“Something cool to be proud of”: eTc Tacoma combines clothing, creativity and city culture

Walking into eTc Tacoma, a downtown streetwear boutique, is more like walking into a living room than a storefront.

There are a few sofas, two wall-mounted TVs, with an Xbox setup, a candle or two, plants, relaxed hip-hop playing in the background. Only three clothes racks and a few display tables fill the rest of the space.

“We want to be more relaxed and laid back than a department store where you feel pressured to shop,” said store manager Daz Johnson, 26.

“Some people will come here and won’t even buy anything – they just come in to hang out, hang around, and that’s part of the culture we’re trying to create,” Johnson said.

But make no mistake: clothes sell. It’s common for lines of loyal customers to stretch to the door, especially on drop days when shoppers can purchase the newest items from the latest collection.

eTc offers original design t-shirts, tracksuits and outerwear. Specifically, it’s rarewear. They generally do not remake or restock the same styles. Once it’s gone, it’s gone: each piece is a bit like a collectible.

Clothes with store character, eTc is one of Tacoma’s few outfits dedicated to cultivating a streetwear scene in the city.

Streetwear is a dynamic set of the fashion industry largely influenced by the subcultures of surfing, skateboarding, and hip-hop. The most popular brands are based in fashion hubs like LA and New York.

But eTceTera co-owners Perris Wright, 33, and Umi Wagoner, 32, grew up in Tacoma. During the 90s and early 2000s, they bonded as teenagers over a common interest in fashion.

At the time, it was difficult to find spaces suited to their personal style.

“We were like, ‘How does this not exist in Tacoma?’ “Wagoner said.

So after building a few small brands, going to school and back, they opened the eTc Tacoma storefront in 2014.

“We understood that we wanted to fill a void. Wagoner said.

Steady growth through social media, word of mouth, events and brand collaborations has made etc’s apparel a magnet for the city’s younger population, and the brand has grown to represent more than clothes.

Parker Miles Blohm

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KNKX

Umi Wagoner, co-owner of ETC Tacoma, has always had an interest in fashion. He and his friend Perris Wright opened the storefront in 2014 to be a catalyst for Tacoma’s creative community and offer unique streetwear and lifestyle products.

On any day, the storefront can transform into an art gallery, a stage for an open mic night or listening party, or a pop-up store hosting other brands. They have collaborated with restaurants, breweries, local legends and cultural institutions. It is a connective and generative hub for creativity in the city.

“It makes me feel like it’s about me because it supports a place – I love Tacoma,” said eTc customer Alfredo Dominguez, 26. “I love it so much. I’ve been here more than Seattle. So for me, when I come here, it’s always somewhere I have to stop.

The origin of a person is often linked to his personal style. Repping Tacoma is the foundation of the brand that uses the capital “T” in all of its labels.

“Growing up, I feel like everyone wanted to leave Tacoma because we didn’t really have something that we could really call our own and be proud of. So that’s something cool to be proud of,” said store manager Johnson.

A young black man in a red fitted hat looks through t-shirts hanging from a clothes rack.

Parker Miles Blohm

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KNKX

Store manager Daz Johnson straightens clothing currently on display in the ETC Tacoma S 9th street storefront in Tacoma on December 21, 2021.

He even caught the eye of the city’s most prominent ambassador.

“It makes me cool,” said Mayor Victoria Woodards.

Woodards said she heard about the brand before she was elected. And now she has eTc’s signature anoraks in almost every color: orange, black, navy and bright yellow.

eTc design themes often showcase owners’ humor and affection for the city and state. Watch out for goldfinches – the state bird. Or Sasquatch, the Tacoma Dome, Ivan the Gorilla, and other references to the owners’ memories of growing up in the city or things they find inspiring.

Initially, they created the brand to meet a need. Now it’s more about capturing and sharing Tacoma’s story as it grows and attracts newcomers.

“The grunge side of town goes for the cleaner version of it,” Wagoner said. “There will be stories that need to be told, that we will need to revisit, so that people understand the Tacoma where we come from.”

Sewn into eTc’s items, you’ll feel the softness of the fleece, the humor in the design and, he says, you’ll feel the Tacoma heritage.

Find eTc Tacoma at 116 S. Ninth St., Tacoma.

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