Noe Valley Voice May 2009

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Noe Valley Voice feature, profiling new stores and businesses in and around Noe Valley. This month, we explore an eco-minded boutique that opened at the southeastern tip of the neighborhood last summer.

665 San Jose Avenue at Valley Street

Where do Brazil, ballet, and the Black Panthers meet? Surprisingly enough, at Arara--a designer workshop and boutique on San Jose Avenue devoted to earth-friendly fair trade clothing and accessories.

"Arara" means parrot in Portuguese, but the word is also slang for clothing rack in the Brazilian language Tupi-Guarani.

Since quietly opening last June opposite Mitchell's Ice Cream, the store has grown to house an array of one-of-a-kind "reconstructed" items made by 20 designers and artists. In addition to clothing, the shop sells jewelry, shoes, and bags, many incorporating found, reclaimed, and sustainable materials.

"When I opened the shop, I was kind of just looking for a space to create. As time went on, it turned into a co-op," explains owner Larissa Verdussen, a native of Brazil who started classical dance at age 6 and spent a decade performing professionally before relocating to the Bay Area and becoming a ballet teacher.

Verdussen's Brazilian roots, dancing past, and commitment to socially responsible production are obvious. Incorporating leather scraps from local companies or skins of fallen animals sent to her from Brazil by her zoologist brother, the custom-fit leather belts and over-the-shoulder holsters she considers among her signature creations are made to keep cell phones, wallets, and other items secure even as the wearer hits the dance floor of a nightclub. Her free-flowing skirts and dresses reflect her interest in comfortable clothing that moves with the body.

"I mix body mechanics and my culture, Brazil. I make the clothes fit all types of unique bodies," she says, adding that she will alter clothing to fit and create custom pieces to flatter a client's body shape.

Last October, Verdussen expanded by welcoming a second designer to the space. Andrea Lamadora, a fashion stylist and clothing designer who lives on 25th Street near Castro, now shares the shop's studio space to create the women's apparel she's produced under the label House of Mamasan since 2000. Lamadora also makes custom garments for clients and is in the process of launching Black Panther Clothing, a line of T-shirts and apparel featuring images culled from David Hilliard's extensive collection of photographs and ephemera. Hilliard was an early member and former chief of staff of the Black Panther Party, and he also happens to be Lamadora's father.

"My clothes and the Black Panther clothes really fit [in at Arara] because the store is really diverse," says Lamadora. "It's a mixture of fabrics and designs from all over the world, infused with urban lifestyle," she says.

About half the items in the store are created locally. The other half were made by emerging designers and artisans in other countries. Hip 'n' Verde tote bags from Costa Rica accompany hand-painted sneakers by San Francisco artist Max Albee, while recycled fleece tops by Kayo hang on racks alongside wrist stockings from Threads by Cho Cho, Dermafilia T-shirts, and iKohl dresses.

Handbags made of candy wrappers and necklaces of peacock feathers accompany Verdussen's handmade earrings, rings, and necklaces featuring shells, bones, acai berries, and agate stones. Prices range from $10 up to approximately $500 for custom work.

"They can always get something that can fit them, and we always have a price for everyone," Verdussen says.

After Verdussen completes a two-year degree in fashion design and merchandising from Alameda College this month, she plans to launch fashion design classes for kids that will take place this summer at the store. Other unique elements of the boutique include Verdussen's "house plant rescue" initiative--she'll take your unwanted dying plants and give them new life in the shop--and events featuring store designers held in a garden area behind the shop.

Arara's spring clothing collection was unveiled on April 30.

Hours at the store are 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The boutique is open Mondays by appointment only.

--Lorraine Sanders