Preaching denim

At Holy Stitch, young people get sew motivated

Customize denim, develop your brand: an intern creates in Holy Stitch's Market Street workshop

CAREERS AND ED News that another coffee shop has opened in Mid-Market may not send happy vibes thrumming down your spinal cord, but that's because you haven't gotten a chance to hang out in Trailhead (1100 Market, SF), the community-oriented pop-up cafe that houses Holy Stitch. It's a bright spot amid the Twitter-fueled frenzy, if you're into the creativity of young people, or even just really beautiful clothes.

And yes, the coffee in this tiny space at Seventh and Market Streets is good. It's from farm : table, the Tenderloin eatery that took the limited-seating-locavore model and skipped happily away with it. At Trailhead, f : t partners with the keep-it-real Luggage Store Gallery that has ensured that art entrepreneurship stays local, diverse, and relevant in this neighborhood for years. Trailhead is one component of A Temporary Offering, a planned six-month endeavor in the old Renoir Hotel that also includes a pop-up restaurant and bar.

But fluffy cappuccino foam and deep brown cuppas may not be the images that linger with you after an afternoon here.

Most probably, you'll remember the smiley Holy Stitch Denim Social Club high-schoolers and young people wedged into the plate-glass triangle that makes up the corner of the space. They are usually there running an industrial sewing machine, surrounded by hand-bleached denim jackets with dashiki fabric patches, embroidery, studs, hand-affixed edging. Some take pictures, some just hang and chat with Holy Stitch founder Julian Dash — but they all seem to belong in the space. Which, as part of San Francisco's most rapidly-changing neighborhoods where there are more tech worker new arrivals than local young people, is an accomplishment unto itself.

Julian Dash (in necklaces) and crew in front of Trailhead, the Luggage Store cafe-gallery that Holy Stitch has become part of. Photo by Waylon Choy

Dash may not fit your idea of a Mid-Market entrepreneur, though he does sell the wildly colorful designs made by himself and Holy Stitch interns in this space.

"The thing about clothing," Dash says, hanging out in front of Trailhead on a planter box-seat designed by Hyphae Design Lab, which also built the cafe shelves that display seedlings for sale from the Tenderloin National Forest. "It's a way of expressing yourself, but also a way of connecting people. I felt like [when I learned to sew] it was the beginning of my purpose."

His involvement in the Luggage Store began when he entered the gallery to tag up its stairwell. Co-artistic director Laurie Lazer caught him, but instead of kicking him out had two questions for the dreadlocked graffiti artist: did he like math? Did he like kids? The answer was yes to both, and soon enough Dash was tutoring Lazer's son Yarrow.

"We are all about the DIY mentality," says Lazer's partner and co-director Darryl Smith. "Julian is an artist who really embodies that." Lazer and Smith were impressed with Dash's creativity and motivational skills, and soon enough were inviting him to exhibit at the Luggage Store, in group shows and then an exhibit of his own during the month-and-a-half public arts festival Streetopia. Dash occupied a Mid-Market storefront, teaching kids to sew in front of passers-by.

That work moved to Trailhead last month. Some youth come to Dash from local arts high schools, which formally recognize his internship program. Some wander in when they see the bright spools of fabric, the massive sewing machine, and sign themselves up. Some stay with Dash months, some years. Not everyone winds up becoming tailors, but they do get lessons in self-starting.

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