Paula Pfotenhauer and Sherry Koyama first met while working for Nan Eastep, designer of B. Spoke Tailor. Sherry worked as an apprentice while Paula did sample sewing, and together they hatched a plan to form a group that provides networking opportunities and a supportive community for designers. Sherry, designer of Harumi K, says, “I still work three days a week, and the other days I’m often in my studio or alone. Even just those two days, I’m there alone all day just talking to my cats. That’s one of the reasons we’re like, ‘Yeah, I think a networking group would be great!’ We can get together with like-minded individuals and geek out about stuff that we’re into.”
Sherry grew up in So Cal, but has lived in the Bay for around twenty years. She studied art at UC Davis, but about seven years ago, she became artistically blocked. Her husband got her sewing lessons for her birthday, and she loved it! She started sewing commercial patterns, but says, “it wasn’t enough, so I started looking around at the fashion schools, and Apparel Arts seemed like it was a good fit. So I started with pattern making classes, and I loved it right from the start. You go through the curriculum — start to learn to draft skirts, then you learn to sew skirts, then you move on to moulage, then you learn darts, necklines…” She finished the program at Apparel Arts about a year and a half ago, and her first production came out three months ago. Congratulations on this huge step in your career, Sherry!
Though JEAJA designer, Paula Pfotenhauer, started sewing at seventeen, she’d been in the professional world of garment construction for a bit before she mastered pattern making. Once upon a time, Paula worked for a company where “…(the owners) were on ecstasy most of the time.” Incidentally, that company is no longer in business, but she learned a ton about making patterns while working there. “I pretty much just got self-taught along the way… I was their design manager… and one of the women I hired as a seamstress was a Peruvian woman — that was a great pattern maker, and she should’ve had my job, but her English wasn’t good… She would look at my patterns and just shake her head. And so I’d say, ‘Can you help me out?,’ so she did. I owe a lot to her.” While Paula doesn’t speak Spanish, she didn’t have a problem communicating with the woman. “I feel like sewing is it’s own language, cause I’ve been in so many countries where I have to talk about the construction of a garment, and we never share the language, but you just point to things…”
Later in her career, while working at Fox Head Inc., Paula perfected motorcycle pants over the course of six years. The pants included up to forty-two pieces, and were so complex that she still understands how she could spend six years laboring over the pattern, but she’s more than cool with never having to see another motorcycle pant again. The woman who mentored her there then sent her overseas for quality control, and her brother who was living in Vietnam convinced her to stay and take advantage of the many work opportunities.
She returned to Bay lonely and burnt out. “It’s hard to explain how intense it is over there. There are things that I brought back from there…You have these moments…One time I was in China at a factory, and it was just a regular, small factory…and they were doing Walmart polos. And their output was 20,000 a day of one style. It was green and white striped polos as far as the eye could see, semis loading up containers full of polos, and this is just a teeny tiny factory…the massive clothing — it makes you wanna throw up. It’s just flooded with heaps and heaps and heaps of clothing every day, and…everything is just…make it, get out there, it’s not tested, everything is just this immediate gratification — get it on the racks…if you’re a week late, destroy it — it’s no good — the factory has to pay for it, the factory goes out of business.”
She continued, “And at the same time I would go to Cambodia and go through villages where they just made silk… It’s just from one extreme to the other, so of course I just wanted to hang out there.” At one point, Paula donated some industrial machines to an orphanage in the village, and when she went back a month later they had converted them to function as pedal machines because they couldn’t afford the electricity necessary to power the industrial machines. So when she came back to the Bay she vowed not to buy any fabric from mills, which does have it’s drawbacks because it limits her to small runs for her collections, but for now, she’s devoted to using pre-existing materials only. Paula mentors various aspiring designers ranging from high school age up.
When Paula met Sherry, she was just returning from living in Vietnam and actually had plans of becoming a nurse. After five years of traveling in Asia, Paula missed the company of her large, close-knit family, and she craved a connection with a community of designers. Like many artistic endeavors, fashion design can be a very solitary experience — and her desire to unite designers merged with Sherry’s, and voila; Oakland Fashion Network was born. So far OFN has held four meetings, and put on the ‘Make It Reign’ Fashion Runway and Trunk Show held at Urban Stitch. They have plans for more trunk shows — possibly as soon as September, definitely before the holiday season.
My personal favorite of their upcoming ideas is Flashion — part fashion show, part flash mob. Paula explains, “I wanna get a presence — just popping up all over the place… The idea is to get a group of designers, bring a few models (so it’s manageable) in a busy restaurant or bar, and then Bam! It’s a fashion show.”
When I asked the women to speak about the designers in the Bay area, Sherry replied, “The energy and the vibe of the designers here — part of it is ’cause it’s a small community, so it’s very supportive and collaborative.” Paula commented, “I think Oakland has a foraging, bicycle, do-it-yourself culture that gets reflected in what we have. That combined with the hip-hop.” Sherry adds “Urban, edgy, we’re keepin’ it real.”
Well Paula, Sherry, and the rest of the indie OFN designers, thanks for helping to Oakland fresh by keeping’ it real! And readers, stay tuned for upcoming OFN events!
* To read more about Paula’s line, JEAJA, and Sherry’s line, Harumi K, click here to see the pieces they showed at the ‘Make It Reign’ Fashion Runway and Trunk Show!