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A Peek Inside Downtown Art District's Apolis: Common Gallery

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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

Apolis founders and brothers Raan and Shea Parton were born and raised in Santa Barbara but, thanks to their parents, began traveling and seeing the world at an early age. It was those experiences that really inspired the brand's idea of global citizen and brought them to where they are today.

"We were expecting all of these differences," Shea explained of visiting other parts of the world. "But we were blown away by the similarities. We all have the same desire to laugh, to learn and to provide for our family." After they graduated from Point Loma in San Diego, a university they found particular appealing because of its location for surfing, the brothers settled down in Los Angeles and made their dream to have a business with a purpose, a full-time venture.

One of the distinctive factors of the brand is this idea of global citizenship in which they create partnerships with countries to create a product that meets their customers needs while utilizing the particular area's product and workforce. Apolis' longest-running project is in Uganda. After running across a cotton mill, the Partons found a way to export out of Uganda and partnered with Filson in Seattle to design the Philanthropist Briefcase. To date, The Uganda Project has utilized 12 Ugandan farmers' annual cotton yield and, in addition to that, Apolis is working with around 15 countries through these small supply chain partnerships.

While Shea handles most of the brand's execution, Raan is the creative force behind the clothing. With a men's line that includes everything from blazers, pants and oxfords to beanies, key chains and luggage, they've established a perfect line designed for their traveling customer. "We don't want to make something trendy just for the sake of making it," Raan told us of the pieces in their carefully structured line.

We visited the brothers at the Apolis: Common Gallery in the heart of the Downtown Arts District. In this space where they host their retail store, corporate office, and a brand new speaking series centered around the idea of community, we found out a little more about the line and the impacting projects that surround it.

Tell us a little about these global projects.
Shea: "Everyone has heard that proverb 'Teach someone how to fish rather than give them fish,' but what we learned is that there are plenty of well-trained fisherman they just don't have the right bait or a large enough pond. So we saw this opportunity to co-design products with communities to bring it back to a wider audience and stronger market and then really anchor it to this word 'apolis' which translates to 'global citizen.'"

How do you decide what projects to take on?
Shea: "It's very relational. We don't have any real strategy outside of a great friend will say 'I know this person.' Any given month we'll have 10-20 opportunities but only one of those will make sense with logistics and the ability to retail at a price that is competitive. We may find great reasons to go make a product in a place like Syria but we don't know anyone in Syria. We've bitten off what we can handle and it's organically evolved into a business."

How do the partnerships influence your clothing line?
Raan: "We're restricted with the development projects because we'll be going into partnership with a part of the world where there are limited options with the textiles, fibers and skill set. It's using those ingredients to make something that will have the most traction. [For a project] we're thinking what items can we make that will utilize this fabric that they have tons of."

What drives you as far as designing is concerned?
Raan: "For some of our items it's about daily use, like basics. We're trying to really focus on the essentials for anyone's wardrobe but to make them really thoughtfully. So whether they're domestically made, locally produced, they're just really thoughtfully sourced. For guys the basics are really simple: A pair of jeans, chinos, maybe a light sport coat, an oxford, a t-shirt, we try to cover those. Then, seasonally we'll try to drop in more exciting items that we come across."

What is it like working together?
Shea: "It's a real healthy tension because if it were just two people saying 'yes' all the time, we'd be in a much different place. At Raan's wedding, I was one of his groomsmen and he said 'You're my best friend and my worst enemy.' I think that tension is really healthy in an industry that is all about ego and the sense of perceived value."

What all happens here in the gallery?
Shea: "We have 1500 square feet, 2/3 of it is retail and event space and the other 1/3 is our corporate/not-corporate office. There's a small group of eight of us who work full-time and we do all of the online fulfillment here. It's a really tight, grass-roots sense of building it from the ground up. We started in our parent's garage."

What drew you to this location in the Art District?
Raan: "I've always been interested in this neighborhood. It's different than any part of LA or a lot of cities in the world actually. There's a lot of working, prolific creatives that you don't really know are here but doing really amazing things. We just thought it could be a really cool home. We wanted to be a part of an organic community as we grow."

Shea: "It's the only place that we've recognized in LA that really has a sincere level of community."

Of course we must ask, what are your favorite local spots?
Raan: "Handsome Coffee is a great spot. The Pie Hole, Wurstküche, The Shrimp Taco truck on Soto and Olympic, that a secret, that's a go-to."
· Apolis [Official Site]
· A Visit to the Home of Hippie Bling, Kim & Zozi's Design Space [Racked]
· Gypsy05's Block Party Has a Design Studio, Design House & More [Racked]
· A Look at Misa Jewelry's DTLA Studio and Sculpting Process [Racked]


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