Art & Culture

Standard & Strange

Standard & Strange
WELCOME The door to the wonders inside of Standard & Strange. (Photo by Neil Berret)

A tale of timeless fashion

My introduction to Standard & Strange began several years ago while living in Santa Fe. I worked for Iconik Coffee Roasters at the time—a must-visit to anyone passing through le Fe—and we had a location nestled in Collected Works Bookstore just off the plaza. Also a must visit! Really what I’m saying is drop everything and go to Santa Fe immediately. Every day, without fail, a group of devastatingly well-dressed people would come in for an espresso, or an Americano, until I finally had to ask who left the faucet on. Thus my introduction to a world of thoughtfully curated, classic, exceedingly drippy apparel, sourced by a company whose motto is “own fewer, better things.” I spent a long time with one of my favorite Standard & Strange employees, a pink-haired, pinstriped angel named Krista, designing and accessorizing my dream three-piece suit. Moving back to California in 2020—pandemic placement—I found out that Standard & Strange has a location in Oakland as well; actually their flagship store. I gleefully hopped on the website and began exploring the history. It’s pretty special.

The Standard and the Strange: A beginning

For Standard & Strange, things began in 2012 in an Oakland back-alley. Founders Neil Berrett and Jeremy Smith had been making their own cycling jerseys, and started a store which ultimately went under but gave them the taste and the information necessary to move into their second iteration. Recognizing the need in Oakland for a shop that sold quality clothes with a quality attitude, they moved into their first location: a converted municipal stable that had fallen into disuse as automobiles came to monopolize the roadways, but had found new life as businesses—including barber and coffee shops—arrived, bringing culture and community with them. This revitalization of an area once fallen into disrepair actually informed Berrett and Smith’s decision, and is in fact part of the store’s ethos, built upon the insights and work of author, activist and city planner Jane Jacobs. I was not familiar with Jacobs before my intro to Standard & Strange’s history, and she’s a phenomenal thinker and urban planner—look her up. Jacobs pioneered the idea of “new uses for old spaces,” and this particular passage resonated with Smith and Berrett enough to result in a name:

“Cities, however, are the natural homes of supermarkets and standard movie houses plus delicatessens, Viennese bakeries, foreign groceries, art movies, and so on, all of which can be found co-existing, the standard with the strange, the large with the small.” —Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

To this end, Jacobs’ vision for synthesizing the old and the new brought the guys to their flagship location and also to their method of sourcing product—of preserving the beauty of antiquity while keeping things useful and contemporary. Clothing and materials that age exceptionally and hold their own next to new and vintage pieces are what Standard & Strange looks to supply, preferring to fortify and revitalize rather than to tear down and rebuild, whether it’s a city building or a fashion design.

In 2015 the store outgrew its converted stable and moved around the corner to its second and current location at 5010 Telegraph Ave. Originally one of the oldest masonry buildings in Oakland, this space also underwent multiple iterations before becoming the home to Standard & Strange—which, of course, fits perfectly with the company’s ethos.

Visiting Japan: A deeper understanding of sourcing relationships and production

Around the same time they moved into their current Oakland location, Smith and Berrett began exploring their product sourcing on a deeper level. This included a month-long trip to Japan in 2015 that profoundly informed their business practices. The trip expanded their knowledge of the region’s unparalleled hospitality, commitment to craft and flawless retail production. Among Standard & Strange’s partnerships with Japanese craftspeople are jeans from Ryo and Hiroko, whose production site is in the city of Ichinomiya. Every garment—made, from start to finish, by Ryo and Hiroko—exhibits some of the finer quality craftsmanship to be found anywhere. These informational trips resulted in lasting relationships that ensure the incredibly sourced, entirely equitable, top-of-the-line products that make Standard & Strange what they are.

2020, of course

Things continued to move upward for Standard & Strange, and their second location—the Santa Fe store where I had my introduction—opened in 2019, in a one-time gas-station-turned-art-gallery. The pandemic hit just after this successful opening, resulting in a company-wide 15-month shutdown, but Standard & Strange’s commitment to slow, steady growth and lasting quality extended beyond just their products, and hope was not lost. The company transitioned to an entirely online model, while finding ways to keep their entire staff on at full pay. One of their fundraisers includes a Quarantine Tour Tee—featuring locations like the basement, the grocery store, the bedroom; you know, the hot venues we all frequented during lockdown—specifically designed and sold to bolster staff income. These tees feature a Sukajan-styled tiger—think of those amazing jackets and pants embroidered with tigers and dragons that Mario wears in the “Let Me Love You” music video—on the latest version of Standard & Strange’s classic tee, the Telegraph. There’s an Oakland version and a Santa Fe version, and both are still available for purchase.

And now that we’re back

I was able to speak with founder Jeremy Smith over the phone, about how things are going now for the company as we steadily move into more open practices again. He touched on some of the more important perspectives and practices Standard & Strange sustains and is carrying into the new year. As ever, Smith and Berrett look to lasting styles that have stood the test of time when sourcing product for the store, rather than jumping on the season’s fashion wagon, and this year they intend to go deeper and wider into this practice. “We’re lucky,” Smith said. “Moving from having to respond to the market early on, to being big enough that we can simply do what we want and not have to worry if it’s in step with what everyone else is doing. It’s more about if we believe in the style, or the brand.”

Their commitment to this type of buying has more to do with just the enjoyment they derive from classic, useful fashion. “Fun for a season is not fun for the Earth,” Smith said in response to my observations about having to stay on trend. Disposable fashion trends are environmentally disastrous, and people get rid of pieces because they’ve fallen out of vogue, even if they’re well made. So the goal is to tailor and source clothes that last, stylistically as well as literally, while still having fun with fashion and meeting the needs of the unique clientele they’ve cultivated. “We have one of the most expansive and interesting ranges of rare and weird boots,” Smith said. “I shouldn’t say weird—that makes it sound like new-rock platform rave boots. It’s more like, you want something handmade in a workshop in Japan, great, we got it. And that’s what our clientele is looking to us for.”

This dedication to quality led them to opening their third location, in New York City, next week. Smith tells me the new location will house, among other things, an exceptional collection of boots and jackets.

Giving back: Standard & Strange’s commitment

Standard & Strange deepened their commitment to giving back in 2020. In response to the critical need for social equality and health support, Standard & Strange began donating 2% of their total revenue to causes they believe in. Last year their total donation to pertinent causes reached $97,441.02, and their 2021 year-to-date giving totals $29,610—to organizations such as Asian Health Services, the New Mexico Foundation Native American Relief Fund and the Oakland Undocumented Relief Fund, to name a few. They will donate half of their 2% over the year to these and various other organizations, and the remaining half will be pooled and given directly to RUNWAY, a financial-innovation firm supporting entrepreneurship and business development for the BIPOC community. Learn more about this truly exceptional initiative and see the entire list of organizations on the Standard & Strange website under Info.

Improving upon what works

For Standard & Strange, now and going forward, it’s about quality—in their clothes, in their care for the community and in their commitment to equitable, eco-conscious fashion. It’s about improving and evolving what already works, to make it work better. And it’s always been that way. They’re just getting better with time.

Standard & Strange, 5010 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Wed–Fri, noon to 6pm; Sat, 11am to 6pm; Sun, 11am to 5pm. 510.373.9696. www.standardandstrange.com

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