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Photo by Tessa Love

It was love at first sight when Alanna Rayford first entered the sprawling, light-filled second story space spanning the length of 17th St between Telegraph and Broadway. With floor-to-ceiling windows allowing uninterrupted views of Downtown, she knew she had to turn this space into something special. One week later, Urban Stitch Boutique was born.

“I was creating everything out of nothing,” Rayford said, “and making something beautiful out of that.”

While it may sound crazy to open a store in a week, if anyone was going to pull it off, it was Rayford. With 12 years of experience in the fashion industry, a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), and a deep love and connection to Oakland’s creative community, Rayford was a high-heeled shoe-in for the job.

One year later, Urban Stitch is more than your average boutique: it’s a show space and fashion collective featuring industry up and comers, curated into an environment to create emotional appeal, according to Rayford.

“I try to curate designs that represent the whole community with a focus on high quality products and diversity,” Rayford said. “And I try to make this space an experience.”

In this, she has succeeded. Not only is the space beautiful, it is also welcoming. In the course of our hour-long conversation, more than a few friends of the shop wandered in just to say hello to Rayford and hang out. Watching her welcome everyone with the same bubbly smile and warm energy, it’s no wonder Urban Stitch is now an important fixture of the community.

The shop represents 20 designers, 18 of which are from Oakland, with one from Los Angeles and one from San Francisco. Rayford’s relationships to these designers runs deep; many of them she has known since the days when Urban Stitch (formerly called Bread and Butter) was her pop up designer trade market that took place in various clubs and spaces in San Francisco, where she used to live.

Now, she’s all Oakland, so much so that the City has taken an interest in Urban Stitch’s growth by awarding Rayford a Façade Improvement Matching Grant.

The grant, which is given to very few businesses, is to be used for improving the exteriors of commercial properties and will match 50 percent of the cost for projects between $10,000 and $30,000. Rayford was awarded $25,000 to purchase new inside lighting as well as signs for her business – currently, the only sign is perched on the sidewalk outside the Broadway entrance.

“A lot of people don’t even know how to get in here,” she said, “so they lose out on seeing the shop.”

Indeed, with windows facing three streets, it’s not immediately apparent where the entrance is. And in turn, Urban Stitch loses out on business.

In order to receive the grant, though, Rayford has to come up with the other $25,000 by the end of the year. To do this, she’s turned to crowd funding through an Indiegogo campaign.

“This [money] is for the community, not for a person,” she said. “I want to raise the funds so I can be here for a long time as a small business supporting other small businesses.”

Rayford describes the downtown business community as a supportive family, important to the economy and soul of Oakland.

“Small businesses like mine are pillars in the community,” she said. “We stabilize all the other crazy things that are going on around us.”

To donate to the Urban Stitch cause, visit the campaign site here.

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Photo by Tessa Love

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