“We realized there was a real hunger for people to find a way to express their Oakland pride,” says Angela Tsay, CEO and Creative Director of Oakland’s iconic t-shirt company, Oaklandish.
She is recalling the time in 2006 when she and Jeff Hull, who founded Oaklandish as a guerilla art project and designed the iconic tree and roots logo, had just started selling t-shirts at the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market. “What we really wanted to do was help support and instill a sense of civic pride in people living in Oakland,” she says.
Hull has since moved on to other projects. Tsay, who has a background in Sociology, has stayed on to see the Oaklandish enterprise grow. “Opening the downtown retail store in July 2011 has further deepened our roots in Oakland,” she says.
Tsay recounts that tourists and visitors often stop by the downtown store looking for more than a cool souvenir. “We’ve really become sort of an unofficial tourism and information hub for Oakland, for Oaklanders and non-Oaklanders alike,” she says.
“Oakland is a really special place,” Tsay notes. “You have a certain responsibility when the name of your city is in the name of your company.” Since its inception, Oaklandish has celebrated what Tsay calls “this culture of mavericks” and the many cultural revolutions that have taken shape in Oakland throughout its history.
Tsay wants to help foster civic pride in other “post-industrial cities with a chip on their shoulder where people are fiercely proud of their hometown.” Spinoff brand There There uses local artists from Baltimore, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., among others, to create images that celebrate the pride residents have for those cities.
Tsay is proud of the fact that Oaklandish is a certified B-Corp, a recognition of its community values. In addition to annual Innovator Grants to local nonprofits, the company employs 12 people full time and close to 30 more part-timers. “We’re trying to give good job opportunities to local young people,” she says.
“We want the diversity of Oakland represented in the diversity of people working at Oaklandish.” The company is committed to paying a living wage, hiring and training young people, and promoting from within. The creative team has branched out to provide design services for local restaurants and businesses as well as screen-printing services.
Like Oakland itself, Oaklandish is taking the world – or at least the Town – by storm. “In May we opened what we call our concept store,” Tsay says. Oakland Supply Co., near Chop Bar in Jack London Square, sells only American-made goods, a quarter of which are made in Oakland (but no t-shirts).
“We also have explored the possibility of making blank t-shirts in Oakland,” Tsay says, noting that starting a garment manufacturing operation in Oakland would require a partner with the ability to do workforce development.
Oaklandish will introduce a small cut-and-sew collection this fall. The garments are being produced in Los Angeles but, if the line is successful, Tsay hopes to bring production home to Oakland. Oaklandish – and Angela Tsay – are working hard to give Oakland even more to be proud about.