A sign along legendary California Coast Highway 101 reads “You’re entering Leucadia, Happy the Funk up!” People wear shirts stating Leucadia is love, bougainvillea flowers climb the walls of every beach cottage, and surfers run barefoot across the highway to the ocean, stoked for their next session.
Leucadia is maybe a bit of what California truly is, a small taste of what it used to be, and nestled next to its tiny red, white and blue post office is a shop that’s bringing back the heritage of the makers and adventurers that settled this coast. Seaweed and Gravel is a self proclaimed “collective consciousness of non-conforming never grow up weirdos,” meticulously crafting and curating everything from motorcycles to bonsai trees, with an apparel industry professional turned artisan hat-maker as their leader and visionary.
David Patri spent twenty years working in the apparel industry before going out on his own and opening Seaweed and Gravel. During those twenty years he grew “tired of watching retailers control the destiny of clothing design.” He witnessed again and again how hard it was for fresh voices to be heard in the ready to wear clothing industry, because large retail brands control what is produced and how clothing shops operate.
During those twenty years of hard work and growing frustration he collected and curated a stock of vintage paraphernalia that he drew inspiration from professionally and connected with personally. His collection grew to include vintage clothing, motorcycles, hats, belts, boots, artwork and various odds and ends from times past.
Finally the season was right and he left his job in the clothing industry and moved back to the golden memory of a town from his younger years when he would surf the summers away at Beacons, Grandview and Stone Steps, the sleepy little town’s epic surf spots. Years resisting the corporate world, stripped away as he built his own shop, which he had the freedom to fill with his own private collection, connecting with a tribe of likeminded makers, artists, surfers and wandering adventurers.
“The best part of the shop is the community. When we have pop up shops, or we have bands come and play here and different events, the community comes out and is a part of it. They integrate and want to be part of what’s going on here. It all came together pretty naturally.”
Spending most of my weekends along Highway 101 and the stretches of beach it navigates, I first found Seaweed and Gravel soon after the sign was put up and a huge, ground to roof image of Sitting Bull was painted on its side. I wandered inside past the door emblazoned with “House of Miraculous Recovery” to the smell of leather and motorcycle grease. As I flipped through vintage dresses and sweaters I met Dave, a contagious Peter Pan grin on his face.
Over the next months I would wander back by after a surf or before lunch at my favorite coffee shop, and I watched a collective gather with shared respect for the process of making and a communal spirit of adventure and fun. Dave describes his shop and the experience that it is as the “anti-mall, anti-no-personality.” He started feeding the town’s artists and explorers, grilling burgers with a cooler of beer in the parking lot next to his shop. That grew into music shows where local bands played while all of Leucadia came to eat and dance and sit on couches and rugs spread about the parking lot.
The tribe grew beyond Leucadia as Dave organized motorcycle rides across the California coast, inland to the desert or climbing up through the neighboring mountains. Bikes are at the center of all that is Seaweed and Gravel. Never afraid to throw all of his loves together, Dave includes rebuilt vintage bikes next to lace dresses, hand painted surfboards next to boots that walked the California soil decades ago and bonsai trees fill the patio out back of the shop. He throws entire parties and sets up pop up shops to honor special bikes built. The store hums with energy as artisans, chefs, and flea market collectors spread across the parking lot with the new bike set in a place of honor before the front door, boys staring bug eyed and men talking shop around each new masterpiece.
As this collective developed, Dave added small local brands to his stock of vintage and handmade goods. He knew from experience how hard it is for them to gain a piece of the market or find opportunities to connect with the community. What he couldn’t do in the corporate world he began doing on his own, making a way for individuals and small companies who want to create according to their own vision, crafting goods in their own state and country.
After watching the birth of this unique place in time and space, along a stretch of two lane highway that is itself transcendent, I knew that I needed to document what was growing here. What was being preserved and reinvented here. So I took my camera and spent an evening as the light faded around the shop, and Dave showed me his newest passion, hat making.
“I think there is something bigger going on, but I don’t really feel a part of it or anything. I’m just doing it out of my own desire to do it. I see the craftsman movement coming around and being really appreciated, but for me it’s just a happy coincidence that people are coming to a realization that there’s value in these things.”
Every since I first stumbled upon it, I thought of Seaweed and Gravel as a throwback to the days when California was first settled by rugged men and women who brought their passions with them and made a place and a name for themselves – People that brought only their heritage, skills and dreams on a journey to make something new. As I watched Dave craft hats that could have been worn by one of those first Californians I asked him if he was aware that he was part of a larger movement of handmade craft in this country. I asked him if he is trying to reclaim what has been lost, and I asked him how he had gathered this collective.
His was the most innocent and authentic of answers… “I’m just doing what I love, and people who love the same things just keep showing up.” He tells me how the intersection between his own personal life and the larger movement of artisans is just a happy coincidence. And as for his hats, Dave said he couldn’t find what he wanted to wear or sell in his shop so he decided he would just have to start making them; the most genuine of reasons for a maker to create an artifact.
So I watch his hands mold the crowns of felt hats. Shaping them takes days. And I watch as he cuts and trims the brims. Some of his hats are bold with short brims and a tall crown, some have a shallow crown and a wide floppy brim to keep the sun from your eyes. Each one is unique, one of a kind, and perfectly imperfect. He shows me how he plays with ribbon to find just the right trim to fasten around the hat – the stitching, pleating and puckering is a game and an art in itself. And then there are the feathers, long and short, bright and subtle, all spread around his work table waiting for the hat that is just right for them.
“It’s the gratification when you’re done with it and you have this product, you have this thing that didn’t exist before. It’s an honest days work. You feel good about it. And when you get to a point where you can offer it for sale and other people appreciate it, then you’ve really got something.”
I soak up his joy for this making, and everything relaxes into a need and the ability to create what we long for. A man and a hat. Boys and their motorcycles. Dresses that have danced many years ago. We long to run free and remember our heritage, we wish to belong and hear the music play. We can step aside from the malls and corporate chains and we can make our dreams of simple pleasures. We find freedom in all the bits and pieces saved. I’m standing in “The House of Miraculous Recovery.” And he is teaching himself something that a grandfather never showed him, but old books and fellow craftsmen have preserved and it’s his turn to feel the felt turn under his hands, to make a covering, a piece of personality, a living, a way of life.