Interview with Alyah Baker of Show + Tell Concept Shop

Show + Tell Concept Shop is located in Oakland.

Let's start with the basics - could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Well, I've actually been all over the place, but I'm originally from North Carolina. I went to high school there, and then attended Duke University as a sociology major/dance minor. Basically a week after I graduated - so back in 2003 - I moved to the Bay area on a dance scholarship. I was only supposed to be here for 2 months, but I guess I sort of ended up staying permanently!

My first foray into the world of fashion was a job with the Gap. I started out as a sales associate in North Carolina, then went on to manage a couple of stores. After that I worked in the corporate offices as a merchandiser.

Yeah! I actually love the Gap, which probably isn't a very cool thing to say nowadays.

I know! It's been pretty tough for them lately, but I grew up with the Gap. I think the problem now is that so many stores offer the same 'basics with a twist' which make up the core of the Gap philosophy. You can get a white t-shirt from anywhere, but where are you going to go for that special print, cut, or fabric?

One thing that I think they've done really well is incorporating ethical and sustainable practices into their business model. The clothes are produced in factories that pay workers a living wage, and everything is run up to par with safety standards. There are a lot of big box businesses that don't care about how the product gets made, as long as they can still sell it. So it's really tough because the Gap is competing with a lot of companies that are trying to cut costs to the bare minimum.

Left: The Nneka Print Wrap Dress. Right: Knit t-shirts from Kajan Padraig.

And did those experiences influence your own ideas for Show + Tell?

I’ve always wanted to have my own store, ever since I was a little girl. My strength is in putting outfits together, finding out what customers want and fulfilling their needs. That's where my experience as a merchandiser for the Gap comes in. It's all about having a forward looking view on fashion - seeing how runway trends will trickle down into the mainstream, and translating that into what people want to wear on a day to day basis.

I also met my business partner, Nichole Payton, who I've now known for 8 years, while working at the Gap. Both of us have always wanted to open a store, and we just thought, "Why don’t we do our own thing?" It's sort of strange because at the time the economy was going south, but it definitely put things into perspective. We were getting older, and we needed to seriously start thinking about our future and the legacy we wanted to leave behind. Spending the rest of our lives working for other people definitely wasn't an option, so we decided to open up Show + Tell Concept Shop.

Why did you decide to name your store Show + Tell?

We toyed with a bunch of names, but we really wanted something that reflected our philosophy of wearing your beliefs on the sleeve for the whole world to see. That reminded us of show and tell time back in elementary school, where you talk to the class about an item that really means a lot to you. So what we're "showing and telling" are clothes that are stylish, sustainable, and locally made here in America. We also decided to call it a "concept shop" because we want to be inclusive to all types of people, no matter what their gender, race, or sexuality. Sometimes when guys see the world "boutique" they get intimidated and run off without even giving it a chance!

Top: Colorful purses to brighten up any outfit. Bottom: Monaco Cork Envelope.

Ah, those silly gender norms. You mentioned focusing on sustainable, cause-driven clothing brands - why is this important? Doesn't that just make finding items for the store more difficult?

It does make it pretty difficult, but often times when you find one brand, they'll recommend other sustainable brands. As for why showcasing sustainable clothes is important to us, I figure that we're all connected, so my decision will have an impact on someone else. If I can make a decision with my dollar that will help the environment, or the local community, then that's even better.

Right now we're working to get certified by the Alameda Green Business Association, and in the end it's the little things that can really make a big difference. Recycling things in the store, composting where we can, buying from bands that are responsible, not using excess energy - these are decisions that we not only use in our business, but also in the way we choose to live.

Sometimes it's been a struggle because we'll find a brand that we love and know will sell well, but we've had to turn them down because they don't meet our parameters. All of the brands in our store fall into at least one of five categories (local independent designers, sustainable fashion, cause-driven, ethically sourced and produced, made in the USA) and most fall into all of those categories. If we start getting wishy-washy, then our integrity is compromised.

It used to be that in fashion there was this stigma attached to eco-friendly clothes. People thought that it meant you had to wear burlap sacks, or something equally unflattering. Do you think that this is still true today?

