Chico designers take leading role in buy-local movement
“It feels like it’s an emerging thing that’s happening … partly in response to the struggling economy, and as a re-evaluation of where people are getting their goods and services,” offered Muir Hughes, one of the six women who make up pioneering (and immensely popular) local clothing-designer collective Chikoko, in response to a question posed to her about the growing local fashion scene.
Hughes, a serenely beautiful, 34-year-old brunette, pointed out that Butte College’s fashion department, which has long put on fashion shows, is of late (taking Chikoko’s cue) putting on shows that are getting “more and more dynamic,” and feature a number of community members as models. Hughes has also noticed an increasing number of ads and flyers for fashion shows—put on by, for instance, local T-shirt graphics companies to showcase their work—at places like Lost on Main and 1078 Gallery.
She also points to three downtown Chico businesses: Butte College fashion instructor Julie DeMaggio’s GreenDot Designer’s Lounge, where one can purchase apparel made by local designers as well as make use of the on-site sewing machines (and DeMaggio’s expertise); Three Sixty Ecotique, near the Senator Theater; and new kid on the block BOHO Chico, which recently took over the West Second Street storefront formerly occupied by the now-defunct GiGi Shoe Parlor.
It’s a significant amount of evidence that Chico’s need for creative clothing made by local designers, often from recycled, eco-friendly materials, is growing.
Hughes is particularly excited about BOHO, run by 30-year-old Monica “Mona” Prather, who has modeled numerous times for Chikoko fashion shows, and whom Hughes described as “an arts supporter in touch with cutting-edge trends.”
BOHO, besides offering an array of vintage and used clothing, notably features affordable handmade clothing and jewelry made by some of the best designers Chico has to offer, including some of the Chikoko women, such as Hughes and Sarah Rose Testman. Inventive pieces by local jewelry and clothing designer Claire Fong; local musician Erin Lizardo’s adornment line, which includes baby wear; and Jacquelyne Price and local singer Molly McNally’s Parasol Project occupy BOHO’s cozy, playful interior, alongside jewelry designer Jennifer Lane’s sparkly, feathery “Jen Moon” line and the imaginative work of 32-year-old Amber Bass’s renouveau line. The pieces by Bass, a former Los Angeles teen fashion model, include “hanky tees,” which fuse recycled T-shirt bodies with sleeves made from handkerchiefs; purses made from recycled men’s ties; and breezy, “refashioned sun smocks” made from kitchen aprons and recycled halter tops.
Twenty-six-year-old Claire Fong was one of a number of local designers whose work is on offer at BOHO who gathered recently to chat at the Naked Lounge. Fong moved away for a time to study fashion design in San Francisco, but is happy to be back in the “supportive community” and “fertile ground” of Chico. She is rapidly becoming known for her line of striking, “repurposed, recycled leather,” feather-shaped earrings.
“There’s a huge demand for handmade, unique things,” observed Fong happily.
Prather agreed. “People are sick of wearing the same stuff,” she said, referring to the glut of cookie-cutter, mass-produced clothing—such as the Old Navy and Hollister brands—that flood the market. “My store is 100 percent local. We’re not bringing in anything from anywhere else. Plus, if you don’t have any money, you can still come in and shop—you can bring clothes to trade.”
McNally weighed in, smiling: “Mona was always my favorite walker [at Chikoko shows]. So when she opened up the store, I thought it was like Naomi Campbell opening up a store.”
“Even though Monica is not an artist,” added Testman, “she’s an artist of life. She brings everybody together. I feel so honored to be a part of it.”
Bass, who moved to Chico three years ago from San Francisco (where she moved after growing up in L.A.), summed up the appeal of BOHO: “This is exactly where I would shop—the kind of store I would seek out in any town. It’s amazing how much demand there is for a store like this. I’m just overjoyed. I call it ‘the cool kids’ store.’ ”