“Never break. Never settle. Never fold.” It’s the mantra that the Mission streetwear brand State Of Flux lives by, and it’s a philosophy that has served owners Johnny Travis and Herbert Gracia well, especially in the past year.
“It’s about being comfortable with uncertainty because it’s a part of life,” said Travis. “Sometimes you get knocked down and the important thing is how you pick yourself up and move forward.”
Before launching State Of Flux, Travis and Gracia owned FAZE (Fearless and Zealous Everyday), a men’s clothing store on 21st Street. They opened their new store at 1176 Valencia Street (near 23rd) only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to close.
True to form, Travis and Gracia figured out a way to move forward. They transformed their shop, which includes a manufacturing space and a photo studio, into a mask production facility. They launched a buy one, give one program that resulted in the sale of thousands of face masks to local customers, and the donation of an equal amount to essential workers in the Mission. Masks were scarce at the time, so they walked around the neighborhood distributing them to health care workers, firefighters, bus drivers, postal workers, grocery clerks, and restaurant workers.
Pivoting to mask production helped State Of Flux stay afloat, as did a small PPP loan, said Travis. They managed to retain their two employees and had enough orders to keep the team busy and productive eight hours a day, five days a week while the store was shut down for two-and-a-half months.
“It was a testament to how you have to keep going forward, despite the situation — that’s what our brand is about,” said Travis. “It’s deeper than clothing – it’s a mindset – the clothing is just a vehicle.”
Their resilience amidst adversity and the spirit of community were the factors that led fellow Mission manufacturer Timbuk2 to suggest the two brands collaborate on a new product. Famous for their messenger bags, Timbuk2, which donated 50,000 face masks and coverings to frontline workers, was looking to partner with a local designer that represented the creative energy and grit of San Francisco during the pandemic.
They didn’t need to look far — in fact, just down the street — to find their ideal collaborator.
“The State Of Flux mantra really aligned with what we were trying to do,” said Brandon McCarthy, Head of Global Merchandising at Timbuk2, who knew Travis and Gracia through shopping at their store. “We wanted to highlight people in the Mission who had hustle and pivoted to make something good out of these difficult times.”
The result of their collaboration is the Mini Hustle Duffel, which went on sale on March 4.
Sewn in Timbuk2’s San Francisco factory, the crossbody bag features State Of Flux’s mantra,
“Never break. Never settle. Never fold.”
Its miniature size is suited to pack daily essentials, such as a mask, hand sanitizer, wallet, phone, and keys.
“It’s also sized for the famous Mission burritos which we are all fans of at Timbuk2 and State Of Flux and harkens back to where we are from,” said McCarthy.
“Staying creative and building within the community to create new stuff, that’s what this bag represents,” said Travis. “I was born and raised in San Francisco and this is a home-grown collaboration to do something special for the community during this time.”
The bag will be sold on both companies’ websites and exclusively in State Of Flux’s Valencia Street shop.
The physical store is a crucial part of the State Of Flux business model, where customers are invited to shop, view the manufacturing space, and use the photography studio for their own projects at a discounted rate.
“I’m not done with brick and mortar,” said Travis. “We have a glass partition that shows our staff making our products. It’s almost like if you go to a restaurant and see a chef cooking. It gives customers a far different experience than going on a website and clicking to make a purchase.”
During the past year, the project with Timbuk2, as well as their work producing masks, has allowed State Of Flux to maintain its visibility in the community, which is very important to Travis, who is Black and a San Francisco native, and Gracia who was born in Mexico.
“We are trying to provide inspiration for kids in our community, by being two people of color running a successful business on Valencia Street,” said Travis, who has participated in SFMade’s youth internship program in previous years. “We want to show them that there is a way to succeed and do what they’re passionate about.”
In the coming weeks SFMade will be working with the State Of Flux team, who will be participating in an advising program called CMA+, which is a free, growth and profitability program designed to help small manufacturers in San Francisco succeed.
SFMade staff and volunteer advisors will tailor the program to State Of Flux’s specific needs, dedicating approximately 20 hours working with Travis and Gracia to solve multiple issues or questions. Previous manufacturers in the program sought assistance with issues such as laying out production facilities, developing hiring plans, cleaning up financials and designing retail and ecommerce strategies.