How many fashion designers do you know who can win a silver medal in the Olympics and jerry-rig a broken-down car with a paperclip? Well, now you know at least one: James Dawson.
Along with Loretta Nguyen, the designer is one-half of Oakland-based fiftyseven-thirtythree. Best known for their line of hand-stenciled t-shirts and hoodies for men and women, Dawson and Nguyen recently celebrated their 2nd anniversary in the Bay Area independent fashion biz.
We caught up with Dawson to chat about the label, fighting Prop 8, where to score Congee in the East Bay and the designer’s own storied past.
Who is fiftyseven-thirtythree?
Well, mainly it’s James Dawson and Loretta Nguyen. We started it about two years ago out of our warehouse in East Oakland. We print at the Hiero Imperium (hieroglyphics) warehouse, which is also in East Oakland. We’ve expanded a bit, so we have a small, highly-trained and extremely dangerous, badass staff now that includes May, Moy and Narisa.
Of what design or designs are you most proud to have associated with your label?
That’s hard to say. Sometimes the things I like best don’t fly. We do a Stand up against (h)8 shirt and donate the money to Courage Campaign. We’re pretty proud of that because it’s helping to affect change. We’re very opposed to Prop 8. The Japanese Schoolgirl hoodie is one of our favorites. It’s super labor intensive and sometimes when you work really hard on something, you develop a stronger connection to it. Personally my favorite is the Lincoln Selleck tee, which everybody said would fail, because who wants a shirt with Tom Selleck and Abe Lincoln? Apparently lots of people!!!! HAHA, I win, fuckin’ haters.
Tell us why Anna May Wong is a badass chick we should all know and love.
Just wikipedia her. I wouldn’t know where to begin. She was the first Asian American to be in Hollywood films. That doesn’t seem so important now, but this started almost 90 years ago. This country still had miscegenation laws back then. She did so many things that they said couldn’t be done. She was a total rebel, but a very refined and elegant rebel.
In the two years since you launched your business, what has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced in getting your work out to the people?
Just time and staff. You can only do so much in a day. One recurring problem is this: we choose to use only domestically made, sweatshop free apparel. That is much harder than it sounds. There are a much more limited number of producers and manufacturers in this country. Also the cost is much greater. It’s a choice we made a long time ago, and we have stuck to it. I know no work place is perfect or without flaw, but the factories here are regulated to a much higher degree. Also workers have more recourse here if there are practices taking place that are unfair or unsafe.
You’re a proud Oakland-based label. If we had a Saturday afternoon to spend in the E.B., where would you send us?
Cam Huong on International, great Vietnamese sandwiches. Lo Coco’s for Italian on Piedmont Ave – you could order nothing and just eat the bread. It’s that good. Gum Ko in Chinatown has some badass Congee. See, I just work all the time, and when I’m not working, I eat or sleep, so I have no good leisure activities to recommend. Just restaurants.
Tell us something most people are surprised to learn about you.
In 1988, I won a silver medal in men’s badminton at the Seoul Olympics. Also, once my car broke down on the 5th street on-ramp, and I fixed it with a paper clip!!! How fuckin’ Mcgyver is THAT?
Where can we buy fiftyseven-thirtythree?
- RAG in Hayes Valley
- Secession Art Gallery & Design, Mission Statement, Fabric8 in the Mission
- 440 Brannan in SoMa
- Indie Industries in North Beach
- Paragraph in the Sunset
- Trunk in the Lower Haight
- Planet Claire, Vancouver BC
- The Revue Boutique, West Chester PA
- Anonymous Venice, Venice, CA
- Rumors, Richmond, VA
- Dolce Moda, Royal Oaks, Michigan
- Fusion Home Fashion, Plano, TX
- Fawn, Park City Utah
- Sarah Jane and Co., Sacramento
- Just Tees, New Zealand
- Jamarico, Zurich
- Sanctuary Curio, Edmonton, Canada
What’s next for fiftyseven-thirtythree?
Designing, we’re always designing. Probably only 30 percent of what we design never gets made. Other than that, you know, it’s where the day takes you.