1077 Mission Street (@ 7th)
San Francisco, CA 94103
Last month The Common, a very unusual space, opened its doors on Mission street at 7th in San Francisco. This store which is not like a store, is as creative, unique and progressive as we like to think our city can be. The Common is meant to be just that: a common space for people to gather, converse and get their various needs met.
It is a stop for Four Barrel coffee, a retail space that sells small production goods, an art gallery, a music venue and anything else its creators Mike and Barrett and their friends may want it to be that day, week or month. “We want it to be the town common like an old English space where people come together. It’ s all about capabilities, one more way to relate to people.” Says Mike with a wry and charming grin.
Mike Maher and Barrett Purdum met on the Lacrosse field of their business college and always knew they would start a shirt making company together. Barrett’s dad was in the toy industry and would often travel to Hong Kong on business, coming home with beautiful custom made shirts. “We weren’t into clothes we were into lacrosse, but Barett would steal his father’s shirts and they were beautiful.” When the two were ready to start their company they went to Hong Kong to check out the possibilities and were not happy with what they saw, so they came back and found the oldest shirt makers in New Jersey. “The idea of creating something people can use has been really cool for me. I don’t like the idea of luxury. It’s off putting and unauthentic. We are all about doing things the right way and having people that care doing it. It’s about rivets and buttons and high quality materials,” says Mike. Thus, Taylor Stitch, an online custom shirts boutique, was born.
Just as they were getting comfortable with their online business, the two were turned on to a retail space by a friend. They fell in love with its potential and could not pass up the opportunity.
The Common is a collection of small, like minded businesses that each have their own story, care deeply about how things are made and where they come from. The displays are miniature art pieces that tell the stories of the brands.
One of my favorite things about The Common is that most of the things you see in the space had a previous life. Being short on funds, Barret and Mike would not have been able to open their business if they did not know how to build things. “I’ve always worked with my hands, my grandpa built his own lobster boat. When I was 4 I was given a hammer and nails and told to build stuff,” Mike recalls. “We found a lot of old things, you can’t find everything, but we found most, so everything here has a story behind it. It’s true, it’s real, it’s honest.” The Common is all about re-purposing. The coffee bar is made from found wood, the clothes hangers are old tubing, and the cabinets are made of crates.
“How interested are you in what’s going on in the world of fashion?” I ask Mike.
“I don t really care. Fashion is fleeting. I hate chasing trends. I don’t have the energy.”
“Besides just being exceptionally well made, what makes your shirts stand out?”
“There are very subtle details that can stand out with our shirts. We do a lower side saddle, and there are 8 buttons so they can be shorter and still look good tucked in or worn out. We don’t put sleeve or back pleats because it makes them easier to iron. Those 4 things are stylistically different, but they’re also functional. Everything we do is where form meets function.”
“Can you see yourself in a different business someday?”
“I’m not just attracted to fashion, I’m attracted to food, to the way things are made. Maybe we’ll make cheese next as long as it s in the same vein of something that we love. To me it’s more about creating friendships. I like meeting people, I like the story behind a place. Everybody leads their life a certain way and I like meeting people who live with meaning or with pure recklessness or with thought out recklessness. I guess that’s what you’d call what we’re doing right now, thought out recklessness.”
“What are some wardrobe staples?”
“1-2 good pairs of jeans so that you can wash them once in a while, a few pairs of shoes, dress up jeans, a good suit. All you need is a nice t-shirt, sneakers, jeans, and a blazer and you can go almost anywhere.”
“How many of your shirts do you have?”
“Four or five. Barrett and I never take the same shirt because we wear the same size and we always do such a small run.”
Taylor Stitch and The Common are all about authenticity, what they call a “rugged refined” aesthetic. They don’t want to break people’s clothes in for them because they think that should be part of a person’s individual expression, a mini art project. Mike says that he loves wrinkles, at least the ones in Taylor Stitches’ natural cotton shirts. He wants people to know that he rolled up his sleeves and worked. “If I wore a shirt that did not have a single wrinkle in it I would worry that people would think ‘what did you do all day?’ If you look too pretty you’ re fake. Wrinkles show personality.”
Taylor Stitch doesn’t just want to sell you a shirt, it wants to reinvent the way you think about clothes. They want to see people invest in a small amount of really high quality things and take good care of them. Not everyone can afford a $150 shirt or a $200 pair of jeans, but if you think that these things will last you for years, it changes your whole perspective and ultimately it’s better for the environment. “Our biggest push is that our clothes should last you 100 years,” says Mike.
In a time that feels more and more like a losing battle between staggeringly destructive corporate giants and the rest of us, seeing a place that is alive because of its daring, unique creativity and love of life, like The Common gives me hope. Human spirit, like that indomitable, fragile flower, keeps pushing its head through the concrete.