S.F. designer Nick Graham teams up with nonprofit Goodwill to recycle fashionably
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Into this golden age of all things eco-friendly comes a quirky new fashion line called William Good.
Nick Graham, the eccentric San Francisco designer and founder of Joe Boxer, the company that gave boxer shorts personality, has teamed up with Goodwill to produce the line, which is made entirely from items from the discard bins.
The clothes can be in bad shape or have no flaws at all - after 30 days on the floor, whatever hasn't sold goes to the discard bins. The other day, Michele Addey, an interior designer turned fashion designer, laid out some old buttons, a pastel striped shawl ("great fringe"), and a stained brown leather jacket on a long workbench. "Look at the lining! It's pristine brown suede. This is absolutely perfect for appliques," she said, as she cut out the figure of a dog.
Addey, along with four others, works out of an old Goodwill on Mission near 19th Street. Their goal is to create about 300 pieces in time for the opening of the first William Good shop in the country, scheduled to open inside the Goodwill on Fillmore and Post streets, in mid-November.
A Fair Isle sweater becomes a cropped halter top. A plaid lumberjack coat will get a new collar and toggle buttons. A multicolored sequined dress with shoulder pads will most likely be re-cut into a little jacket. A little black dress with imperfections is newly embellished with a stuffed swan, a la Bjork.
"She's a total inspiration," Graham says.
Refashioned clothing is nothing new of course. It is, after all, how Banana Republic came to be, in 1978, when San Franciscans Mel and Patricia Ziegler redesigned Army surplus clothes.
What's different here is the green goal. The Bay Area Goodwill is the first in the country to try this pilot project, with the ultimate ambition of taking the line to the mass market and, in the process, saving 75 percent of all its donated items from ending up as landfill.
"We think this will spread across the country," says Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. "It's no accident that the CEO of the New York Goodwill was just here and will be coming back with his production people to look very seriously at this."
Goodwill has expanded in other ways as well, including offering a link to eBay, where it sells more expensive pieces that have been donated, such as a silver and ivory cuff bracelet for about $200. To jump-start the William Good promotion, Graham and Alvarez-Rodriguez flew to Los Angeles last week with about 100 items of the new line for an informal presentation at L.A. Fashion Week. On Nov. 11, the collection will be on sale for a 24-hour period in a temporary pop-up boutique in Los Angeles.
The William Good concept was hatched, pitched and put into production almost as quickly as a runway show whizzes by.
"I was driving by the San Rafael Goodwill one afternoon," Graham said. "Within a block I came up with the name and the concept; within a couple of days, I sent an e-mail to Goodwill. Within a half hour, maybe less, Deborah answered me."
Graham had the fashion muscle to propel the project forward, Alvarez-Rodriguez said. "It was a good fit. We've got the retail outlets, production capabilities and will train workers to do the refashioning, deliveries and office work. He's got the name, the creativity and the passion."
The savvy shopper who is not put off by the inevitable garage sale aura of Goodwill knows that a good eye and open mind is imperative. The William Good line is pretty, um, whimsical, judging from the pilot collection. What's up with all those stuffed animals?
"It's my sensibility of eccentricity, irony and fun," Graham says.
"We have lots of shoppers who love to put together unique ensembles," Alvarez-Rodriguez says. "I think there's a range. If we'd let Nick do it completely by himself, the line would be all quirky. But there are sophisticated things, too. And we are very good at pestering him, in a good way, to make sure deadlines get met. It's a real collaboration." The profits will be split equally, she says.
The prices, ranging from $15 to about $300, will shock the system of the regular Goodwill shopper. "These are one-of-a-kind items!" Graham says. "They're a steal!" A merino wool sweater with simple embellishment might go for $35, a man's button-down with a silk-screened William Good frog logo is $15. On the high end: the cashmere, beaded and fur items. About 50 pieces will also be available at www.shopwilliamgood.com in mid-November.
Graham, one of San Francisco's most recognized designers, founded Joe Boxer in 1985, and sold it to Iconix Inc. in 2005. He now owns 100 Minute Co., which sells branding and retail merchandising services to the apparel industry, and he is a partner in Wonderbrand, a small underwear and sleepwear branding firm.
Alvarez-Rodriguez had heard of Graham but never met him before, but his idea to start a refashioned clothing line was not a foreign one. For the last year or so, she had been working with students and faculty at California College of the Arts on an environmental fashion project. "We had already started to work on a business plan to sell repurposed clothing in our stores and then Nick calls out of the blue," she said. "We called back in, like, five minutes."
(Students from CCA's Environmental Fashion Design class, led by Professor Linda Gross, will be offered internships, or will do class projects with Graham and Goodwill.)
Keeping the concept as green as possible is Graham's main goal. "We're not buying anything new for this project. We're even looking at getting donations of thread. We're being very conscientious. The labels are the only thing that's new."
Why the frog logo?
"I like frogs," he said. "Frogs are the first amphibians to feel the effects of climate change. Another way of looking at it is that one man's frog is another man's prince - we can turn a garment around from a frog to something great."
The same will happen with a portion of the Fillmore Street store that now is rather nondescript. "We're taking 200 square feet of the store and redoing it and making it into a William Good boutique," Graham said. "All the decor will be recycled: The floor of the shop is made from vinyl record albums, the paintings on the wall of clowns and dogs are found art. The racks will be made out of books - they get a lot of books at the Goodwill. We'll just stack them up in two rows and run a bar across it, and that's where we'll hang the clothes."
Alvarez-Rodriguez says she wants to employ 75 to 100 disadvantaged or impoverished people, for whom Goodwill provides job training, to work on the new line.
"I wouldn't be interested in doing this if we couldn't really build this into a viable business. We don't know yet if we can produce 10,000 pieces four times a year ... a million pieces? We're still working that out."
They'll need more creative types for that.
"We're looking for talented young designers," Graham said the other day, before heading over to the Mission Street workshop to peruse a new load of discards. "Nick's direction to us is rather broad," Addey said. "He'll say, give me pink and blue! So, we find pink and blue."
Rather than wait the traditional six months for a line to go into production, Graham says, "We go in and say, I'm going to do this today - it's so refreshing."
The daily discard bins are a constant source of surprises.
"This is basically a great treasure hunt every day," he continued. "We never know when we get to the studio what we're going to design that day. Goodwill is the ultimate recycling machine. They get 23 million pounds of clothing a year here."
E-mail Sylvia Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle