A brown building with tall doors opened to the ringing sound of sewing machines. Inside were racks of red-and-white leather jackets with pieces of the Cadillac logo, multicolored wrist wallets and leather bags.
Dustin Page stood in the back, surrounded by zippers and scraps of ‘70s-era car seats salvaged from an Oakland junkyard.
It was a typical Thursday night at Platinum Dirt, Page’s leather workshop and storefront on 25th Street. He was turning salvaged material into a duffle bag, part of a resurgence of Oakland-based manufacturing.
Platinum Dirt is famous for its costly leather vintage jackets and wrist wallets made from classic old Cadillac, BMW and Eldorado upholstery. Notable customers include celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Jeremy Piven and Adrien Broner.
But for Page, it’s not about namedropping his client list. He sees recycled chic as the cutting edge of a made-in-Oakland fusion of fashion and sustainability.
“I’m diverting all that waste from being ground up and shredded. I’m saving a piece of our culture, our history,” Page said.
Local manufacturing has been slow to reawaken in Oakland, and Page has had his share of troubles. Small producers can find local sources of materials and market directly to Oakland consumers. But they must also battle increasing competition, foreign mass production and homegrown challenges like rising real estate costs.
“Retail is really hard, especially in the city,” Page said. “You’re struggling out there. Rent’s so much you end up working for the landlord. It’s like you can’t compete.”
Business experts say it’s a story being repeated all over the country. While politicians can make it sound easy to bring manufacturing jobs back, experts insist it isn’t so easy.
Panos Patatoukas, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said East Bay rental woes look tame compared with the situation across the bay. “I know many cases of small businesses in San Fran—they move to either Oakland or Berkeley because of rent prices going through the roof. But there’s a cost associated with the move. They really can’t compete in price,” he said.
As a one-man band, Page designs and creates his own products, while at the same time overseeing all the financial and recordkeeping details for his business. He became one of the first tenants of the 25th Street Collective in 2010, an experiment in sustainable business in Oakland.
But then pressures from gentrification pushed rents higher. That forced many tenants, including Page, to leave the collective.
Hiroko Kurihara, the founder of the collective and co-founder of Oakland Makers, an alliance of industrial and artisan manufacturers, said people don’t always know the “true costs” of the mass-production consumer economy, or the value of making things in Oakland designed for local retail.
“The true cost of buying a cheaper item made in China is that you’re not able to support a local job or local manufacturing,” Kurihara said. “Manufacturing has three times the multiplier effects of common money in the local economy.”
Page and four other Oakland manufacturers moved into a shared space that serves as a workshop and storefront. Consumers are able to buy the products and also see where their clothes are being made.
“We have the retail presence, but we’re not paying this retail overhead,” Page said. “We can represent ourselves as ‘bigger fish’ and we can become buyable. I think that people are actually connecting with their clothes because it’s made here.”
Page is no stranger to the retail industry. Before opening Platinum Dirt, he sold graphic tee shirts in 2004 and later owned three collective designer retail shops in Oakland with fellow fashion engineers. He started Platinum Dirt in the basement of his friend’s house in 2007. Since then, he has recycled pieces of clothing and leather car seats to make jackets, wrist wallets, bags, and scarves. Platinum Dirt offers 13 collections ranging from Big Shark Bags to Sting Ray Leg Warmers, all classified by their unique shapes and designs that resemble signature characteristics of fish.
He credits his upbringing as an adopted child with few luxuries for some of his creative use of car scraps and old clothing.“We were forced to be creative with old toys,” he said. “We were always taking things apart. I learned to work on a bicycle, because that was your thing, that was your toy. You could always find things around to keep you going. I think it was good in a way.”
Platinum Dirt also uses social media platforms to sell products even while Page works another fulltime job as a graphic designer during the day. Page also has a blog and uses Instagram and Facebook as primary marketing tools. Many of his customers purchase custom orders.
“A lot of designers are not even doing stores,” Page said. “They’re doing workplace sales. Online marketing and social media has been like the only real affordable thing you can really do. It’s not like I’m going to take out a billboard on the freeway. Those things are like $40,000 for one. It’s crazy—it’s just crazy.”
Outside of his own appreciation for upcycling. Page hopes to transmit the message of conservation to his customers by encouraging them to use his products for all of their potential value.“Use it. Use it until it wears out. Don’t be shy,” Page said.