Local Spin: Streetwear Aware
Nonprofit printer on Soledad Street takes to social media.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Michael Scharen has an advanced degree in physics from Kent State University, credit for helping Nobel Prize-winning physicist J. Robert Schrieffer write a few papers and a work history that includes dot-com-era stints as an engineer in Silicon Valley. Currently, he beds down in a smallish motor home he parks on the streets of Salinas.
From his desk inside the tiny (no really, if you blink you’ll miss it – it’s right next to the newly reopened @risk Gallery) Peter Maurin Screen Printers on Salinas’ Soledad Street, Scharen also has developed something of a personal mission: screen print. And by doing so, he wants the world know not all homeless people are gaming the system or looking for a handout.
“There are some people who become homeless due to the economy or bad luck,” he says. “It doesn’t mean they’re not capable human beings.”
Peter Maurin Screen Printers is named after the Roman Catholic social activist and co-founder, with Dorothy Day, of the Catholic Worker Movement. In Salinas the shop operates as a nonprofit microenterprise under the auspices of Dorothy’s Place and the Franciscan Worker of Junipero Serra. With the help of Franciscan Workers development director Jill Allen, Scharen is looking to build the shop into something sustainable and sustaining, a business that gives the homeless of Soledad Street work experience and a view into a different way of life.
And to do that, he wants to launch a line branded Soledad Street Apparel – T-shirts, hoodies, and tote bags, made with materials sourced from places that don’t use sweatshop labor. He figures if a company like Hollister can successfully build a brand, anyone can.
But getting there is going to take a small cash infusion. This week, Scharen launched a campaign on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website for creative projects, with a goal of raising $3,000 within 30 days. The money would be used to print pilot runs of Soledad Street Apparel, expand the shop’s marketing reach and buy the tools to create more complex designs.
“The goal with Kickstarter is to raise awareness of what we’re doing here. The other goal is to show we’re not just taking handouts, but we’re doing something for ourselves,” Scharen says. “The more exposure we have, the more business we can get, and the more people we can put to work. It’s minimum wage, but work is work these days.”
Kickstarter works like this: The person or organization seeking the funding has to set a minimum funding target and a deadline, and then reach out and seek pledges. (Scharen has a catchy, film-noir video up on the Kickstarter site, and is hitting Facebook too.) If the funding target isn’t met, donors get their pledges back. If it is, the money goes towards funding the project.
Peter Maurin already has gained some traction in the community. The shop printed shirts for Montrio Bistro Chef Tony Baker’s “Baker’s Bacon” enterprise, and for Jessica James’ Fluff Cupcakery in Salinas. Baker found the shop through the Dorothy’s website: “He wanted to contribute to more socially conscious organizations,” Scharen says.
So far, as of this writing, the Kickstarter campaign has raised $50 (disclosure: $25 came from me). It’s not the first time locals have used Kickstarter to launch their projects. Former Weekly production intern Andrew Dolan and his band, The Good Sams, raised $3,466 – $66 over their goal – to duplicate and distribute their new LP Fully Organic & Gluten Free. Fine art photographer/gallerist Russell Levin has raised $7,764 toward his $9,000 goal for producing mural-sized prints of his environmental nudes; he has 11 days to go on his campaign. And Paola Berthoin, who spearheaded the multi-media project Passion for Place: Community Reflections on the Carmel Watershed, raised 112 percent of her goal.
How does a former physicist and engineer relate what he’s doing now to what he did back then? “I used to pattern thin film superconductor circuits, so some of the processes are the same,” Scharen says.
In English, that means… well hell, I spent years covering tech in Silicon Valley and I married a geek, and I still don’t know what that means. Maybe it means Scharen is really smart. He doesn’t want to get into the details of how he became homeless; he says after he lost his job in Silicon Valley, he just drifted. Drugs and alcohol were never an issue, but maybe sorrow was.
Based on the innovative ideas he’s brought to Soledad Street – the Kickstarter campaign, the noirish video to support it – and the insight he brings to the conditions into Salinas’ Chinatown, maybe it just means Scharen’s really capable.
Three grand in 30 days shouldn’t be that hard. Not if everyone gives a buck.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com or twitter.com/maryrduan.