In Old Sacramento, Sac State fashion students get hands-on business experience while helping local shop owners
November 30, 2023
Sacramento State students working with local business owners this fall are helping to bring new life to historic Old Sacramento.
Esther Amato, a Fashion Merchandising and Management lecturer, started a fashion entrepreneurship class in 2021 to teach students the business side of the industry. Last year, she introduced a service-learning component, requiring students to complete 45 hours of fieldwork with a Sacramento-area business owner.
“They learn the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur in the fashion industry. It’s a 24-hour job. Sometimes you get paid, sometimes you don’t,” said Amato, who ran her own clothing line for 10 years.
“But it’s rewarding, and at the end of the day, it’s yours. You’re creating something from a vision you had, and you get to see it out there and work with people who appreciate what you’re doing and love your product or service.”
Old Sac businesses Threadeco, Warehouse Creative, and LiBush International Connection, Inc., joined the list of community partners working with Amato’s students this fall.
The rebranded Old Sacramento Waterfront is a 28-acre national registered landmark along the Sacramento River that dates back to the mid-1800s. More than 100 businesses operate within the district, which includes private and city-owned property and a state historic park.
During the 1960s, Old Sacramento was developed into a tourist attraction with cobbled streets, boardwalks and refurbished Gold Rush-era buildings. But the area has struggled for decades as visitors declined and shops and restaurants went out of business. The retail vacancy rate of 14% is more than double the rate in similar districts, a city report shows.
In December 2019, the Sacramento City Council approved a $47 million renovation project to create a riverfront promenade, a two-story events venue, and open-air space with a reflecting pool and children’s splash pad to attract more residents to the area.
Business owner Maggie Baker said she was drawn to the Old Sacramento Waterfront because she wanted to capture sales from out-of-town visitors for her subscription-style box service. The cheap rent, almost half the price of retail spaces in midtown and downtown, also helped.
“There are some challenges for sure,” said Baker, who opened Threadeco boutique on 2nd Street in November 2022. “Overall, I love it here, but there are some challenges, just like what’s going on with the city in general. We’re not immune.”
Baker’s sustainable clothing store sources designer “seconds” – returned clothes or overstocked items that never sold – from factories and vendors. Some pieces with slight flaws, such as missing buttons or loose threads, are fixed before being sold.
Baker and Sac State senior Allegra Polendo bonded over their shared desire to save clothes from the landfill.
“I have always loved fashion, ever since I was young,” Polendo said. “I love the idea of not throwing away our clothes, but using it as something else, even if you tear it up and make it into something new, as long as it’s still getting a new life.
“Maggie’s idea of fixing clothes and then selling them really spoke to me.”
Polendo, who worked for the online personal style service Stitch Fix for two years selecting clothes for clients, spent most Fridays during the fall semester working with Baker in Threadeco.
“I thought it was great that students wanted to help business owners and learn the ins and outs of the business. I also got help with the nuts and bolts of running my business.” -- Maggie Baker, Threadeco owner
One of her first tasks was to research eco-friendly packaging for Baker’s subscription style boxes.
“I asked her to do a comparison of all the different boxes that are out there, including the options for shipping,” Baker said. “So she put together this amazing PowerPoint presentation, with the pros and cons, costs, all of that.
“I’ll probably use some of those slides for investors.”
Baker said having the subscription style boxes provided “invaluable experience.”
“People come in from Dallas or Washington and love our clothes and say they wish they had a store like ours where they are. So we tell them about our style boxes.
“We have subscribers from all across the country.”
Polendo helped Baker put together outfits for the boxes and posted pictures on the store’s social media sites.
Another of Amato’s students, Lance Hayes, helped Baker with events and marketing. He helped her develop a customer loyalty program and organize a December charity event.
“I thought it was great that students wanted to help business owners and learn the ins and outs of the business,” Baker said. “I also got help with the nuts and bolts of running my business.”
Polendo said she learned a lot about the industry by working at Threadeco.
“I feel like I’m learning something new every Friday,” Polendo said. “As a small business owner, you have to roll with the punches because you can’t anticipate every single move.
“It’s really helped build my confidence and shown me that I can run my own business. I see the struggles, but I also see the rewards.”
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