Made in the bay
Local businesses put San Francisco on the map.
November 30, 2010 5:39 PM
The double-arched stitch on the back pocket and the unmistakable red and white tag are among that which distinguishes this iconic pair of pants from all the others on an assorted rack full of denim jeans. The creation of these pants introduced the use of rivets to strengthen the stitching, as they were originally worn by workers and cowboys in the 1870s. Nearly fifty years later, they grew to revolutionize the fashion industry, becoming a symbol of youth culture in the 1950s and 1960s, having been commonly worn by various subcultures, revolutionaries, and celebrities. Even today, a simple pair of blue Levi's jeans can be seen on every single body type, among both men and women.
After moving the store to four different Sacramento Street locations in its early years, the current headquarters are about nine blocks north, near the iconic Coit Tower. Although it was originally an imported dry goods store, Levi Strauss & Company has become one of the most successful and recognizable clothing companies in the entire world. The company's tremendous success and important role in San Francisco's Gold Rush history and legacy has helped create inspiration for smaller and newer local businesses looking to succeed in a bumpy economy.
About nine blocks northwest of the Levi's original factory location and about nine blocks southwest from its current location, golden crisp cookies bake to perfection, each containing a special message inside that awaits discovery by a lucky consumer. While the city's oldest alley, Ross Alley, was once invaded with gambling and brothels, today it is adorned with colorful murals that depict the everyday lives of a Chinese-American community. It is also houses the notorious Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, which produces hundreds of fortune cookies each day. Although the fortune cookie's history remains unclear, many believe that it was in 1914 when the cookie was invented by Japanese immigrant Makoto Hagiwara, the designer of Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden, and were made by San Francisco bakery Benkyodo, one of the original businesses in Japantown.
Like Levi's jeans, this fortune-baring treat is reflective of the city's historical development, specifically concerning the growing immigrant communities during the start of the 20th century. Now, as San Francisco continues to develop, its businesses begin to reflect the city's culture: its incredible diversity, environmental consciousness, and its ability to find beauty in the most unusual and unlikely.
Alex Andon is one new business owner that reflects San Francisco's abstract nature. Andon's personal love and fascination for marine animals sparked the development of his new project, Jellyfish Art, which brings what he declares on his site as "the next trend in ornamental aquariums." Fascinated by the jellyfish exhibits he observed at aquariums, Andon decided to develop a way for these delicate creatures to be maintained at home. Along with various other jellyfish supplies, Jellyfish Art provides special tanks with water flow patterns designed to keep jellyfish healthy and beautiful. Andon has successfully sold his creation to various restaurants and has received recognition from various news outlets for his creativity and entrepreneurship.
The Yale biology graduate told The Los Angeles Times about his wake-call upon commencing his business. When selling such a distinct tank, it is important that the customers have access to its new tenant and realizing that his customers would need jellyfish, it was crucial for Andon to come up with a plan that would make these delicate creatures available.
"I didn't know where to get them," Andon told Sharon Bernstein of the LA Times last August. "I would go out in a rubber boat and collect these things off the beaches here in San Francisco." While capturing the creatures was difficult and their need to be refrigerated complicated the process even more, Andon now purchases his jellies from a professional distributor that uses warm-water varieties to ease the storage costs and process for customers.
The 24-year-old began his jelly-venture after unsuccessfully looking for work, having been laid off from a bio-tech company last May. Now, in a crowded apartment, he runs Jellyfish Art, which has been booming so much that he has recently received an order for a large tank that should sell for tens of thousands of dollars, he told The New York Times last March.
Alaskan native Corey Rennell is also seeing his own project boom in the green city by the bay. The young mountaineer originally developed his product-- the first fresh nutrition bar-- to help improve his fitness in a short period of time. The self-proclaimed "oddball non-combat athlete" was invited by the BBC and Discovery channels to travel with five other athletes around the world, challenging their survival skills as they practiced the native sports of--and lived among--twelve different tribes.
"Having maintained a lifelong interest in nutrition," he explains, "I used a combination of nutritional science research, empirical athletic formulas, and my observations of subsistence diets in the tribes we lived in to help me build what became the first CORE meal." He continues, "With this and a simple training program, I transformed my fitness in under six months."
The Harvard graduate, who committed his thesis to studying the 200,000 years of human nutritional experience and wisdom, has transformed his research into the CORE Foods philosophy--which is translated in the company's slogan "Eat Like Your Life Depends On It!" To ensure a healthy meal with all the energy and nutritional content needed for three to four hours of sustained energy, a CORE bar consists of five to six whole organic ingredients, sourced as locally as possible, which are simply pressed together-- no cooking, no processing, no additives, and no sweeteners.
"One of our largest obstacles has been trying to convince consumers and stores that they want to have a perishable bar in their lives," Rennell says of the company's obstacles. "When grocery stores are saturated with bars that have an infinite shelf life because of all the processing and additives, it's been a struggle to help people build a new mental paradigm when it comes to 'the bar.'"
CORE Foods wishes to bring reality to the industry, as he says that health food bars have "become candy bars in disguise." Rennell hopes to emphasize this point by donating one hundred percent of the net profits after taxes to charity "to prove we are on a mission to revolutionize the bar industry and change expectations, not just to make money."
The 25-year-old entrepreneur credits numerous people involved in launching the brand, particularly numerous Whole Foods representatives, specifically from San Francisco's own Whole Foods Potrero Hill, where he bagged groceries for many years. CORE Foods can now be purchased at all Whole Foods Markets in Northern California and in select health food stores and gyms throughout the Bay Area. Aside from expanding their availability in stores, the company is currently developing new flavors, as well as a nut-free bar for kids' lunchboxes and an oat-free bar for those with oat sensitivities.
While Rennell and Andon have introduced San Francisco to their original spins on health food and decorative art, one local designer has borrowed a hint from Levi Strauss, converting traditional work attire into a personal fashion statement. 31-year-old Jennifer Rinzler converts the ordinary office tie into a head-turner, personalized for each individual customer. "My products stand out," she declares. "They are for people who want to stand out not only with color, but in the fact that they didn't buy their blanket or tie at the same big box store as millions of other people." She continues, "I make things for people who realize supporting small businesses is important, who realize that a handmade item will have to cost more and who will hold precious their purchases."
Rinzler's designs can be seen on her blog, which is consequently also the name of her line, This Humble Abode. She became a designer by accident four years ago when she made a wedding gift for her friend--a modern-looking quilt, as opposed to "the overly-patterned and fuddy duddy" of old traditional quilts. The Mission Dolores resident credits her "total hippie of a dad" as her inspiration; he has run several small businesses over the years and is currently traveling around the world importing goods.
But while Rinzler has inherited her father's entrepreneurial skills, she says she has always been a crafty gal. Her interest in design began while working at Rose and Radish, a popular design and floral design studio that is now closed. Since then, the designer has continuosly exercised her creative mind, often stitching while watching movies, chatting with friends, or when the children she cares for as a nanny are sleeping.
Though This Humble Abode has proven to be successful favorite locally, Rinzler remains humble. "It's hard for me to see myself as a designer because I have no formal education in design," she says. "But I feel confident in what I make so I guess it's time to get over that insecurity--or go back to school."
Having recently designed a line of textiles for the company Modern Playhouse, Rinzler is especially excited about seeking unique sources for her fabrics. She has collaborated with Umbrella Prints and Aunt June, which both carry organic fabrics-- a direction which she says she wants to move in.
"If I ever do go back to school, I'd like to learn about designing and printing my own line of fabric." For now, though, This Humble Abode's creator certainly has something to boast about.
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