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Meet Ali Golden, the Oakland Designer Making Clothes You’ll Want to Live In

Golden talks inspiration, what’s coming next, and why “made in America” doesn’t work for her line.

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Ali Golden's shop in Temescal Alley in Oakland. Photo: Aaron Wojack

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If you’ve ever wondered how Bay Area women get that seemingly effortless, easygoing-but-polished look down so well, I’ve got two words for you: Ali Golden.

This Oakland-based designer makes tunics, dresses, jumpsuits, pants, and sweaters so wearable, once you get them on you’ll reconsider ever putting on anything else. (I’ve got a dress and a shirt made by the label, and despite feeling as comfortable as pajamas, I’ve never worn either piece without receiving several compliments and questions about where I bought them.)

While her business started out wholesale and direct-to-consumer online, you could say Golden’s line is anchored by her cute Temescal Alley boutique just down the street from her studio, which stocks her own clothes as well as pieces by a number of other labels with a similar point of view: Ilana Kohn jumpsuits, dresses by SF-based brand First Rite, ceramics by Brooklyn’s Group Partner, and organic cotton Pansy lingerie. If you’re in the area, don’t miss the chance to check out her wares as well as take in the whole indie retail community that’s blossomed in the area around her store.

I took a few minutes to catch up with Golden outside her boutique this past August, and her laid-back nature made me realize her clothes are a natural expansion of her personality. She had a lot to say on the idea of conscientious production; for many brands (and consumers), “made in America” signifies ethical sourcing. But according to Golden, this doesn’t make sense for her small brand — it would pass on too high of a cost to the customer.

Instead, she’s cultivating relationships with factories in the same places that produce the raw materials her clothes are made from, and sewing select items in the US when it’s possible, and in her words, “when it feels right.” Here’s what Golden had to say about her latest collections, her approach to making clothes, and her line’s home in Oakland.

Ali Golden dresses modeled by ballerinas. Photo: Ali Golden

On Her Line:

Mostly what we do is elevated basic separates. The crux of it is a really easy, not-too-serious, wearable, special-enough garment that you feel good about investing in because it's been made well, but it's not something that's so out of touch or over-the-top or forward that you can't wear it everyday.

The part for me that has become so satisfactory is designing something that's super wearable, but also made in a way that I can stand behind.

On Outsourcing Production:

I love making stuff that people can wear and I can stand behind ethically but it's also a price that people can afford. The only way to do that is for me to outsource off shores. That's what we do. That's the part that is the most exciting to me at this point — finding a way to exist in the climate as it gets more complicated.

We take a deep and complicated approach to the way that we make stuff. My pieces are made all over the place and I feel like that's something I really want to explain more to our consumers. It's not all made in America because it doesn't really make sense to make everything in America anymore.

Racks of clothing at Ali Golden Photo: Aaron Wojack

How (and Where) Her Clothes Are Made:

When we use anything cotton or alpaca — so anything that's a raw material of Peru — we produce in Peru using women's cooperatives. We go there and audit those factories and make sure everything's green, and have a really good relationship with them.

We used to import rayon, silk, and linen from India and make the garments in San Francisco, at a San Francisco factory that we had a great relationship with — but unfortunately it closed. It's making less sense to make non-utilitarian stuff in America; when you're making a silk top, it's hard to justify such a high price for the consumer. What is actually a fair price for sewing something in this country is a little bit less in India. So now we work with another small fair trade factory in India that's really wonderful.

Anything else is kind of case-by-case. For instance, for spring, we're doing some American cone denim, simple white and black pants and jackets. Those will definitely be made in America because it makes total sense to make those in America. They're a very utilitarian style that can bear a higher price point. They're American fabric. It's a heritage garment.

On What to Buy Now:

The fall 2016 collection is very colorful and different than anything I've ever done. There's still some basic solids but they're really bright jewel tones. My favorite piece is a rayon Georgette kind of tonal stripe that's really cool and different and interesting.

What’s Coming Next:

I’m even more excited about the spring ‘17 line, which I'm literally working on right now. The whole line is really cute — it's kind of a palette cleanser. The last few seasons have been a little bit louder and so spring will be just really basic and edited. Maybe we're doing a style we've done before, or a similar style, but every issue has been addressed. It’s just really good versions of our classic pieces in the best colors.

I'm excited about the denim stuff, too. We’re working with an outerwear factory in Oakland and they're really cool. The way that they sew... They work for a lot of athletic brands, outdoorsy companies that need very technical sewing, which isn’t usually something I need. But because we're doing a basic denim jacket, we need all the well seams and everything that would be in a basic outerwear jacket. It’s great to have an opportunity to work with them.

Silk Slip Dress, $178
Pima Cotton Roll-Sleeve T-Shirt Dress, $86
Chunky V-Neck Alpaca Sweater, $287
Raw Silk Notch Collar Jacket, $194