Laureano isn’t a history teacher, yet what you learn from his work will stick in your head better than anything you’d learn in a classroom. He actually didn’t go to school for any of the jobs he’s doing right now: design, silkscreening, historical research and sales. His apparel company, Gangs of San Francisco is a one man operation that seeks to teach people about the history of the city in a wearable way. He recently opened a brick and mortar shop at 66 Gough where his t-shirts are not only stacked in vintage suitcases, but surrounded by photos that explain the designs on the shirts even more. For him, a job well done is when someone picks up a t-shirt, reads the tag and says, “I didn’t know this!”
SCOUT: What made you land on SF history as the focus for your designs?
LAUREANO: In New York City, people have a lot of pride about the city’s history and seem to know it a lot better than people in SF know this city's history. I wanted to combine clothing and history and help people learn something.
SCOUT: How do you tell people the history behind the design on the shirts?
LAUREANO: Every shirt comes with a tag that has the story on it. Otherwise, a lot of people might like the design, but have no idea what’s behind it. The coolest is when I’m out and have one of the shirts on and someone stops me to tell me they remember what’s on the shirt first-hand.
SCOUT: Whoa! For serious?
LAUREANO: Oh ya, I was recently stopped by a woman who used to go to Playland out at Ocean Beach before it closed in 1972. The t-shirts spur a lot of other stories from people as well. I recently learned about this guy named Joshua Norton who proclaimed himself the Emperor of the United States. He came here during the Gold Rush and was supposedly a millionaire, but lost it all in a bad deal over rice. He used to draw his own money. So from that, I learned there was a cross dresser named Empress Norton who was doing a lot for the gay community before Harvey Milk. Empress Norton worked at Black Cat Café, which was gay-friendly at a time when it was not ok to be openly gay. Cross dressers were being thrown into jail for what the police were calling “impersonation,” so he created buttons that said “I’m a boy.” He was also raising a lot of money for charities and trying to bring attention to gay rights.
SCOUT: Do you get a lot of requests for designs?
LAUREANO: Yes. I currently have 15 designs and release a new one about every 6 months, but am constantly getting ideas thrown at me. The challenge is trying to fit one story or concept in to a t-shirt design.
Drop by the new Gangs of San Francisco shop at 66 Gough for your new t-shirt, and to say hi to Laureano.