We’re quickly approaching the 3.5 year mark for Viscera! Over the years one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is “how did you do this?”-- and for good reason. Viscera is a very different business; from our name, to ethos, to having a women of color founder. And trust me, when I was starting everyone I told about Viscera let me know just how different it was. Immediately I was met with doubt. People in the industry told me nothing was USA-made anymore and to give up. Folks said brick and mortar was dead-- just do e-commerce. And when I said I wanted to open in Oakland I heard the worst responses; "Aren't you scared?","Oakland is dangerous", "San Francisco is better". But here we are today, a thriving Oakland grown business. Here's how I built it.
Why I did this?
Before we get into how I did it, it's important to tell you why I was compelled to do this. When I think back to the Summer of 2014 it almost feels like a different person who started this business. I had just finished my masters in city planning from Berkeley and pretty quickly decided I did not want to be a planner. I felt frustrated with top-down policy approaches and saw an opportunity in grassroots approaches to economic and community development. While I was in school, I did a report for the City of Oakland’s economic development office and noticed something stunning in our economy-- retail leakage. Simply, we lose $1 billion dollars annually (now $2 billion) from people in Oakland spending money outside of Oakland. The problem is complicated, but I think the solution is fairly simple: we need more retail because it activates our streets, can create good jobs, and stimulates our local economy. I couldn’t figure out why policy didn't address the dearth of retail. So I figured, if I saw this as a problem why shouldn’t I be the one to fix it, and so I started on this crazy project called Viscera.
How I did it?
I started the way any good entrepreneur does-- I googled. I had no idea how to start a business, no clue how the fashion industry worked, and very little understanding of marketing or sales. Sure, I had hustled my pokemon stickers in grade school and sold some of my art online but nothing even remotely at this scale. So I spent my nights and weekends researching business plans, reading about other entrepreneurs’ journeys, and started building the foundation that would be Viscera.
Through my tireless googling, I found out about tradeshows and put it on my calendar-- I drove down to LA alone armed with business cards in hand and when I arrived, I awkwardly followed around other buyers to ear hustle what questions they were asking and see how this whole buying thing worked. After a couple of hours of walking around aimlessly and being a creep, I finally decided I would just go for it, and I wrote my first order! I barely had a website, didn’t have a store location, and was still working my full-time job, but I figured I would fake it till I made it.
Now that I sort of figured out the whole tradeshow thing, I needed to figure out how to make things more convincing-- the website was super vague and we still didn’t have any imagery for the shop so I made it. I pulled together some friends, rented camera equipment, asked a former professor if I could use his studio, and had a photoshoot! I still hadn’t received any of the inventory I ordered so I styled my friends in things from my closet and in true Tim Gunn fashion, made it work. I put the images up online, printed out nice leave behind cards, and if you didn’t know you might think Viscera was already a real place! But I still didn’t have a space.
I still needed a storefront and quick. I wanted to be open by December to catch the Holiday rush and at this point it was already September. So I went back to my handy advisor-- google. I searched around online and founds some spaces that just might work, but after reaching out to landlords, it seemed like none of them were taking me seriously. So I went back to the drawing board and found my broker (Fun fact: landlords pay broker fees, not tenants so I could essentially get help finding a space with no cost to me). I saw a bunch of different places and then saw 1542 Broadway, our home. It had been vacant for 30 years before I moved in and with the high ceilings, exposed beams, and prime location I knew this was the place. I signed the lease in October, just a month before Uber purchased the Sears Building. I got to work and started with the build out, bringing in contractors, painters, and started receiving inventory. By December, I had done it-- we were open!
I felt such relief and joy. After a super intense sprint, my work had paid off. I was able to stand in my very own shop, it fulfilled the vision I had and more. This was just the beginning.