In the heart of the Mission on Valencia Street between 21st and 22nd is a boutique called DEMA, which for nearly fourteen years has been keeping stylish Bay Area ladies gussied-up in modern women’s clothing with a vintage vibe.
Dema Grim, owner and namesake, designs and crafts her own clothing which she sells in the shop and can oftentimes be found in her workshop in the back of DEMA, where she creates patterns and cuts fabric. In addition to showcasing her own creations, Dema seeks out other designers with a unique voice that fit well with the atmosphere of the shop. Among them are clothing lines Vkoo, Cardigan, Subtle Luxury and Red 23.
Walking inside DEMA is like stepping out of a time machine into a very hip, punky-mod alternate dimension, with vintage posters, kitschy-cool furniture and racks and racks of colorful and boldly-patterned skirts, dresses, blouses and accessories. Plastic BearBricks stand on a shelf near the dressing room area dressed with Sex Pistols cover art (“They can be customized with whatever, Dema tells us, “I’ve seen Fendi ones…”) while neat stacks of folded sweaters lay atop a crescent-shaped table.
We got a chance to interview Dema via email while she was getting some R&R up in the Russian River Valley. Read on for her thoughts about getting started in the biz, where she gets her inspirations and what looks she’s loving for fall.
Are you originally from the Bay Area? Do you believe your environment influences your style?
I was raised in Seattle, where I started my clothing line; moved to NYC in 1989 and enjoyed some success- selling to lots of small influential boutiques around the country as well as Barneys; moved to SF in 1994 with a lot of these shops, including Barneys, owing me a LOT of money and decided to open my own shop and stop doing wholesale in 1997. The one exception to this is M.A.C., with whom I’ve been collaborating for almost 20 years!
I believe that environment absolutely influences my style. In New York, I made much dressier, more tailored things. Suits, lots of black,etc. Being in San Francisco, and the Mission district in particular, has relaxed my style and made it more colorful. I really think that in the last 5 or 6 years I have found my voice, as it were, in regards to mixing color and pattern.
How did you get started in the fashion industry?
I did not go to a fashion school, rather I cobbled an education together by working in theater doing costumes, at alterations shops where I learned about fit and from a woman who taught pattern making in her living room. I did take a sewing class and a basic draping class at Seattle City College. I just bought the textbooks and taught myself!
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’m very inspired by the 60s and rock and roll. I was quite the mod punk in my teen years! The 60s was a time of new freedoms from restriction for young women. The mini skirts and racing around on scooters etc! But also, on a practical level, the fabrics I find really push me in a particular direction. I think my line reflects a modern interpretation of vintage classics done in unexpected patterns or textures.
Who is your typical client? If you could dress any person, celebrity or not, living or dead, who would it be?
My typical client is me! 35-45, wanting to still look cool and relevant but also age appropriate.
I have a real soft spot for Jean Seberg. She was so perfectly gamine. My perfect blend of tomboy and girly. I live in skinny jeans and Keds and had just the same short haircut for a lot of my life and have always admired the girls who race around town on their scooters. I may stray into other eras, but I always come back to this sort of girl in my head.
What is your favorite trend for Fall?
Having said that, my favorite Fall trend is turning out to be the midi-skirt. I’ve done a great below the knee 4-gored skirt with a sort of 40’s flip to it. Very flattering to lots of figures and a very fresh length! This is turning out to be a very popular skirt for Fall. I’ve also done a very classic late 50’s dress with a little cap sleeve, pleated neckline and fitted skirt that looks great on almost everyone and works well in many different fabrics from daytime wools to silky evening prints.
Where do you like to shop in the city?
I don’t shop for clothes too much around town. I have a hard time buying anything I could make! But shoes and sweaters are definitely allowed: Gimme Shoes, Rabat, Bulo, Shoe Biz, etc.
DEMA has been in the Mission for nearly 14 years — what kind of changes have you noticed? Has the clientele and store changed in that time?
Boy have I seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood. I opened in 1997, and there was very little on Valencia besides used clothing and furniture shops. Then came the DotCom years, and I was very successful…When the bubble burst it was quite an eye-opener. Then things stabilized for a bit, and then this current recession started three years ago! I’ve seen so many shops come and go. I worked very hard to keep American Apparel off of Valencia even though we had so many empty storefronts. I just knew it would change the “indie” attitude of the neighborhood. And now almost every storefront is filled with interesting retail concept shops or great restaurants. For a while there were tons of indie clothing design places as well, although we lost a few to the recession. I would love for this neighborhood to be known as the place to come for small production clothing shops.
What are your goals for the future of DEMA?
I imagine DEMA to remain a fairly small enterprise. I’m pretty happy with my little design incubator and with the collaborations with MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing). I’m certainly busy enough! I would love to get something going besides my blog so my fans across the country could buy DEMA online.
If you didn’t have to work, where would you be right now?
When I’m not working, you’ll find me either poking around Europe or in my garden wrangling the roses or walking my three dogs around Bernal Heights!
DEMA is celebrating its 14th year on Valencia, so don’t forget to stop in and say “Happy Birthday!”
Photography courtesy of Alexandra Naughton