East Bay Style Mavens Keep It Local
Three East Bay clothes designers — Lesley Evers, Marie and Karen Potesta, and Aliya Wanek — bring a slow-fashion ethos to their lines.
Lesley Evers' fashion signature includes fun, eye-catching designs.
Photo courtesy of Lesley Evers
We live in a throwaway culture. In fact, it’s estimated that your average female-identified individual will wear a garment about seven times before it’s either donated, thrown away, or relegated to the bowels of her closet. Sure, it’s so easy to spend $5 on a T-shirt from your favorite fast-fashion chain or take yourself out to indulge in some retail therapy after a rough workweek — but true style is more than a passing fancy. Some of the individuals you’d consider most stylish have had some of their garments for years, perhaps even decades. It speaks to a time past in which garments were unique, special, and made with care. Clothes were well loved, worn, and repaired.
So what does all of this have to do with the East Bay? Long-term Nor Cal residents would argue that individuality, maker culture, and slow fashion have always been in the fabric — pun intended — of our local existence. But these days, a mix of influence, environmental interests, and activism are changing the way we think about what we buy and how long we possess it. It could be argued that as humans, our nature thrives on change — perhaps that’s even one of the advantages of being human — our ability to rapidly adapt, and to choose whom and what we’ll represent on any given day through our clothing and outward appearance. But sometimes, and when done responsibly, it’s just fun. There is a wealth of local East Bay designers who can help us be whomever we want to be on any given day. There’s hardly enough room to cover all of them here, but here are a few that may pique your sartorial flights of fancy.
Fun & Flirty
Photo courtesy of Lesley Evers
It’s hard to miss designer Lesley Evers’ storefront, on the corner of College Avenue and Forrest Street in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. Evers is quick to acknowledge that she “[makes] everything locally in small batches.” She continued, “I love being able to actually work with the women that are making the clothing. I can’t imagine doing it differently.”
After personally designing each print — Evers’ signature prints are fun, eye-catching designs — it takes about one to two months for fabric production, while patterns are made separately, by the people Evers’ employs (plus one for local job opportunities). But, as Evers said, “The cut and sew is pretty fast — about two weeks.”
In this way, it’s easy for her to get her designs onto the sales floor and out the door, while still keep things local and small-batch.
“I started sewing when I was 11. I loved making things — anything — and it was exciting to make clothing,” Evers said.
“All of my clothing is made in Oakland. The fabric is milled and printed in Los Angeles,” Evers said, pointing what a truly local endeavor she runs.
Don’t be surprised if you spot Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sporting a Lesley Evers design.
“I like to think she’s my model customer. She has lots of places to go and wants to be comfortable and look great,” Evers said.
Visit Lesley Evers at 5501 College Ave., Oakland, or online at LesleyEvers.com.
Simple & Sustainable
Photo courtesy of Aliya Wanek
A sweatshirt is a magical, multipurpose thing, and Oakland designer Aliya Wanek is known for her simple multipurpose sweatshirt. She felt that the average sweatshirt tended “to look unflattering on me … I usually have a hard time where the shoulder seams hit on my body, in addition to the standard length. I wanted to solve these issues for myself and for other people.”
Constructed from a cotton and hemp blend, Wanek’s sweatshirts have become increasingly popular since she launched her line early in 2016. But her goods don’t stop at sweatshirts. Wanek offers a range of dresses, jumpsuits, and more in a range of shapes and drapes that express, as Wanek said, her “fascination with identify and style … I wanted to explore that in my own wardrobe as well as others’.”
“Color is very important to me especially,” she said. “I’m constantly observing color in my environment and thinking about how it can translate on the body with different skin tones.”
Wanek obtains her fabrics from overseas but keeps the rest of the business local. “In the beginning, I was doing everything myself,” she said. “About two years ago, I started working with a sample sewer. I also work with some contractors in the Bay Area for other parts of the production.”
Photo of Aliya Wanek by Lance Yamamoto
Wanek said she’s “still pretty involved in the manufacturing process.” She works a full-time job outside of the fashion industry, but Wanek is still committed to creating new designs and holds her work to a high standard of quality. Even though producing in small batches presents a challenge, Wanek said, “Continuing to see my vision through and hearing customers tell me how much they love my work and wear my clothing all the time” is what keeps her lamp lit.
“My ethos is to create stylish and comfortable clothing from sustainable fabrics that people want to wear all the time,” she said. She has a vision of the end-user in mind as she designs, the type of person who sees “the link between clothing, style, and identity and [wants] to deeply explore that relationship.”
Find Aliya Wanek’s design at indie shops around the Bay Area, including Morningtide in Albany, and other U.S. stores. Shop online at AliyaWanek.com.
Local & Comfy
Photos courtesy of Micaela Greg
In cooler months, few things are more appealing than a cozying up in a soft knitted sweater. Although Marie and Karen Potesta — the sisters behind Alameda label Micaela Greg — were fortunate to have a trained seamstress for a grandmother, their wares go far and beyond your own grandma’s knitted sweaters (no disrespect to your grandma).
The duo, along with two part-time assistants, has maintained its own line for about seven years. “The two of us,” Marie Potesta said, “are hands on in everything ... almost to a fault probably.” But without their hands-on involvement, their label — named for a nonsense word their grandmother used — would not have become the indie darling it is now.
The sisters both worked as designers at Levi’s before striking out on their own. With big labels, the time between design to final production can seem like ages. Establishing Micaela Greg allowed for a shorter production time. “It generally takes about six months for a design to get fully flushed out from concept to finished product — but under pressure many miracles can happen much faster,” Marie Potesta said.
The Potestas source their yarns and fabric from faraway places like Italy and Peru, but all of their woven pieces, Marie Potesta said, “have so far been made at Bay Area factories.”
“Half of our knits are made domestically and half in family-run factories in Peru,” she said. And while maintaining their own line and running a business do present challenges, Marie Potesta said, “the drive to create and be better every season” keeps them going.
Shop Micaela Greg online at MicaelaGreg.com.