What Do You Think About the Levi’s Workshop on Valencia?

People seem to have a lot to say about the new Levi’s Workshop that recently opened on Valencia between 16th and 17th Street in the future location of a Charles Phan restaurant.  Some residents find it a little ironic:

You find it odd that the hood went nuts when AA tried to move in but they had very little issue with Levi’s opening a pop-up which is a company 5000 times the size?
Have you seen all the vandalism all over the front of the Levi’s store?
They hit the store two nights in a row and completely destroyed the front of the shop, took 15 people 2 days to clean it up and still can’t get parts off.

The graffiti in question may or may not be the work of some anarchist chick that Kevmo ran into.  Whatever the case, the incident seems to have prompted the hiring of a full-time private security guard to patrol the block in an attempt to stem the vandalism, as MM reader Elle points out:

guess what? starting yesterday evening and throughout the entire summer, there is a security guard on duty 24-7 on the block of Valencia between 16th and 17th.  this is private ‘police’ monitoring your activity in public space. they don’t stop people from being robbed or killed, they are just there to watch the stuff.

For their part, Levi’s says the workshop is good for the neighborhood:

Each workshop is designed to focus on a specific craft including printmaking and photography, and will feature forums where local pioneers in design, sports, technology, sustainability, and other interests can engage and collaborate

So, what do you guys think about it?

[Photo courtesy of Uptown Almanac]


American Apparel Comes to the Mission

Details on the American Apparel Hearing (NSFW)

American Apparel Says Peace

Author: Andrew Sarkarati

caution is the path to mediocrity. gliding, passionless mediocrity is all that most people think they can achieve.

65 thoughts on “What Do You Think About the Levi’s Workshop on Valencia?”

  1. I like it. I haven’t been back since the launch party, but the staff seemed pretty chill and there wasn’t pressure to buy or even look at any of the clothing. Personally I’m looking forward to hear Stefan Sagmeister come in for a talk. People here will find any excuse to cut down anything they perceive as “corporate”. Hypocrisy.

  2. Something is definitely better than nothing at all, but let’s not kid ourselves here. This whole thing is just advertising for Levi’s – regardless of what happens inside of the space. The point is that they can re-market their brand to the Valencia street crowd. That this “store” can give more back to the community than it is taking (aside from filling a previously empty space) is pretty laughable.

    The brunt of their clothing is still mass-produced in a 3rd world country under questionable conditions.

    Then again, who makes their denim locally?

    1. Even the cotton Levi’s are made from is produced totally unethically. Monsanto’s death-grip on the seed industry is ruining farming worldwide, and that doesn’t just mean food. It’s horrifying.

    2. They made their denim in the original factory (as well as elsewhere throughout the world) two blocks up on Valencia between 14th & 15th (or is it Duboce & 14th) until just a couple of years ago. Alas, we’re probably all correct in assuming they don’t make it anywhere locally anymore . . .?

  3. Corporation? Yes. Supporting local artists and artisans? Yes.

    Good for them. …and, if I’m correct– it USED TO BE A LEVI’S STORE…

  4. I think the whole thing is an elaborate branding exercise. It’s got us all talking and that’s exactly how branding works. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the graffiti was done by a Levi’s corporate employee.

  5. What is wrong with people teaching people how to print and silkscreen? Yes, Levi’s brand is sponsoring this, and yeah corporations suck blah blah blah, but whats wrong with giving someone a chance to learn a pretty amazing art form? I know I dont have the disposable income to just have all necessities needed for screen printing, and I appreciate someone being able to walk me through the process for free, and without an elitist attitude.

    1. I agree. With so many people out of work, so many kids on the street during the summer, a little diversion in arts instruction including materials, sponsored by a corporation does not entirely suck. I remember my first silk screened T as a thrill. I’m not advocating buying their product, but free shit is free shit. AA never offered this.
      BTW, the old Levi building is now the Friends School, just across Brosnan from Pauline’s Pizza. They spent a lotta money and time on it. At least its not abandoned.

