Economics of Art - The San Francisco Design Community Unites

One part exhibit, one part speaker series, and one part fashion show, the Economics of Art Event on June 18th held at Potrero Hill’s Project One Gallery was greater than the sum of all these parts. Benefitting the upcoming 2nd Annual San Francisco Fashion Awards, a collaborative cacophony of local artists united to share and celebrate San Francisco’s underground of undiscovered talent. Blending conceptual and multi-layered influences the “Come As You Are” art installation possessed a raw, multi-cultural aesthetic that juxtaposed iconic, metaphorical, and abstract elements. Aglow in incandescent light, the open gallery space was a perfect backdrop to the evening’s main event, an entrepreneurial speaker series featuring fashion designer Scatha Allison, Artefacture founder Christopher Jablonski, lingerie designer Jennifer Lynne, Innovative Fashion Council of San Francisco Executive Director Yetunde Schuhmann, and milliner Jasmin Zorlu. The program’s grand finale was a runway show with capsule collections from local design students Jamie Cole, Julia Meeks, and Carly Mikkelsen.

The organization’s mission is to bring about an open dialogue and engage in a forum which scrutinizes the idea of the economics of art. This series specifically focused on how to develop innovative solutions that address the impact of our nation’s financial crisis on creative industries. As a thriving epicenter of independent talents, the program joined local artists in an effort to brainstorm and share new business solutions; it was also an opportunity to learn more about the panelist’s current projects; and ultimately, to create an exchange network amongst peers in San Francisco's fashion and art community.

The panel discussion touched on everything from the speakers’ childhood dreams and aspirations to how they’re responding and adapting in these challenging times. As a boy, Christopher Jablonski recalled jumping up and down on the furniture, always being hyperactive and living in the moment. That carefree existence was the impetus for creating Artefacture, a brand of comfortable tees with an eco message. The entrepreneur advised, “Do what you love and what makes you happy. There is no such thing as job security; the best thing about the economic downtown is that it forces you to reexamine your priorities… Find a niche that will resonate with the market place.”

Yetunde Schuhmann was an early overachiever who wanted to be an attorney by the precocious age of five. This dynamic innovator has been working closely with the mayor’s office on a sustainable fashion initiative to ambitiously revitalize SOMA’s Sixth Street corridor as San Francisco’s Fashion District. The IFCSF Executive Director noted, “During a recession, you must persevere, be more motivated and innovative. You need the business experience and stability of a regular paycheck. Use this time to reposition yourself, develop a better understanding of the people you serve… leaner times force you to be more focused.”

Autodidact designer Scatha Allison has been following her sartorial dreams since adolescence. The young designer who has an eclectic and diversified background, training as a painter before transitioning into fashion and publishing a DIY book on denim reconstruction added, “Aspiring designers shouldn’t feel compelled to follow a specific path or plan. I would recommend working for other designers.” She also suggested adjusting your business model in the current economic climate, i.e. focusing on improved customer service, offering free alternations, lowering price points in a competitive market, and being sensitive to your clients’ needs.

Milliner Jasmin Zorlu references the post-WWI and pre-WWII eras in her architectural creations. As the Bay Area's answer to Philip Treacy, this German native's avant-garde aesthetic has undoubtedly been influenced by her overseas travels. Ironically enough, the gamine designer who has been sewing since the tender age of 11 wanted to be an astronaut growing up. She’s enjoyed success in other womenswear and accessories markets, designing handbags and shoes and working with a team of costume designers to create pieces for theater productions on Broadway. The FIT alum added that, “It’s better to work for someone else because you can learn from their mistakes…”

Learning to sew when she was only four years, it’s no wonder that book publisher and lingerie designer Jennifer Lynne longed to be a designer since she was a little girl. The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising instructor encouraged industry neophytes to never give up. Having confessed to “blowing $25,000 in savings,” she sanguinely revealed that, “The economic crash has helped me to foster a new sense of creativity, expand my online business and find new ways to connect with my customers.”

Christopher Jablonski believes that, “It’s imperative to use the internet, optimize cost-effective, borderless solutions, leverage social media, create content, connect with your audience, and build brand awareness. You should know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Use the internet to set yourself apart.” He has done just that with his Artefacture brand implementing a business model of sustainable, organic fair trade.

“Make the world your oyster; the internet is open 24/7. Think about how to take your product to the next level and make it profitable.” Yetunde Schuhmann concurred, “She encouraged nascent entrepreneurs to consider the environmental and social components of their businesses… Know your market. Use all your heart and passion!

Jennifer Lynne agreed, “Social networking is key and connecting with new people and branching out is always useful. Use this time to do research.”

Scatha Allison submitted an alternate approach, producing smaller collections or developing a secondary line. She noted that, “Sustainability isn’t limited to eco-fashion, that the principle should be adopted exponentially as a whole, as a community.”
Citing the launch of Levi Strauss during the Great Depression, Jasmin Zorlu offered that one of the keys to thriving in this economy is to develop new products. She is teaching, even launching a new bag line. “NEVER EVER GIVE UP! Read motivational books. Keep your energy up!”

These remarks were consistent with key message points direct from the Fall 2009 runway shows in New York last February where designers were determined to deliver on a promise of pragmatic luxury. Since the proverbial “bottom fell out” nine months ago, one reoccurring theme has been that you may not have a lot, but what you do have should be special. The evening's trio of fashion students presented collections that were inspiring and innovative, underscoring modernized design directions; most notably, architectural silhouettes, bold palette choices, and updated prints. The runway show finale highlighted well-edited capsule collections from San Francisco State University design students Julia Meeks and Carly Mikkelsen and Academy of Art University’s Jamie Cole.

I would describe Julia Meeks’ collection of five looks as a “Romantic Reality.” Her pieces were soft and feminine with delicate accents; her ruffles, pleating, and origami folds gave the presentation a sublime fluidity. The neutral blend of taupe and grey hues allowed her design aesthetic to shine through.

I’ve monikered menswear designer Jamie Cole’s seven-piece collection as “Boys Just Wanna’ Have Fun.” The Spring 2009 Bryant Park alum delivered a sporty blend of blues, greys, orange, and tie-dye with unexpected elements. From neon brights and untraditional patterns, this presentation was infused with a great sense of vibrancy and energy. Daring and dynamic—these pieces never felt boring or basic. Apparently, men can have fun with fashion too!

Carly Mikkelsen’s six looks were the evening’s “Modern Musings.” With her cutaway windowpane vest, medallion print shirt, zigzag dress, jumpsuit, and gathered skirt, the collection had an ingénue modernity to it, reinterpreting wardrobe staples with original twists and turns—whether she was finding a balance between brights and neutrals, reimagining a classic pattern as an updated abstract graphic, or embellishing her designs with exaggerated details such as an oversized pocket, a ruched side seam or sculpted neckline.

Struggling to make its mark in the fashion industry, San Francisco has been criticized for being somewhat fragmented, with no retail hub. Several of the city’s neighborhoods have experienced impressive facelifts transitioning into gentrified mixed-use commercial and residential enclaves where shopping and dining attractions abound—the Mission District, Potrero Hill, and SOMA (South of Market) to name a few—still, these communities remain somewhat scattered throughout the city’s 7-square mile radius. As sophisticated and worldly as San Franciscans are, there is a lack of cohesion and cooperation within the Bay Area’s emerging creative community. The Economics of Art event demonstrated how this burgeoning group of entrepreneurs, designers, and artisans is working collectively to narrow that gap—inspiring, motivating, and supporting one another through good times and bad.

For more information on participating panelists, please visit

A special note of thanks to Owen Geronimo and Del Geronimo.

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