Published on September 26th, 2014 | by Bryce Smith0
Dress accordingly with eTc Tacoma
“Style” as a concept can get a little overwhelming. Centuries of influence develop into individual representation, and that evolves into how we curate our day-to-day. History and environment come together to shape our personal style.
A new shop downtown, eTc Tacoma, manifests this trajectory yet represents it, refreshingly, through the simple stuff.
Everything at eTc wafts clean and smooth contemporary swag – the place feels like a gallery, elevating streetwear to covetable, wearable fine art (more on that later). And like a gallery, events and activities pop up all the time. Like when I visited recently during an informal Nintendo 64 tournament. There was fervent energy in the fresh, linen-white shop as friends and customers prepared for competition.
Umi Wagoner–owner and co-creative director–exchanged greets with me and we headed to the quieter back stock room to talk eTc.
The official start date for eTc was back in December 2012 with social media promotion, skipping the blog format, and going straight to product. They felt that Tacoma was “100% ready to go with the idea of a brand being from here. After we did our initial brands and tested the water, we realized that we wanted to focus on accessories; that’s where et cetera comes from—we wanted to be the accessories, the add-ons that you pair with whatever is cool at the time. We wanted to be that brand.”
Umi runs the shop with fellow owner/co-creative director/photographer Perris Wright, marketing director Prince Alexander, and Matt Headly as head of graphics.
Umi developed brand connections along the west coast after receiving his degree in Merchandise Marketing from the California-based Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing. While in California, Umi built his expertise as a manager with The Hundreds, a streetwear and social merchandising company. Meanwhile, Perris Wright completed a business degree from Eastern Washington University and began location-scouting for a Tacoma brick and mortar shop.
Perris came across the Spaceworks Tacoma program and for the past year eTc has participated in the program, receiving business training. Although they didn’t secure their store space through Spaceworks, once they found it they knew it was the right choice.
“Perris was looking at being on Ninth because that’s where some other Spaceworks stores are, but once I had heard space was available by Hal of a Sub, I was sold on it,” Umi shared. “I love Hal of a Sub. And more than anything it’s a landmark. People know the area if I say ‘Hey, we’re next to Hal of a Sub.’”
Clever coinage marks the shop’s inventory and philosophy. Umi and I spoke of the first eTc t-shirt, the “Tacompton” shirt with the tagline Dress Accordingly and how controversy was their intention; whether one’s work is praised or panned, it’s publicized.
Word also spread of their Tacoma Dome key chain. “The Dome features them in gift bags and it’s what people have in their hands, throw in their pockets . We’re not really hitting’ you over the head but we’re there.”
Goods and Capitol 1524 in Seattle inspired eTc as these shops were “the first in the Northwest that carried true streetwear.” With the closing of those shops, Umi and his partners realized that “it definitely left this gaping hole for us to do what we do now: have a shop here. Be some place people from here can take pride in, but also a place for the true graphic-t-shirt-head, streetwear-head, rareware-head.”
There’s a distinction to be made here. “Streetwear” is the mass-market branch of the industry; the wares you would find at the mall. Umi explained: “Rareware, which is what we do, is limited quantity brands that have the same mentality as streetwear, but want to be limited quantity brands.”
Although boutique culture is traditionally a struggle to maintain, eTc has found a balance, providing for both self expression and comfort. As Umi said, “sometimes it gets too unique. Like, what we’re doing is ‘unique,’ but at the same time it’s a basic concept. We sell t-shirts, hats, and accessories—stuff that you would normally want, you’d normally get anywhere else—except here it’s gonna set you apart. As much as it is about what we’re dressing in, it’s about the movies we watch, it’s about the shows that we watch. Like, if you like Bob’s Burgers we’re probably gonna like each other.”
eTc loves Tacoma
“Shoot the T” encapsulates the Tacoma love that inspires eTc. Multiple times a year, they run an Instagram-based campaign encouraging participants to capture the distinct aspects of Tacoma. The concept developed organically. “It was just this photo campaign we based off our own Instagram account, then we made a separate Shoot the T Instagram. We never said ‘This is by eTc;’ we just wanted to be, like, ‘yo, participate in this.’ That worked better than trying to make it seem like it was some sort of brand, because then they feel like they’re being sold. You’re not being sold on anything; it’s just fun shit to do.”
Involvement with local artists is an integral aspect to their element and, again, it’s just fun. eTc has collaborated with rapper Ugly Frank and hip hop group ILLFIGHTYOU on merchandise.
They’re currently working with Ian Christian Wheelock—an artist at the Tacoma School of the Arts who will use this experience as part of his senior project. Ian’s exhibit opens September 27 and is the first in a series that eTc has named eTsees youTh.
Along with social media campaigns and artistic collaborations, the store abounds with events highlighting Tacoma pride and providing the community with (it just can’t be said enough) fun shit to do: regular Nintendo 64 tournaments, a 21+ Mondaze social, and in the planning stages, an Open Mic Night.
eTc’s ambitions are high, far-reaching, and always centered on acknowledging their roots.
Umi shared the vision: “While Tacoma is where we want to start and then take over, the goal is to rule the region, from Portland all the way to Vancouver. We want to be able to expand our connections farther and embed ourselves in the culture; as a limited quantity, witty, and culturally innovative company.”
And this is a means to a greater end: “being able to give back. We want to be able to sponsor basketball tournaments, skate tourneys, the whole thing. We want to be able to deal with the premier people in this town and be a premier brand.”
Popularity is on the rise and their tall ambitions righteous. Keep on the look out, Tacoma: eTc is on the way.
907 Pacific Ave, Tacoma WA, 98402
Mon – Sat 11 am – 7 pm
Sun 12 – 6 pm
All photographs by co-creative director Kali Raisl