    2. Has anyone tried to actually go in there and print for free? Why is there nothing about the public day in the schedule or on the website? I been in the shop twice to try and get specifics about printing and got the run around. Finally today I was told that public day was Sunday, that no sign up was needed, and that you don’t need to bring your own paper or inks, just show up. My intention is to prove that anyone can go in there and print to take advantage of what seems like a great idea. I can’t say it has been very smooth getting info so far. I also emailed through the levis workshop website to ask for specifics about how to print and no one responded. I’ll try Sunday and let you know how it goes.

      1. I talked to Ed who works at the screenprint part, and he told me that if I had a design in mind I wanted to print, just bring the acetate with that image, and from there they will burn the screen and provide the ink for whatever I want to print, and I DONT have to buy anything there to print on. If I don’t want to buy Levis stuff there, I can bring in my own shirts, paper, etc that I want the image on and they will help me out. I’m hoping its as easy as that, and that I’m not just naive.

  6. Well at least they are trying to offer some interesting activities & culture for the neighborhood . .. and it’s not like the Big Corporate Monster of Levi’s has suddenly gobbled up the neighborhood; they’ve been here forever – the original factory is just two blocks up the street and was fully functional until fairly recently (until they had to buckle under global pressure and presumably moved everything off shore). Perhaps this is their attempt to fill the void of that unfortunate departure.

    1. And, the Haas family have literally contributed millions to cultural, educational, and social causes in SF for years. For those of you newbies who don’t know who the Haases are, check this out.

  7. Right back at you, Mission Mission. Is your destiny to be a provocateur, serving only to pose on the edges of hypocrisy and let your readers fight it out?

    I hope not.

    What do *you* think?

    1. some people seem to consider it worthwhile, a la a more pedestrian crucible for sf. whatever my predilections, i definitely don’t think it should be all tagged up. let’s see what you can learn how to do there.

    2. I don’t have a problem with us posing questions to the community. I think that’s a value of this blog, at least for me, hearing what other people think. I don’t think everything has to be presented with an opinion.

      That said, I think this is a tricky one. I’m rarely psyched to see more corporate commodification of the kind of work that I do. Not if it’s the work that I do for myself while trying not to think about how I can make money off of it, which is not easy.

      Then again, it looks like a cool shop, and it doesn’t make me want to buy Levi’s. So that’s cool. Glad to see artists being supported and supporting others.

      But if you do it with the blessing and leadership of our corporate overlords, I don’t think you can say that we’re not confusing the purpose. There needs to be a way to do this kind of work without requiring the blessing of a huge company’s PR department.

      Then again, it’s a graphic art, mostly associated with advertising, so maybe they’re not confused about why they’re there. Maybe we are.

      It’s a tricky one.

      1. Excellent issue,just because you make anything there, they shouldn’t have visual or copy rights to it. amirite?

      2. Well, maybe they should, since you’re doing it for them? I work at an arts organization and anything created there is the property of the organization. That’s standard. But I trust my organization to use the material in a way that I approve of, which makes (almost) all the difference.

    3. Thanks for the challenge. Yes, we do stay somewhat neutral here, but I think that’s more a product of us actually being pretty level-headed than actually trying to passive-aggressivly start shit.

      If you want my opinion: Short answer is that I don’t think it matters that Levi’s is doing this.

      Honestly, I didn’t even mind that AA was trying to move to the Mission. Maybe it’s selfish, but I like American Apparel stuff, and I think a lot of other folks here do too. It would be nice to not have to bike up to the Haight to get it.

      I also like Levi’s products. Everyone has owned a pair of Levi’s and if they want to slap their name on something, I don’t take issue with it. Some people are affected by advertising, and some people are not. If you’re not, then you’re not their target audience anyway.

      I think companies start with the best intentions in mind: offering good products to you. That’s the reason Levi’s and AA are where they are… their stuff is (or was) good. Before they were trendy, those people in-the-know had nothing but praise for them. But as you grow as a company, to stay competitive, you might end up doing things that aren’t the most humane to people or nature and maybe your quality even slips. Not because that’s because it’s your intention from the start, but because you’re so big you can’t possibly manage every bit of what’s going on. Unfortunately, thats how capitalism works. You can bitch about it all you want, but we live in it so sometimes we have to play along.

