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The Effortless San Francisco Line Poised For Big Things

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It's time to get to know some of the 50 finalists nominated for Racked Young Guns, our annual search for the country's most promising new fashion talent.

Nikki Garcia, right, alongside a dress from her collection. Photo by Maria del Rio.

An essential white tunic for $140. A wear-everywhere pair of high-waisted trousers for $180. A truly grown-up pair of overalls for $200. Since Nikki Garcia started her line First Rite in 2012, she's found her groove on well-priced wardrobe workhorses. Using a muted color scheme of indigo, white, and black, First Rite's laidback silhouettes appeal to everyone from Swedish kids on Instagram to 65-year-old ladies at craft fairs.

Garcia spent her undergrad years studying business at the University of Montana, then hightailed it to FIDM in San Francisco, where the outdoors is still in her backyard. "I thought I would move to New York or maybe move back to Portland, depending on which route I wanted to take in terms of design, but I just totally got hooked on San Francisco," Garcia said. First Rite is currently stocked in San Francisco boutiques like Revolver and Voyager Shop, and when Racked talked to Garcia this June, she was at a major turning point for her line, focusing on expanding throughout California and onto the East Coast.

Read on to hear how Garcia's adopted home of seven years influences her work—and why one women's study-abroad experience left her begging Garcia to bring back a First Rite classic.

Photo by Maria del Rio

What do you love about San Francisco?

Everything. It's a beautiful city. There's an amazing community here, I love how close it is to the outdoors. You can drive over a bridge and just be in the woods; it's beautiful. The weather is really mild year round. It really is a dreamy city.

Does that come through in your designs?

Maybe subconsciously. I think living here has definitely affected my designs. The West coast has a very laid back style. San Francisco has this flatline weather year round. You create two seasons a year but the pieces all feel wearable year round. And as I've been here longer, I think I'm really pushing my collection toward simplicity—a new take on basics.

Photos by Jen Siska

Why simplicity?

The first collection I put together was Spring 2012. At that time, I think I was trying to create pieces that were more complicated. I was really into pleating and lots of style details.

But I think as I've been doing this longer, and I think as I get older too, I'm thinking about what do I want to wear, what am I gravitating towards? And it really is those basics, the things you get the most wear out of. They feel less seasonal, less trendy—something people are going to want to buy and they can wear for years.

Photo by Maria del Rio

What have you been most excited about in the past year?

This has actually been a pretty exciting year for me. I've been doing freelance design for Levi's over the past two years, so my own work actually hasn't been full-time. In the past six months, I could kind of feel it building. I am starting to get a lot more stores reaching out to me; I'm starting to get a lot more wholesale accounts. I started my own online shop. That's a great way for me to interact directly with my customers. I am starting to do a lot of direct sales from customers and getting emails from people buying the clothes and feedback.

Photo by Maria del Rio

Is making everything in the U.S. important to you?

I think it is really important. And I think it's something that's part of the business that I hope can really continue. Right now I just work with three sewing ladies in San Francisco. I've developed a very personal relationship with them and they've become friends.

I think it's so important to know who is making your clothes and having a little bit of a hand in the process—keeping it here and supporting this economy and my community in San Francisco. There are a handful of factories here that are still doing a lot of production. It's more expensive, but I really do think that it makes the garments more special.

People are becoming aware of that, and are willing to pay. In some cases, the right customer is willing to pay more because they understand what it means when something is made in the U.S. It costs me more to make it. The people that made it are making a good wage on it. They're not working in a sweatshop.

It's great for me to have the control of "Let me jump in my car and help you out, or show you how this should be put together," but also being able to support these women who are very skilled sewers in San Francisco.

The duster dress, $200

Are there any bestsellers that people have loved from the past collections?

What has developed is this set of patterns that is the jumping off point for every collection. The trouser I do has been really popular. Or the perfect buttondown blouse. So right now I'm really working on the new season and pulling in old shapes and just sort of tweaking them a little.

I think the most popular thing I've pulled have been the trousers, and I did a dress back in Spring '12 called the duster dress which I've just recently re-introduced and sold a lot. I had people asking about it, and then I had a girl reach out to me who told me that she was studying abroad and living with a host mom who was really strict, and the mom thought that it was too provocative. Which is crazy. I mean it shows a little bit of your back and it's low-cut in the front, but it's a long dress, you know?

So while she was out, her host mom boiled it on the stove. And ruined it! She told me this story, and I was like "Oh my God, I have to recut that dress." When I read it, I was hysterically laughing but also felt so bad for her, because she loved the dress so much.

Did she get another one?

She didn't get another one. She said she was traveling and living on a budget. She was like, oh I had saved up to buy that one.

It might be traumatizing too.

I know! She was like, "I left that night."

Photo by Jen Siska

Tell us about the future for First Rite.

This week is my last week freelancing with Levi's, so I'm about to go full-time on my work. It's really exciting. I'm going over the edge right now.

Right now, I'm getting fall production ready, trying to finish up Spring 2015 to be ready for market week in September, trying to get the photoshoot together. Also, I'm doing little summer capsules that have just been available on my website. Stores are actually starting to reach out and say, "Hey, we know these are on your website only, but do you mind wholesaling them? So it's very busy. I'd say the big deadlines are Fall 2014 delivery, then the new collection, which I'm super excited about for spring. I'm going to extend into a lot more stores and really take this business full-time.
· First Rite [Official Site]
· Introducing the Kids' Line So Cool, Adults Want It Too [Racked]
· All Young Guns coverage [Racked]