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Black-owned denim design factory set to open in SF’s troubled Mid-Market

A man with dreadlocks stands in front of a wall displaying colorful jackets.
Holy Stitch founder Julian Prince Dash walks clothing displays at his new storefront on Market Street in San Francisco on April 24, 2024. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Holy Stitch founder Julian Prince Dash believes jeans are a lot like people. “They might look plain on the outside, but you never know what’s going on inside,” he said. 

That’s why the self-taught tailor, designer and nonprofit leader hides all kinds of surprises in his denim. The lining of Holy Stitch pants contains text telling the jeans’ individual story, and the pockets are lined with leopard print to represent the animal nature hidden within us. The overarching message: Appearances can be deceiving. 

The same can be said of Holy Stitch, Dash’s new retail shop, factory and sewing school, set to open in a sprawling space in San Francisco’s Mid-Market on May 16. While the neighborhood has fallen on hard times in recent years, the upside is there’s plenty of room for something different. San Francisco, the city where jeans were born, is set to become a true home for denim again. Holy Stitch’s slogan: “Jeans that are actually made here.” 

A man stands in a workshop with sewing machines, wearing a purple hoodie and adorned with jewelry.
Holy Stitch founder Julian Prince Dash walks by a sewing workstation at his new storefront on Market Street in San Francisco. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard
Hands threading a needle on a vintage Singer sewing machine with denim and blue thread spool.
Vencel Tigue, a designer, sews a pair of pants at the new Holy Stitch storefront on Market Street. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

A 38-year-old father of three, Dash sewed his first pair of jeans nearly 20 years ago and is no stranger to city-led initiatives. He participated in the Vacant to Vibrant program that brought 17 pop-ups to struggling storefronts last year (Holy Stitch’s temporary home was on the ground floor of an office tower at 100 California St.). More than a decade ago, he participated in Streetopia, an initiative spurred by a similarly beleaguered state in San Francisco’s urban core that aimed to transform Market Street. For that project, Dash was down the street just two blocks. 

The been-here-done-that reality hasn’t left Dash despondent or cynical. “My love of San Francisco is only heightened,” he said, gesturing to the street in front of his soon-to-open retail shop and factory. “As an artist, I see opportunity when things go south.” 

Dash has seized that opportunity to annex a new 3500-square-foot space that includes a retail arm, an in-house tailor shop, a denim showroom and a design and photography studio. Holy Stitch’s one-of-a-kind jeans start at $250 and go up from there. And while the space is set up for denim manufacturing and sales, others can use the space to create their own iconography. 

Two people converse outside a store with mannequins and a 'For Lease' sign above.
Holy Stitch founder Julian Prince Dash has participated in previous initiatives to breathe life into struggling storefronts, such as Streetopia over a decade ago and Vacant to Vibrant last year. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“It’s a one-stop workshop for people to develop their own brand,” he said, gesturing to a design area equipped with studio lighting, heat presses and computers. “Everyone is a billboard.” 

Dash encourages young people to stay away from streetwear brands he labels as “fast fashion,” which include his Market Street neighbor, Supreme. Dash said he’s seen kids cut up their Supreme jeans when he’s taught them about the connection between streetwear and defense contractor Lockheed Martin

“There’s no characters in the produce aisle,” he said, explaining you don’t need a narrative to hawk cucumbers and tomatoes. “But you need a person to sell you poison.” 

Dash runs Holy Stitch as a one-man operation, with help from a fleet of volunteers and a former apprentice and fellowship participant, Vencel Tigue, whom he now calls his right-hand man. While Holy Stitch’s fellowship model and roster of classes draw in a lot of young and at-risk people, Dash said his doors are open to anyone who wants to learn how to sew. He envisions a diverse, multigenerational sewing army that includes everyone from investment bankers to grandmas. 

A person in a purple hoodie examines a denim jacket in a dressing room with ornate blue mirrors.
Holy Stitch founder Julian Prince Dash examines a pair of jeans in his tailor shop, outfitted with custom 415 wallpaper by the design shop Geary and Hyde. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard
Colorful, distressed denim jackets hang on a rack, with a clear view through a window behind.
Julian Prince Dash reuses garments to design custom, one-of-a-kind garments at Holy Stitch. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

A former graffiti artist, preschool teacher and art therapist, Dash first taught another person to sew when a neighbor in SoMa introduced him to her son, who was struggling after his dad left. Dash, who was born in Japan and also grew up without his father, recognized a piece of himself in the boy. 

“He brought his friends over, and they brought their friends over, and then all of this was born,” he said. He taught them all the transformational power of stitching.

The expansion of Holy Stitch is supported by the Mid-Market Foundation, Market Street Arts and the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development. But Dash only has a lease until October, meaning he could have to depart from his space, unless some other kind of help materializes. 

In the meantime, Dash continues to mull over the metaphorical potential of sewing—a process he sees as a symbol of life itself. 

“There’s all this preparation for one moment,” he said. “It’s past, present and future all in one.”