      However, I think with such immediate access to information (the internet), accountability is rising and there’s a lot going on that indicates a shift in our thinking about how big companies operate and it’s a good thing. “Going green” wasn’t a priority as it is now 10 years ago. Apple is getting shitty press for worker suicides at their China foxconn factories and people are responding to their crappy labor conditions. People are willing to compromise to make sure things are fairly made.

      Example: Timbuk2, who some of you might think is a rapidly becoming huge evil corporation, is based in the mission and have always been in San Francisco since the beginning. Yes, their bags are made in China for the most part now, but if you pay a premium you can specifically get a custom bag made here. Some people are willing to do that, some aren’t. But the choice is there and it outlines the reality that the low prices that you’re used to are driven by consumers themselves. Are you willing to pay more for the same thing to make sure it’s humanely made? I hope so, but not everyone can.

      Finally, I think soliciting information from the community on a blog (for example) is a good way to raise awareness of what’s going on and change things for the better. I don’t think that destroying stuff and that is the right way to fight corporations. Such damages are barely a tax write-off to big companies and really just lower the standard of living for the locals.

      Um, yeah. Is that what you were hoping to hear?

  8. Where is zinzin when we need him? ;)
    To me, there is not only tragic irony but also governance lessons in this case of AA vs. LS.
    I was against the Stop AA campaign of Stephen Elliot, because it was based on misinformation, apparently intentionally so, and also actively suppressed correct information and open discussion, including from several regular commenters on this blog. AA is not a big-box retailer; has good manufacturing and labor practices; does not have bad economic impacts on local economies; does not compete against boutique and vintage shops found on Valencia St., or against discount shops found on Mission St.; and is not the first instance of formula retail in the neighborhood. It is also not the case that a precedent for formula retail would have been created by having AA under Prop G, the applicable law; quite the contrary, Prop G requires individual assessment for each formula-retail application, and considers existing retail as well as remaining space; so having AA would actually have helped to prevent other, worser formula retail under Prop G. Further, Stephen Elliot deleted posts on his Stop AA blog in which his real attitude was revealed: to stop “douche bags” from coming to the neighborhood, a quite subjectively judgmental, non-open and -accepting, anti-democratic sentiment from a self-proclaimed representative of neighborhood coolness. Your own private sense of coolness is not guaranteable in your neighborhood by law in a democracy.
    What the AA and LS cases shows is that there is not a proper adjudication process established by existing laws, Prop G or others. There was no response to and clarification of false claims – such as those made by Stop AA – by city officials (e.g. Planning Dept. and Board members) in a position to address such claims. There is no basis in the law for deciding based on true claims and real impacts, so that once the outcry from a minority rounded up for an early Friday afternoon hearing by Stephen Elliot had made supporting AA on any grounds politically toxic for the supervisors, they all folded, and voted against AA. It is more governance by circus than adjudication under equally-protective law or decision-making based on economic and social realities.
    So far the Levis case, I guess no one cared – although Levis definitely is a bigger, badder retailer, despite its local history, than AA.
    There is also not effective protection under current law. The law just stops formula retail from taking over local business, but it does not specifically protect local business from other things. Hayes Valley (along with North Beach) is a neighborhood in which no formula retail is allowed, but a few years ago, majorly-funded local businesses replaced nearly all the previous local businesses that had “pioneered” (alt-gentrified?) the neighborhood as we know it now; their rents were tripled or quadrupled. There were no legal protections against that at all…
    So I think the laws need to be revised to provide adjudication (on legal bases), and consultation that can include expert witnesses (to establish factual bases). The consultation on all sides should be supported by public funds or by the applicants, so that capital for experts won’t determine an outcome. The laws should also be revised to provide specific protections for businesses, with balance for landlords who should be allowed to profit from “improvements” in neighborhoods, without driving out local businesses; a mix of formula or well-funded retail with small, independent retail should be targeted, with the larger retailers contributing to a local business fund.
    It’s all well and good to think that this protection would be good, but, honestly, Carl’s Bakery, Quality Junk and Anna’s Kitchen were NOT contributing as positively to the neighborhood as Tartine and Delfina, if you ask me… I don’t know how to deal with the case of a crappily independent local business that SUCKS! (e.g. Craig’s Place and its post-chef-defection successor – although I think they own the building or at least hold the lease).
    I think there could be Supreme Court cases about the AA vs. LS cases, arguing that there is effective denial of economic rights in the unadjudicated SF process. But no one is going to take things that far…

