Small Business Awards 2013: Babette

A commitment to homegrown style won this year's Local Manufacturing Award

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Steven and Babette Pinsky have made a Bay classic out of their pleated, comfortable fashions.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MIKE KOOZMIN

I cannot help but insert italics into Babette Pinsky quotes, bear with me.

"It didn't dawn on me that I shouldn't open a business by myself."

"It was sort of survival for a really long time."

"We have to show things the way we want them."

Perhaps such signs of effusiveness are befitting for one of the Bay's more experienced purveyors of fashion.

Pinsky started her line of comfortable, elegant items most often worn by town's over-40 set of museum and travel-inclined doyennes back in 1968. She considers the eponymous line's signature piece a pleated cream or white button-down shirt.

Her retail locations — there are eight Babette stores across the country with a ninth in the works for the Mid-West, and the company recently launched a thriving e-commerce site — is filled with outfits for "the woman who wants to look good without looking like her daughter," says Pinsky, sitting for our interview with husband and co-owner of the company Steven in their Union Square shop.

But the Pinskys' sartorial sense is but one of the reasons we're honoring them with a Small Business Award. Perhaps just as importantly, the two provide healthcare and 401k's for all of their 100-plus employees, and have always manufactured their clothes right here in the Bay Area, currently at their Oakland factory.

The two attribute their buoyancy in the fashion industry, in fact, to their local production line. Trade policies like NAFTA, they say, decimated the Bay Area's fashion industry, once one of San Francisco's biggest job sources. Their ability to continue producing quality product right here in California, they say, distinguished them from the thousands who lost their jobs over the last few decades.

Now, having survived the worst of times, Babette (the company and its founder) can be a role model company to those who would make beautiful clothes.

"The most rewarding part of this business?" asks Babette (the person this time, over a pair of round glasses that go nicely with those that Steven wears alongside her). "A big part of that is how happy [the clothes] make our customer. I'll come into one of our stores and a woman will tell me 'you've changed my life!' I'm a clothing designer! It's just clothes."

361 Sutter, SF. (415) 837-1442, www.shopbabette.com