"My dad has been in business for almost 50 years. He tells me stories about when he had certain pitfalls, but you just pick up and keep going. And he explains to me how it is that you keep going when you face adversity. And he’s offering this advice a lot more now that I'm older and he's older and he's able to be vulnerable and share with me the stories of his struggle and experience, of how it's not easy at all to start a business, and you have to just keep grinding away.”
Melissa Buwembo’s home office is clean and simple, with a west-facing view of Lake Merritt and beyond it, the squarish spires of downtown Oakland. Across from her desk is a rack filled with prototype designs for Ursa Major, a local apparel company specializing in bamboo fabrics that Melissa started with partners Tricia Jang — who serves as head of Ursa Major — and Valerie Mathus, the brand’s designer.
"All of our clothing is made of bamboo fiber, which is much more sustainable than cotton. For lot of us, growing up in the West, we've been taught that cotton is sort of 'the fabric of our lives.' But Ursa Major is interested in moving beyond those conventions. Bamboo fiber is moisture-wicking, it's really breathable, and it's really durable. And it also regulates your heat -- layering more of it will help you keep warm, while wearing a single layer will actually keep you cool,” Melissa says.
She explains how Ursa Major’s partnership with Undiscovered SF helps express a key aspect of the brand’s use of bamboo, which might not be obvious to consumers attracted to Ursa Major’s classic, wear-anywhere styles.
"Undiscovered SF is the perfect venue for Ursa Major, because we are inspired by bamboo, and many Asian cultures rely on bamboo for their lifestyle and livelihood, so it's a really great way for us to present our product in a space that's looking to emphasize Filipino heritage and Asian-American empowerment."
And for Melissa personally — who grew up in Vancouver — joining the Undiscovered SF market and engaging with SOMA Pilipinas means a greater connection with the Filipino community in the Bay Area. "It's amazing that SOMA Pilipinas and Undiscovered SF are sort of positioning themselves as this central point or this beacon of light to show Filipino people like me, who aren't from this community, where to find our people and engage in what we are doing. So for me, it's really valuable, being from Vancouver and being new to the area and a little more disconnected from the Filipino community in the Bay Area -- it's something that's helping me feel my roots more."
Ursa Major will be presenting its classic, made-to-last designs at Undiscovered SF and the team is excited to continue exploring what’s possible with bamboo and other super-natural fibers.
"We want to make clothing that's not just comfortable physically, but comfortable personally -- that people feel like our clothing is for them. For example, our t-shirt dress looks banging on everybody, and that's sort of our goal. We're designing for what we call the conscious consumer -- she is willing to seek out locally-made, ethically-sourced, high-quality pieces, and she's not looking to buy many. She's looking to buy one shirt that she's so happy about that she's going to get a ton of use out of, until it gets a horrible stain or gets a hole in it -- we want our products to be something that our customers wear hard, because they love it so much and they feel so good wearing it from an ethical and an emotional be something that our customers wear hard, because they love it so much and they feel so good wearing it from an ethical and an emotional standpoint. And we feel that bamboo fiber is the best way to achieve that.