      1. Yeah! I think Bruce might have been in Tartine’s kitchen. I think Quality Junk was Delfina Pizzeria, or the annexed expansion of the restaurant. I can’t quite remember so far back… No one shopped at what is now Bi-Rite in those days!
        Didn’t Bruce move to Upper Polk St.?

  9. Craig’s space is owned by the same douchebag that owns the 3 crappy laundromats in the area. Just there to take your money like MIA.

    P.S. anything that comes with a security guard on Valencia sucks period. Let the Cops do the job, it’s a 1/4 block from the @#$%@# Mission station.

  10. I’m a local letterpress printer and was contacted by the media/marketing team behind the Levi’s “print shop” about working at the space a few weeks ago. Initially, I was stoked to be considered for a project like this–I love the idea of putting letterpress in the hands of the public (instead of reserving it for those who can afford fancy, photopolymer wedding invitations).

    However: They were looking for folks who could work full-time for several weeks, but were only paying $13.50 an hour. That’s barely a livable wage for us living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (world?). I work full-time, and wouldn’t be able to afford to take several weeks off at that level of compensation. Bummer. It would be great to actually feel like I could make a living making and sharing the art that I love, even if the dream only lasted two months.

    I haven’t been to the space yet. I don’t want to trash talk it, because I guess I should give it a fair shake. I can’t help but feel, though, that if a corporate sponsor like Levi’s genuinely wants to recognize the value of a unique art form–and support the artists and the community behind it–they’ve got to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Otherwise, it’s just another flimsy marketing stint from another large corporate brand.

    Okay. That’s the end of my rant.

    1. Katherine, you should be very, very glad you didn’t go to work for them. Besides that whole $13.50 an hour thing. I have it on good authority that they don’t know what the F**k they’re doing. Go by and take a look at how high the table is from which they expect to pull screenprints. Hard to do unless you have Andre the Giant’s arms.

      You were right to put “print shop” in quotes. They’re only concerned with *looking* all local and make-y and stuff. Can’t you just hear the marketing meetings? That’s way more important to them than having a properly set-up, functioning, safe print shop run by appropriately compensated employees.

      1. I don’t know, Dan. They seem to be pulling some nice prints out of that place, and it at least APPEARS that they know what they’re doing. I met and talked with two guys in the screen printing room that were really on top of their game, and I watched another guy (not on the staff) making some awesome prints of a baby with a plunger on its head on Sunday- the table height didn’t seem to bother anybody.

        About the pay? Well sure, I guess everyone wants to make a hundred bucks an hour, but I got the impression everyone there is just in it to make prints and share print making with other people. Maybe they just do it because they like to. Maybe for them money has nothing to do with it?

        Either way, I think that however many people working there making ANYTHING an hour is better than the boarded-up eyesore the place has been for the past however many years, and at least there’s a few more people who aren’t just looking for work doing whatever they can find to get by: They get to be print makers. That has to be worth SOMETHING.

  11. I don’t know what is more laughable to me… People protesting a temporary ‘chain store’ (my understanding is that it will only be there for two months) a block from a McDonalds, a Burger King, and a Walgreens… or the fact that Levi’s needs to hire a private security guard to keep the store safe when it’s 100′ from the police station at the corner of Mission and 17th.

      1. Really? I think you’re both overlooking the difference between a new shop and a pre-existing one.

        And yes, I do realize that Levi’s used to be on Valencia.

  12. I’m going to make a generalization: there is a negative correlation between how affluent you are and how much you care about the issues raised in this this “debate.”

  13. At the launch party I chatted up this girl and she gave me a stefan sagmeister poster. when i got it home, i found out it was print of a levi’s ad. I am for vandalizing the place.