As technology advances, people are just allowed to do so many more things in an eco-friendly way. A lot of people are interested in sustainable fabrics and practices, and they’re making it possible for us to provide top-notch quality clothing. One thing people need to know is that it does cost a little bit more to use a sustainable fabric, it does cost more to make product in United States, but I think everything is worth that additional couple of dollars.

Plus it's just so cool to have a story behind what you’re wearing. When you tell your friend, "Oh yeah, these shoes are made from old tires!" it sounds a lot more interesting than saying I’m wearing a t-shirt that they produced a million of from a big box store.

Through some (un-creepy) Facebook stalking, I noticed that Show + Tell is looking for a partner organization, particularly one that focuses on women or children’s issues. Why are these issues important to you, and how do you think they relate to fashion?

Going back to when we were refining the mission of our store, we didn’t want to be one of those businesses that moves in without helping the community at all. We needed a community tie-in that went beyond what is good for the environment and locally designed. Women and children are two groups that are often times overlooked, and as women we feel really strongly about helping other women and promoting positive self-image.

While we don't have children of our own, we do have nieces and nephews, and we're kind of scared for them. In Oakland you see children who are being impacted by poverty and violence. Those are going to be the future leaders of the world, so you need to start when they’re young – they’ve already been through so much by age 4 and 5, and we can intercept that with some positive reinforcement.

There's not necessarily a strong relationship between fashion and these causes, but it’s what we’re passionate about. We are hoping that we can have some events in the store, where people can shop and donate to organizations. The goal is to collaborate with organizations on a quarterly basis, and tailor our business strategies to their needs.

Left: The Macon Jean and Crate woven top on display. Right: A closer look at a pair of Raleigh jeans.

As a woman and someone who used to be a kid, I am totally with you on that one. On a completely unrelated note, could you pick out some of your favorite items from the store?

Of course! Here are some of our favorites:

The Macon Jean: This jean, by Raleigh Denim, is named after Macon, Georgia and is made 100% by hand. Fun fact, the owner of the company, Victor Lytvinenko, actually went to my high school! I was reading an article in Elle magazine on my way back from North Carolina, and when I came across his name I was like, "No way, he dated one of my good friends!" So of course I had to go find out what this Raleigh denim is all about. The cut of the jean is amazing, the fabric has good stretch, and they come in fun colors. They're pretty awesome!

Kajan Padraig: Kajan Padraig is basically two designers, Cake and Patrick. They have this little workshop and make almost everything by hand. We love their knits, and everything comes at a great price point.

Civic Duty: Civic Duty shoes are made of Tyvek, which is a completely awesome, eco-friendly, and durable material. Each year they pick a cause, make a shoe for that cause, and then give 100% proceeds to that organization. The shoes themselves come in a plethora of color options, and they're available for both men and women. Plus, they're one of Oprah's favorite things, so you know they have to be good!

Crate: A California brand that also does all of their production in California. They do really hip, cool plaids.

This isn't technically an item that's for sale, but our hangars rock! They're by an Oakland-based company called Ditto, and they are 100% recycled, vegetable dyed hangars. It's great to know that there are so many resources close to us, and you can actually meet with the people that you're doing business with.

And finally, what can we expect from Show + Tell in the future?

Well, the first thing would probably be our Grand Opening and Shop event on November 12th, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.! Some local wineries and spirits will be poured, the amazing Pam the Funktress will be dj-ing, and several of the designers will also be in attendance. And if that's not enough incentive, there will be huge discounts on all of our items!

As for the long-term future, we're definitely looking into launching a Show + Tell in house line of basics. We also definitely want to partner with some of the local designers and host a trunk show so that we can put a face and name to the items you’re buying. As we find other people to partner with, we can collaborate with more organizations that have the same mission as us, and really build up the Oakland community!

Show + Tell Concept Shop is located at 500 12th Street Suite 139, Oakland, CA 94607. Find them on Facebook here, or check out their blog.

To RSVP to Show + Tell's Grand Opening and Shop event, please click here.

Aimee Shimizu
Blog Editor

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