It all started with a simple design. In 2009, Mike Millares created an “I Heart SJ” T-shirt, on which the heart took the shape of a shark’s mouth. He printed up 30 or so of the shirts and gave them away for free.
They were so well received that he started selling them out of his backpack and eventually approached stores about carrying them.
He found, however, that the cut they were offering him didn’t cover the time that he put into making them and that he could make a lot more money selling them himself; but he needed a storefront.
Enter Mike’s sister, Marie. Having recently relocated back to San Jose from San Francisco, with several years of retail experience under her belt, she joined Mike and they started making plans to open a shop of their own.
“One day, Mike came home and asked, ‘When was the last time you’ve been to The Alameda?,’” recounts Marie explaining the inspiration to move onto the historic street. He had made several T-shirt deliveries on The Alameda and was increasingly aware of its rebudding as a cultural hot spot.
The Millares siblings found a building that suited their needs and opened The Usuals; a boutique named for the everyday, usual clothing they carry.
“The name came from the type of dependable clothing we wanted to put forth,” Marie explains. “We utilize the basics, with layering and a mixing of colors and patterns, but then we’ll drop in some really unusual accessories.”
With a look around The Usuals, one can see the vision of the Millares manifested. They carry everyday necessities like jeans, solid-color tops, simple, yet stylish jackets and art-focused T-shirts featuring a plethora of local companies including Mighty Threads, Higher Culture, Folded, the Tea Shack, 594 and Mike’s own Deadstok.
They also sell a smattering of one of a kind jewelry and accessories—made with everything from traditional beads and gems to vintage trinkets and found items—by local artists such as Bela Koi, Aileen Quiambao, Shannon Amidon and many more.
In addition to being an apparel and accessory shop, The Usuals is also an up-and-coming gallery for the local urban-art scene. “Our main focus is casual, urban clothing at a reasonable price,” says Marie, “but it’s a
boutique and gallery.”
From the outset, supporting the local art scene has been high priority for the Millares. They have regular show openings, print limited-run T-shirts of their current artist, bring in local DJs—the resident crew is the Bangerz—and generally support the San Jose urban art and music scene.
“It’s lifestyle clothing so it made sense to include all parts of the lifestyle we’re focusing on,” explains Marie. “This is an unexpected setting to find art, but we’re just bringing what’s already here to light.”
To handle the gallery side of things, the Millares teamed up with Anabella Pi–on, a local artist and curator who has her finger on the pulse of the San Jose urban-art scene.
“We picked up the right person,” says Marie. “She loaded us up [with artists] for the rest of the year.”
Despite the migratory trend of artists to head for San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles to pursue a career in art, the Millares are committed to showing that San Jose is an area rich in talent and increasing in opportunities for artists.
“People feel like they have to go somewhere else to show their talents, but the San Jose music and arts scene is getting really big,” says Mike. “People know the Sharks and the Tech and Silicon Valley, but there’s a lot more here than that.”