    1. Manuelito,

      That totally makes sense. Why don’t you go vandalize Stefan Sagmeister for making an ad for Levi’s? Sagmeister did a campaign (http://www.coolhunting.com/style/levis-x-stefan.php) Sure. I mean, that’s the point of becoming a designer right? To get the big ad job? Get your work out there? Buy a house? Get into all the cool magazines? Become an Art Star?

      And then LS pays him handsomely, and then they make posters of his ad. Then someone gives you a poster for FREE, and your response is “I am for vandalizing the place.”


  14. I wish Anna’s Cookies moved into the spot…but I’ll take anything over the 8 year empty spot it has been….

  15. All my Levis jeans say Made in Mexico…(used to be Dom. Rep.)…and that’s fine by me. Keepin it NorAm whenever possible FOR TREAL.

  16. =v= I’m originally from Pittsburgh, PA, and I was gobsmacked to see a Levi’s “Ready to Work” ad campaign featuring nearby Braddock, PA. It’s a long-struggling working-class town that was recently hit with a huge round of layoffs.

    The aforementioned “anarchist chick” might be interested to know that Braddock is also rife with D.I.Y. culture: stuff like urban farming and homesteading, cargo bikes, and visual arts. See http://justseeds.org/ for more info. (Whether this workshop is homage or ripoff is of course of for debate.)

  17. i guess the Braddock, PA folk are now out of poverty because Levi’s came through and took a picture. not.

    100 years in the mission, i better get out of the hood or recognize.

    copying machines and screen printing facilities: thanks for providing those, because there is such a shortage copy shops in the city. no wait, there isn’t. except for the 24 hour variety (there is only 1 left.) maybe this store can provide that. oh no, people can’t even loiter on the street outside the shop after hours, or a privately hired security guard will tell you to move along, while the police station is 1/4 block away from the storefront.

    who runs this city anyway?

    those riff raff running the independent screen printing shop that just opened up behind rainbow groceries, who needs them. now that this thing provides those resources conveniently located on Valencia and 16 on Sunday, the most convenient day of the week.

    the Friend’s school is a cage that shines like a beacon of hope for the neighborhood, situated within a 2 block radius from the old Walden House facility.
    k-6 kids are cute and need to be helped (inside a cage,) and when they get older, we expect them to have problems, because that’s the way the world works. nothing can be done except convince them that they need to voluntarily buy and wear a uniform to gain self esteem, Levi’s can provide that, too.
    and while denim is meant to last, everyone needs to throw their old uniform away and get a brand new set every year before they go back to school. when they grow up and become the jobless losers collecting glass and aluminum outside the cage, Levi’s and fund the well-meaning social services in the hood.

    everyone’s work is important, including people collecting ore. it’s also important that they are not paid enough to eat, clothe, and house themselves; if not, who’s going to look like they need social services funded by Levi’s and friends.

    their kids can go back into the cage, it’s there in the hood like a rock.

    some people’s work isn’t important, though. my mother, who is a career seamstress and who has worked in this city in independent shops for 20+ years, would have worked for anyone, including Levi’s, for minimum wage. but that’s not union wages, thus she cannot be used. her work is important to someone, but not to Levi’s.

    low-fi art is one of the last things a ner’-do-well can afford to have a voice. Levi’s owns that now. the message: art is only art when it’s inside a store. when it’s not in line with someone’s agenda, it deserves to be wiped out. for $15/hour, normal, everyday people will do that with vigor and a sense of righteousness.

  18. Yubbba-yubba-yubba…the hate and sarcasm is so thick, here, it’s hard to read through to the reality, which may include some parts of this comment. Using the “shift” key, when appropriate, would help. So would a consistent point-of-view, which, here, seems to veer wildly between Leftist and Rightist rhetoric. I can’t tell if that’s some kind of inept sarcasm, or some kind of sophisticated troll.

      1. i was actually going to check it out yesterday since i stayed home from work, but then i got in a bike accident. so it’s still a mystery.

      2. I don’t think anything about the store. I haven’t been inside and don’t intend to be. The outside is about the same as the rest of the block.

