Levi’s Workshop: Print on Valencia

San Francisco has a super special new thing going on this summer. Levi’s Workshop/Print (a two-month pop-up community letterpress/silkscreen printshop) has opened in the Mission. I went to the opening night and stopped in again on Saturday, talked a bit with a few of the staff, and can’t stop thinking about how great it’s going to be.

The Workshops are places for creation, inspiration, and collaboration. We’re excited to bring the first of these experiences to life right in our own backyard. Located in San Francisco’s iconic Mission District (home to one of the first Levi’s® factories), we’ve opened up a community print shop. During July and August we’ll be hard at work teaching classes on classic letterpress machinery, screenprinting designs, setting type, and getting our hands dirty.

The facade: I love that they whitewashed and reclaimed the existing Biltmore Laundry sign with its classic Americana shape (see a great slideshow here) and mostly am a fan of the exhaustive list of types of workers (including blogger) on the facade, paid off with the Holzer Truisms-esque neon sign “Everyone’s Work is Equally Important.” But I am disappointed that they put it up in a handwriting font and not either traditionally handlettered or, if it has to be type, at least use the much more well-done Pettibon/McFetteridge-esque handlettering type used all over the site’s css.



My analysis: So normally I’d have a fair amount of skepticism for such a display of big-company-throwing-money-at-coolness, but there’s many ways that this is distinct from your average marketing exercise from the likes of Nike.

  1. Levi’s is a San Francisco company; their original plant was operating at 14th and Valencia until 2002. Plus of course, jeans were worker’s attire before becoming the greatest American sartorial export, making both the location/community and the “work” theme are not just genuine but resonant.
  2. Their choices of collaborators are not just buzz names (like Sagmeister, Fairey, Aaron Rose) but community-local (The Women’s Building, SoEx, Mother Jones, Mission Grafica) and public-pedagogical innovators (Alice Waters, Craig Newmark, 826) if not some combination of the three. It’s a group that is both nigh-unimpeachable and impressively progressive.
  3. The overall feel is much more public, conversational, accessible, educational and positive than it is branded-marketing-pushy. Which I hope is a sign of changing attitudes towards marketing in general.
  4. In an era of “new media” being everyone’s buzzword, it’s heartening to see this embrace of old media, of “getting one’s hands dirty.” Though no doubt twitter, facebook, blogs (not to mention jumbotrons) will amplify the message, the media in question isn’t apps and Mafia Wars but real ink, screens and presses — newspapers, broadsheets, posters, books, public propaganda. Both letterpress and arts education are under constant threat of disappearance and this public celebration is welcome. It’s easy to see how this will translate into other workshops: photography and music have both gone digital as surely as printing, and a space for darkrooms with, say Jonathan Kozol or for 8-track masters with Jack White is a beautiful idea.

I have no reservations saying that this workshop is a fantastic thing, and I’m hoping that it becomes the textbook example of corporate social responsibility, (cultural edition). I am excited about the next two months and only sad that it won’t become a permanent fixture of the Valencia corridor. After August, they’ll close back down, some version of the Slanted Door will move back in, and a new Levi’s workshop centered around photography will open in New York for two months.


Some of the programs I’m particularly interested in after the jump.

The program: The two months are loaded with artists-in-residencies, lectures and hands-on events. A few of the upcoming events I am excited about (note that some of the events are website-RSVP only)

  • First Person Magazine #4 launch – Saturday 7/17. This issue features Yoko Ono+Ryan McGinley. And it’s to be letterpressed at the workshop in the days before. Rad.
  • 3″ Type with Craig Newmark – Tuesday 7/20 noon-4. So as this is midday on a weekday I won’t personally get to witness the awesomeness of Newmark (founder of Craigslist and really smart guy) directing the assembled students to print slogans about internet civil liberties in big wood type on posters. For those of us who can’t make it to the daytime class, that Saturday Newmark and The Post Family (who you may remember from Typeface) are having a free content party.
  • Levi’s Workshop Night at the Giants Game – Tuesday night 7/27. I also won’t be attending this night but it sounds pretty rad. The workshop will be at the game (I bet the vandercook is staying home) screening a short film at halftime and passing out special edition Studio Number One (yep, that’s Shep Fairey’s studio) designed SF Giants trading cards. If someone wouldn’t mind picking me up a pack I’d be really grateful.
  • Stefan Sagmeister talk – Friday 7/30. Sagmeister is probably my favorite living designer: his work is consistently thoughtful and innovative. I’m really psyched at this chance to see him talk. This event and many others mentioned on the letterpressed full schedule are mysteriously not on the website calendar, but it’s at the link above.
  • Farming 2050 Calendar/Broadsheet collection release – Friday 8/20. Edible Schoolyard food-education pioneer Alice Waters and futurefarmers agricultural-artist pioneer Amy Franceschini are releasing a set of broadsheets and calendars they produce at the workshop. It may be all the progressive-positivity talking, but I feel like this is a the hopeful future of food right here.


4 comments to Levi’s Workshop: Print on Valencia

  • I’m a San Francisco-based printer and was contacted by the media/marketing team behind the Levi’s “print shop” about doing some of their workshops. Initially, I was stoked to be considered for a project like this–I love the idea of putting letterpress in the hands of the public (instead of reserving it for those who can afford fancy, photopolymer wedding invitations).

    However: They were looking for folks who could work full-time for several weeks, but were only paying $13.50 an hour. That’s barely a livable wage for us living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (world?). I work full-time, and wouldn’t be able to afford to take several weeks off at that level of compensation. Bummer. It would be great to actually feel like I could make a living doing the art that I love, even for only two months.

    I haven’t been to the space yet. I don’t want to trash talk it. I can’t help but feel, though, that if a corporate sponsor like Levi’s genuinely wants to recognize the value of a unique art form–and support the artists and the community behind it–they’ve got to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Otherwise, it’s just another flimsy marketing stint from another large corporate brand.

    Okay. That’s the end of my rant.

    • Dave

      Surfing around earlier, I saw your comment posted verbatim on the Mission Mission blog too.

      I think you should just drop by and check it out for yourself. I was skeptical myself, but I feel differently now, having been there.

      Maybe the people who took the job figured (if the pay you quote is true) that $13.50 being printmakers is better than $9.00 (or less) making coffee somewhere, or $4 plus tips waiting tables, or even worse, how about $0.00 looking for work?

      Having actually been to the shop myself, I think I am qualified to say that they HAVE put their money where their mouth is. Those presses had to cost something, plus paper & ink, plus what looks like at least a half dozen people with jobs, plus the people who had to rebuild that old place, (painters, electricians, glass people, drywallers, etc.) and then the part about how they give all of those materials away for free? Paper & Ink ain’t cheap.

      I also read that they are donating ALL of the money they make selling stuff to non-profits in the neighborhood – If that’s true, it doesn’t sound like a “flimsy marketing stint” to me at all, in fact it sounds BRILLIANT.

      As an aside, I also Googled around to see where SF ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Wikipedia ranks SF as number 36, so on that point, you may actually be right.

  • […] went to see Stefan Sagmeister talk at the Levi’s Workshop last week — sort of amazing, really, that one of the most famous designers in the world spoke to […]

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