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Marketing our growing hip factor in branded clothes and collectibles

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On a recent trip to England, my wife and I visited Bristol in the country's southwest. That city may be the closest English equivalent to a "cool" city, in the sense Americans mean when they talk about places like Austin, Portland and, perhaps increasingly, Raleigh.

Bristol is known for its music scene, built on the backs of the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead and, more recently, Fuck Buttons; but perhaps even more influential is the street art scene and its biggest star, Banksy. Everywhere else we traveled in England, especially in the south, we encountered reminders of Bristol and the punk anarchism of its artists, in the form of T-shirts, coasters and posters. Intentionally or not, the Bristol brand, in the form of its artists, gets carried all over England.

In Raleigh, a trio of entrepreneurs has a vision of hitching local artists to Raleigh's rising star—or perhaps it's the other way around. The venture is called Oak City Collective, and it's the brainchild of Stefanie Baxter, Jerrad Bement and Angela Scala.

The business plan is simple: Oak City Collective, at 330 W. Davie St., plans to partner with Raleigh artists to put out wearables bearing its designs. They'll start with T-shirts but will quickly move to tote bags, poster prints, stretched canvas and more.

The promotional aim is twofold: to promote Raleigh and to promote Raleigh art. Bement, who co-owns Spy, a rental events space on West Davie Street, came into it from the business side. "I wanted something geared toward Raleigh," he says. "They added the artistic side to it and made it so much better."

Bement is a Cleveland native who moved to Raleigh four years ago. "I consider myself a Raleigh citizen, though I still love Cleveland sports. But Raleigh is growing so quickly. In four years it's changed dramatically since I've been here. It's exciting to be here while it's happening."

Baxter happily notes the artistic dynamism just outside Spy's building in the warehouse district.

"There have been different waves of business activity here," Baxter says. "Right now, the nightclubs are giving way to things like chocolate and brewpubs and galleries." Examples are right outside: flagship art galleries CAM Raleigh and Flanders Gallery, the Videri Chocolate Factory across the street and the forthcoming Crank Arm Brewing Co., which is setting up shop in the space formerly inhabited by White Collar Crime and intends to deliver beer by rickshaw or "grease-powered vehicle."

Around the corner is the home base for Trolley Pub and the old Dillon Supply warehouse, which will soon be home to several hundred Citrex employees.

Scala, the third partner in Oak City, brings the artistic chops to the partnership.

"I'm a graphic designer," she says. "I've been doing design for about 10 years, and I picked up screen printing about four years ago. At first it was just a hobby, and I'd sell things at SparkCon, Rock & Shop and Etsy."

Baxter, who is an events manager for Spy, points out that Oak City's offerings won't be limited to visual art—they plan to work with musical artists, too. Ultimately, she sees the mutual benefits of a healthy business relationship. "It comes full circle," she says. "We will give back as much as we gain from them."

Baxter says that a portion of proceeds of each design will benefit a local charity. "How can you expect the city to give to you if you can't give back?" she says.

Oak City Collective will operate both an online store and a storefront in a space located next to Spy. With luck, talent and perseverance, the designs of Raleigh artists soon will be traveling across the state and country. And perhaps the talents of such Raleigh artists as Derek Toomes and SPCLGST, to name two early participating artists, will be spread far beyond Wake County.

Baxter says the plan is to be open by May 1. Until then, the Oak City crew will be out and about to meet future partners and customers. After making the scene at the April 20 Cuegrass Festival, which is held annually on West Davie, next door in front of The Pit Authentic Barbecue, they will be at this Saturday's Brewgaloo fest on Fayetteville Street.

Whenever the bricks-and-mortar operation opens, Scala says Oak City Collective will be ready to go, along with the screen printing press: "I calibrated it last night."

You've got the look

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