Abbylyn Roca shows her notebook. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.
Abbylyn Roca shows her notebook. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.

Abbylyn Roca used to love walking around San Francisco’s design district, getting into the details of the landscape: The structure of a building, the display of objects. She noticed how each detail worked to unify different groups of people.

Architecture, interior design, furniture design; as she walked, she started to consider these in terms of a career choice. Now, she carries a notebook wherever she goes, taking notes, drawing illustrations and writing random creative ideas. In her spare time, she’s taking a lot of online art classes. Recently, she collected some wood slabs and other materials and learned how to sand them using her own tools.

Roca is working behind the counter at Gravel & Gold. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.

Two months ago, Roca started a day job as a salesperson at Gravel & Gold, an independent, woman-owned design collective on 21st Street between Lexington and Valencia streets.

Roca saw it as an opportunity to network and learn, prepare herself for a future design job, and perhaps even create her own brand one day. Random designers walk through Gravel & Gold’s glass door and show her what they are working on.

“The Mission is actually one of my favorite places. Because it’s all about community, just like locals supporting each other, ” said Roca, who moved to San Francisco from the Philippines in 2006, when she was nine. 

After graduating from high school, she didn’t want to start college right away, and instead, got her first retail job at Club Monaco, where she learned more about visual merchandising: How to display products and how to market them to customers. 

“It just worked out for me.” Roca said, adding that she enjoyed talking to people and building relationships with customers. But turning 25 recently was like a wake-up call that it was time to make a change and create something of her own.

Her father once told her to find a more secure job, instead of being “an embarrassing shopkeeper.” Her family back in the Philippines has high expectations for her.

“It’s okay,” said Roca. “That’s how you grow, and how you have your own kind of opinions, to be separate from people that don’t support you in any way.”

Roca said she’s old enough to have her own plan. But she’s still young enough to try different things. She hasn’t yet decided which program to pursue; maybe architecture school at the University of California, Berkeley, maybe starting from some courses at San Francisco City College. 

You can visit Gravel & Gold at 3266 21st St., or go to its website to learn the background story.

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INTERN DATA REPORTER. Chuqin has two degrees in data journalism and she is passionate about making data more accessible to readers. Before arriving in the Mission, she covered small business and migratory birds in New York City while learning to code and design at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. She loves coastal cities, including SF and her hometown Ningbo.

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