Ivan Lopez and his family came to the Mission District from Colombia when Lopez was a little kid and he grew up working in his parent’s store Elite Sport Soccer. A year ago, the Pratt Institute industrial design grad, returned to the Mission and unable to find a job, he decided to start his own gallery and clothing store just a block from the soccer store.
Tonight, Artillery Apparel Gallery celebrates its one-year anniversary and Mission Loc@l decided to sit down with Lopez – on some wheeled stools made out of tree stumps – and check in with the young entrepreneur.
When did you get back from New York City?
I moved back in 2009.
The worst time ever to graduate?
Nobody was even accepting interns…that’s why I enrolled back into city college and that’s where I realized there were tons of people – clothing designers – making things.
How do you pick between designers?
A lot of products produced today have to compete with overseas and China.
You want to get local designers, you have to gauge the product, if it’s well-designed. I have a hard time turning people away, but I try to work with them. I’ll test it out, take the product for a month and see if it sells.
Did your parents encourage you to open the store?
I did hand-painted shirts and sold them on the street for like $15. I was thinking about selling them in stores…I did have a push from my parents.
We talked about [starting my own store] one night in April last year…and literally the next day my parents started looking for a space. We came in to look at a space and a month later…
Is running a store harder than just trying to sell your shirts in stores?
It’s more fun than being in a studio because you get to engage with people and they give you feedback. It’s not only about clothing, it’s about being a dynamic space.
How did being in New York change how you see San Francisco?
In New York, there’s so many things going on – music, art, businesses, wall street…I think by my fourth year at Pratt I started to understand how to move around the city. Then I realized I wanted to know the city I was in. I know San Francisco, I know every neighborhood, I know a lot of people here.
It’s funny, I got more jobs in New York not knowing anybody. I think coming back from New York, there’s more of a spirit of hustling there….there’s a lot more space here in San Francisco, to stand out it’s not as difficult.
A lot of people come here and say this feels like a store that’s in New York.
How did you change the store as this year has progressed?
We had seven local designers, as we progressed.
So now we have 30 designers and people are coming from all over the world. Now I guess the ball got rolling…we don’t have to depend on mainstream companies anymore.
Even if you have a great product if its not displayed in the right manner people overlook it.
How is Artillery doing now a year out?
Good. We sustain ourselves. Four people are working here and they’re paid more than minimum wage. But, it’s a constant working really hard, late hours.
It’s a lot of details. We work really hard keeping up with getting new artists in and even better local designers.
How are you different than other similar stores?
We have a great staff who treat everyone with respect, a great staff that’s extroverted. We’re not just about, ‘oh look at my cool backpack.’ We want people to take away is that our products are unique.
We can customize things, we can go back to the artist and get a different size. We’re not Forever 21. Customers come back and ask where was that thing we had last week, but it may be gone this week, and we’ll probably never get it again.
We’re different by being in a neighborhood that doesn’t engage in design. The majority of our customers are Latinos – some are timid, at first they say, ‘it’s not for me.’ But, anyone can appreciate some art on their wall.
Do you find yourself coaxing people into the store?
Yes. They sometimes become our best customers.
A lot of places want to target a certain market and if you’re not that they’re not going to talk to you.
How has your own t-shirt artwork changed?
It used to be more splashy and loose. People aren’t cool with too splashy, people like borders. Producing a new product, you have to give yourself limitations.
If you tone it down and grow with the product, then you can experiment. People are really conservative or they want something casual, or you have the other extreme.
What sells the best?
Lots of local jewelry sells well, a lot of people like the hand-painted shirts, dresses…
What about criticism that you’re helping to gentrify the Mission?
Are you doing something good for the community selling stuff that isn’t normal Latino products? You can’t stop [the changing population], it’s always been like that.
I don’t think anybody owns the Mission. [There’s no use] thinking that the neighborhood is one particular race or class.
We’re planning a project with pinhole cameras. We’re trying to get 1,000 people to take pictures of the Mission District and put them up in the gallery. We want them to take pictures of what represents their district…Not everyone knows how a camera works and people see that arts are really accessible…
What else would you want people to know?
Expect changes. I hope we can collaborate with more people.
Artillery Apparel Gallery
2751 Mission Street (between 23rd and 24th Streets)