2 Marin Brands Are Disrupting Fashion Norms
“We sometimes joke it’s as if Lululemon and Theory had a baby,” says Nancy Taylor, co-founder, along with Hannah Franco, of the Larkspur-based womenswear brand époque évolution. As many people begin to return to office settings after many months at home, there is a desire to put the joggers away and wear something a little more sophisticated, while not entirely losing the comfort of couch days gone by.
“You don’t need a separate wardrobe for everything,” muses Taylor. “You can have a wardrobe that transitions from working out to the office and then dinner. You should be able to go to work and get up from your desk to do a yoga stretch, or wear our pants on a red-eye flight and go straight to a meeting and still look great.”
The inspiration for époque évolution hit longtime friends Franco and Taylor, who met when they were co-workers at Athleta, when Franco showed up on a Moroccan vacation with nothing more than a backpack. “She managed to ride camels through the desert and go out for dinner while always looking chic,” marvels Taylor. They got to thinking, “Life is too crazy; we can at least simplify our wardrobes.”
They also had a passion to make fashion more responsible — both for the environment and for the people making the clothes. To that end, when shopping the site, the consumer is rewarded with an education; each article of clothing includes a description about the material and where it’s produced. And for the curious among us, the site goes on to give an even deeper level of knowledge about the fabrics — some of which are upcycled. Nothing requires dry cleaning and everything is designed to last.
“There’s not a single factory we work with that we haven’t been in, seen the conditions, met the people,” Taylor says. Many of the high-quality items are produced in Portugal, but some are produced in San Francisco at the D.A.D. Sewing House, a nonprofit that transitions people with employment barriers like homelessness, incarceration and mental health issues into apparel manufacturing.
Don’t be fooled into thinking eco-fashion wardrobe essentials equals boring. The brand is true to its name; it is au courant (époque means “a moment in time”), but it’s also timeless. It offers an edited collection of staples that will last a decade in your closet — organic cotton button-down shirts, machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant pants, just-right leggings, a wrap dress — plus a few more trendy items that may creep in and out of rotation.
The clothes are shot on dancers to highlight their quality of movement, but even if you’re not crop-top ready, there is something for most people (sizes range from XS to XL).
Another Marin-based fashion brand looking to amp up the social — and style — quotient is the Tiburon-based YEMA, whose tagline is “good joyful human.” This is a gentle reminder to themselves and their community to follow humanity’s kinder instincts and to “spread love,” says co-founder Hawi Awash.
A vibrant, sporty, casual brand for women, men and children that riffs off traditional Ethiopian design motifs may not sound like an obvious fit for Tiburon’s Main Street. And that’s exactly the point.
“When we first opened the shop, a woman in her 90s came in and told me that when she walks around town, all she sees is white, black and gray. But when she came into our store it was full of color and life,” says Awash. Celebrating life is at the core of the brand, which she says is as much about fashion as it is about art. People have such big reactions to the clothing — coming up and touching the fabric, starting a conversation — that the brand proclaims on its website: “If you love style, comfort and compliments — then welcome home.”
It’s easy to imagine standing out in the crowd while sporting a fishtail parka, graphics printed down the back, or a bright-orange split-leg track suit. YEMA previews its collections at an annual fashion show in Nairobi, with products rolling out in four seasonal refreshes. Online orders pour in from all over, but the YEMA team is most passionate about strengthening connections in the community and demonstrating diversity and equity close to home.
YEMA was co-founded by husband-and-wife team Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash, who met while studying at San Rafael’s Dominican University. Though both were interested in fashion from an early age (Awash started modeling in her teens and Khalif has long pursued acting), they were on very different paths. Khalif had a master’s degree in business and Khalif was premed.
“We are social entrepreneurs,” Awash says. “Education gave us so much and we wanted to give back.” Awash left Ethiopia as a young child and Khalif left Kenya to come to the U.S. for college. And it was the idea to create a scholarship to educate children in Ethiopia and Kenya that sparked their fashion endeavor.
Families are able to apply online, and applicants are vetted by Khalif and Awash as well as by local partners in Africa. Students who are accepted have their tuition, clothing and meals paid for with funds sent directly to the schools. Twenty percent of all proceeds from YEMA go to fund the scholarships and the brand’s fans donate additional dollars on the website. What new fashion purchase could make you feel better than that?