 2002, Residents Apparel Gallery became one of the nation’s first co-op style boutiques, where local clothing and accessory designers rent their own rack or shelf monthly to test out new designs on the public. Designers here are encouraged to display promotional materials including signage and biographies to develop merchandising and branding for their products. RAG has become both an incubator as well as host to a supportive design community that shares advice and resources.

The RAG co-op offers a wide array of items including jewelry, clothing, handbags and wallets, hats, and kids items, housing designs by 60+ designers monthly. There is no specific taste instead RAG chooses to showcase a wide range of styles, from seams-out one-of-a kind clothing pieces to very tailored ready-to-wear lines. We believe in the need to represent the diverse and unique styles here in our own local community.

Since 2002, RAG has rented space to over 300 emerging and independent local designers!

The RAG co-op was conceived of by Blakely Bass, an environmentalist at heart and sewing enthusiast.

For more info please contact b(at)ragsf(dot)com

R.A.G.

Residents Apparel Gallery

541 Octavia St.

San Francisco, CA 94102

415-621-7718

  • mariele williams

    wow i just typed in google, san fran indie sewing seen and didnt think that iwould come accross anyting remotley as cool as what you are doing. i am getting ready to move to san fran in the fall to attend a design school and cannot wait to stop in and check out your store. i have two lines of clothes that i design and sew made out of all recylced materials that i sell here in missoula mt. i was hoping there was somthing out there like RAg to look forward to discovering in san fran. Congradulations on running an eath friendly, design hotspot!!!!

    mariele in montana

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