        A wise man (Iggy Pop) once said something like, ‘Americans think that because they have the right to an opinion, they MUST HAVE an opinion about everything.’ An even wiser man (Harlan Ellison) once said, “No, schmuck, you do not have the right to an opinion; you have the right to an INFORMED opinion.”

        I try to keep these guidelines in mind when spouting-off in public.

    1. Gotta love how an analysis not conveniently pre-packaged for ideological consumption sticks in Cranky’s craw. Elle’s point is that the facile leftist sanctimony employed in defense of the store could be in much better faith employed for our city’s already existent print shops (or bottle-collectors or seamstresses for that matter). Why not confront the latest corporate co-optation of outsider art, DIY ethic, and community service, and BRAND the co. instead with the true story, the part it plays in cycles of global underpay and local underemployment?

  19. I think it’s great.

    First, I think that this is the future of retail/big business… They aren’t hocking merch.. they’re obviosly attempting to offer something constructive to the creative community…

    Second, who cares if it’s Levi’s or AA. If they clean up a dilapidated store front and put it to use – long term or not – in one form or another, it’s helping restore and maintain the neighborhood.

    Third… Fuckin eh.. lets get more T-Mobile, Check Cashing, fast food places (as mentioned above McDonalds, BurgerKing) and shitty condos in the area. LOL! Rrriiighhtt..? I think everyone is bitching about the wrong people/situations. We should all be bitching about the fact that Mission st is full of potential, yet business owners and the city seem to be doing ZERO to improve or maintain the strip.

    Stop complaining about people trying to add something to nothing (empty store fronts included) and start focusing on ways to help drive and shift the change the neighborhood deserves. If you dont, Levis and others alike, will.

  20. has anyone actually gone inside?

    last week i met a nice girl on the sidewalk. we talked, became fast friends, and she invited my girlfriend and me to visit her at levi’s workshops: print – a new philanthropic, community-focused initiative organized (yes) to promote levi’s, but also to help creative people do creative things.

    inside, she and her friendly, helpful coworkers helped us letterpress a poster for a community art project in the sunset. no hassle, no fuss, no cost, no wait – just help! they were very excited. so were we.

    on our website, i had just written, “kindness and community truly are a winning combination,” before i saw this thread. to what insidious corporate ploy have i succumbed?

    they’re beautiful posters. i feel lucky to have had access to this equipment. i am glad to have made new friends. i’m happy that nice, hardworking, creative people have jobs in a print shop for two months. i would rather live in a world where this exists than in one where it doesn’t.

    i’m only grateful.

  21. Hi all,

    I love the conversation going on here, that many people are at least thinking about this, and taking the time to comment. I would like to say that I was hired by the SUBCONTRACTOR that hired people for the Levi’s Workshop project and was strung along for about a month NOT BEING TOLD THAT I WAS GOING TO BE WORKING FOR LEVI’S. It was slimy. I was told I was going to be hired for a temporary print shop that “helps local nonprofits.” I quit after about a week of being confused and trying to decompress and process that I had been hired by Levi’s.

    Levi’s, by the way, does not own any of their factories. They are an “idea-only” company, officially, that sells ideas. I learned this by speaking to someone at Not For Sale, who tracks the net slavery/work abuse that goes into a company’s products. By saying that they do not “own” their factories, Levi’s can have as grubby of a manufacturing practice as they want, and it will never be linked concretely back to “them.” Even on a website like Not for Sale, we can’t track because of name changes. The object, or process has nothing to do with the idea. Nor does any compassion.

    It was obvious when I was in the workshop too, it was slapped together and people were not being nice to one another at all. People kept quitting/lashing out. It was a mess. Everyone was angry. I quit before opening day.

    I made a little ZINECHAPBOOK about this whole process. I put it at Needles and Pens. I am selling it for $4. I just want people to talk and think about how their puchases and actions and life choices can really affect others. (N&P had been asked to do a project with the Workshop and also dropped out.)

    Quitting that workshop was the best thing that ever happened to me. It let me know where I stand in life. That I will never purchase anything new (of course I can never purely do that, but I REFUSE to buy new clothes–there is so much to be reused and handmade). I will try to make every action in my life, financial or social, to support or benefit something I believe in. Thanks, Levi’s.

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