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Hella Oaklandish: Celebrating “The Town”


City Hall isn’t the only place you will find Oakland’s namesake, the oak tree. Step foot in the East Bay and you will quickly come across t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and stickers that brandish an image of the iconic tree. This wave of Oakland-themed apparel reaches back to the year 2000 when Oaklandish, a civic pride apparel brand, popped up.

Oaklandish started as a local arts movement created to share and show pride in the city’s various cultures. Early on, the organization became heavily involved in Oakland’s many neighborhoods, gathering folks for secret movie screenings, projecting the images of local legends onto local landmarks, and funding community arts projects. All of this happened in Oaklandish’s infancy, when the team would sling gear out of a truck, which they affectionately called their "Oaklandish Rig."

In 2011, Oaklandish moved to a brick-and-mortar shop downtown on Broadway. Walking into Oaklandish, you are immediately hit with just how much is going on. The store is colorful and feels energetic. It is stacked with hats, shirts, backpacks, trinkets, skateboards, and a special vitality that represents all things Oakland. It is easy to realize why folks just stop by to chop it up about the A’s or just to seek advice on the best spots to grab a bite in Oakland’s burgeoning restaurant scene.

Natalie Nadimi, Oaklandish’s Communications and Outreach Manager, says that the store’s hats reflect the different color schemes of Oakland’s high schools, plus a green and yellow theme for the A’s, black and silver for the Raiders.

One of its most popular images is an image of the eastern span of the Oakland Bay Bridge. They have only been producing it for a few years, but it is a top-seller.

Oaklandish keeps it local. The shop partners with the area’s non-profits to bring shine to different events and causes that make up "The Town," the Oakland nickname that I prefer. Even the makers of the film, “FruitvaleStation” stopped by the store to make sure they were coming at Oakland in the proper way.

But Oaklandish’s most important gig is not in consulting the high-profile stuff like Fruitvale Station, but in partnering with local artists to provide a platform for their work to reach a larger public. Most of the designs on Oaklandish’s apparel are inspired by the shop’s in-house artists, but many come from local artists who approach Oaklandish with an idea.

Not forgetting the local importance of music, Oaklandish hosts an in-store concert on First Fridays. The store has a wall chock full of the musicians who have stopped by the store for a First Friday performance. They have Zion I, Los Rakas, Thomas Pridgen, Planet Booty, and lots of others -- all up on the wall.

For Oaklandish, it is all about bringing people together. Nadimi says, “It’s great to hear about the conversations that start just from wearing a shirt logo or some hidden design and a total stranger walking by you in another part of the country has that feeling of home.”

Even as their shirts go national, keeping things local is important for Oaklandish, and for "The Town." Oakland gets a lot of negative press, and it is important to highlight the sinners and saints of a city on the come up.

The good. The bad. The roots.

Crosscurrents OaklandAudio Academy
Todd is a radio producer from Chicagoland. Before arriving at KALW in 2013 he produced works for NPR's Tell Me More. He currently roams the Bay Area searching for stories and super sonics.