Seams for real

Avenue

When he’s not on the slopes, he’s at the sewing table. Sam Lewis is the founder of Avenue, a local clothing company that makes everything by hand.

When he’s not on the slopes, he’s at the sewing table. Sam Lewis is the founder of Avenue, a local clothing company that makes everything by hand.

Photo By David Robert

In America’s thriving skateboard and snowboard industry, the phrase “Made by the riders, for the riders,” gets tossed around pretty liberally. Truth be told, a lot of business related to that scene aren’t really as do-it-yourself as they claim to be. Most new clothing manufacturers in the action-sports industry order bulk garments from cheap national wholesalers, drop them by a local screen printer for a logo and slap on outrageous price tags. Some companies succeed in this. Many fail.

According to Sam Lewis, founder of local clothing outfit Avenue, any entrepreneur with financial backing and some business sense can try that, but it takes away a degree of credibility. That’s why Lewis and a group of other skateboard- and snowboard aficionados from the Reno area are going about it their own way. Avenue, started in 2004, creates original men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, all made from second-hand materials such as old clothes.

The process, Lewis says, is DIY to the bone. Lewis and a handful of collaborators receive donations of used clothes and materials (or they find what they need at second-hand stores like Savers) and take them to the production line, which is set up in a friend’s garage. There, they cut, sew, hem and size the gear to their desire. Last, the goods go through a screen printer where the company’s name and logo are printed on the garment. Finished products include a bright-colored cotton T-shirt with a denim chest patch bearing the Avenue logo and a corduroy purse with a heart-shaped patch.

“We do every part of this ourselves so we can design the clothes exactly how we would want them to look,” Lewis says. “It’s a nice change from what big businesses and corporations in this industry are doing.”

Never Ender, an eclectic art and fashion boutique on Liberty Street, is the first shop to carry Avenue apparel. Owner Amber Gutry says the goods have disappeared from the shelves in a hurry.

“We just had a few purses and some wife beaters, but people really seemed to like them,” Gutry says.

In addition to shirts and purses, Avenue makes beanies, scarves, skirts, wristbands and hats, all produced in the Reno garage.

Even promotion of the new brand, Lewis says, has been a grassroots operation. This past summer, Avenue organized and sponsored art markets at Fritz Bar and Grill near UNR, creating a mobile art boutique of sorts. Local artists and musicians from the Reno skate and snowboard community showed paintings on everything from acrylic canvasses to snowboard decks, and local rock bands brought merchandise and records for the community to check out while the café served served cheap wine and sushi.

Production of these events, Lewis says, provides the namesake of the company, which offers an “avenue” for local artists to display their work.

In the future, he plans to have fashion shows at Fritz, complete with rock bands playing and Avenue-clad runway models showing off the gear.

As Lewis says, the production side of Avenue is a “collection” of artists from around the town. Are they fashion elitists? Lewis offers an indecisive answer.

“Any artist can enter into the art boutique,” Lewis says, “but it has to fit our style if they want to work with Avenue.”