The Power Plant is more than just a well-curated selection of nostalgic ’60s and ’70s digs. With their flared denims, fur-lined overcoats, and suede go-go boots, this webshop seeks to spread a level of sartorial wokeness that recalls the empowered predecessors who originally rocked these vintage garments. The Power Plant also preaches the self-determined revolutionary gospel of the era that it idolizes. Helmed by Catalina Havlena and John Gamiño, the Oakland-based company builds upon the 40-year-old messages first taught by the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets, imbuing a new generation with a rallying cry to protest and seize the power that’s within their communities. We spoke with Havlena about the politics behind the label and to find out what the millennial generation can learn from radical, yet stylish, ones that have come before them.
What initially sparked your interest in collecting vintage clothing?
The interest stems from many different places. One was growing up shopping almost exclusively at thrift stores with our mamas. We learned to both love and hate the ubiquitous grime and absolute excitement of finding treasures after hardcore digging. Another spark was that when I was growing up, my eccentric aunt owned a little antique and vintage shop that I would work in during the summer. I fell in love with the smells, feels, and histories of the cluttered old shop. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
What makes a really outstanding piece of vintage?
For me, [it] is just a feeling that a garment gives off. There is a power and majesty both in the craftsmanship and construction of vintage pieces that really does not exist anymore in our mass-produced culture. I am most attracted to pieces that seem to give off a story, a weathered history, a past. I love imagining the powerful, badass human being that first wore the garment. Vintage is just more rare, more singular, more expressive, more iconic.
Where do you find most of your vintage?
Thrift stores!! Flea markets! Garage sales! Thrift stores! Sometimes the internet.
The Power Plant comes off as more than just a vintage shop. What are some of the founding principles behind the brand?
Probably the single most important principle of our brand is empowering fellow people of color, and women in particular. When we first created The Power Plant, we noticed how horrifically underrepresented and often-ignored people of color are, not only in fashion as a whole, but specifically in the vintage fashion world. Our brand was born in Oakland, California, a city historically known for being the birthplace of activists and revolutionaries, so we try to honor this legacy in our vision. We want to inspire, uplift, support and highlight real people of color as artists and activists.
The Power Plant’s aesthetic truly mines the late ’60s and early ’70s style. What was it about the style of this era that really drew you in?
First and foremost, we were attracted to this era for the music. So much amazing, influential music was created during this revolutionary era. People were waking up and getting radical. Clothing and hairstyles reflected this vibrant movement of change and activism.
Given the current social and political climate, what do you think the youth of today can learn from the youth in the ’60s and ’70s?
People were less complacent. Another way of looking at it is that people were less jaded about the direction of our very unjust patriarchal society. The youth really saw the value and purpose in themselves and fought and struggled and organized and vocalized for what they believed in. So many of the same issues and atrocities plague our country today. It’s mind-blowing how in so much time, so little has changed. We still are fighting the same struggle. For us, the phrase, “All Power to the People,” could not be more resonant and needed now as it was 40 years ago.
Do you believe that fashion can help to spark or play a part in social change?
We believe that all forms of artistic self-expression—from the clothing we wear, to the music we create, to the words we share with one another, to the art we produce—can and should be part of an effort to make waves of positive social change. Something we like to say about our “Power to the People” T-shirts is, “Wear your demands. Walk with a stance.” For us, it’s all connected.
Oakland has a strong history of social and political protest, it’s also the birthplace of the Black Panthers. Do you seek to continue this tradition through the message of The Power Plant?
Absolutely! I’m a fourth generation Oakland native. We are the children of the generations that birthed The Black Panthers, The Brown Berets, and countless revolutionaries, activists, and artists that came from Oakland with a powerful message for the world. We try to pay homage and reverence to this legacy every day. One small way that we do this is by donating 10 perecent of our proceeds to social justice organizations in Oakland. We love our city.
Does Power Plant have a “typical” customer?
I don’t know if we have a typical customer. Our customers come from all walks of life and from all over the world. I think our customers are people like us. They are people who love and appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of vintage goods and want to honor and continue the legacy of a very revolutionary era. Our customers are people that believe in our inclusive, body-positive, POC-empowering message.
Who do you work with to create your lookbook images?
Honestly, I’m very controlling about The Power Plant’s imagery. I’m a photographer (follow me @hellavelvet) and I generally have a lot to do with the styling, set design, and photography of our lookbooks. John, the other half of The Power Plant, does a lot of the layout and design. We work with our friends and people that inspire us.
Tell me about your the casting for your lookbooks. What sort of vibe should an ideal Power Plant model have?
We prefer to use real people versus professional models. We want our muses to be diverse, body positive, and representative of the cultures that we see all around us. We are both mixed people of color, so we love using fellow mixed folks and POC. There’s no rules, we just dig people that can bring a lot of raw vibrance, strength, and emotion to our imagery.