Two Oakland moms ride the green wave with a new upscale store.
Photography by Stephanie Rausser
Sitting in the loft above their Rockridge shop, Atomic Garden, Adrienne Armstrong and Jamie Kidson are surrounded by sewing machines and clothing samples. Artwork by their children decorates the walls as well as the boutique downstairs, where shoppers browse among everything from organic cashmere sweaters to home accessories made from sustainable and recycled materials. The store—which stocks green items exclusively—is something of an experiment for these fashion-industry veterans: Armstrong and Kidson want to build a successful, stylish brand that does right by their roles as moms and citizens of the planet.
“We want to keep things simple, kind of a mom-and-pop feel,” says Kidson, 41. “Or, maybe more of a ‘mom-and-mom’ feel. We want to do business in a way that doesn’t compromise our families.”
The duo met on a soccer field in 2006 while Armstrong’s sons, nine and 13, and Kidson’s daughters, 6 and 9, were kicking the ball around. Armstrong was happy to be home in Oakland after two years of traveling with her husband, Billie Joe, whose rock band, Green Day, was on an extended world tour. She appreciated that Kidson was not associated with Green Day’s high-profile music scene. “Everyone I met in this area, for many years, was connected to the Green Day scene in one way or another,” says Armstrong, a Minnesota native who met her husband in 1990 on his band’s first road trip across the country.
As the soccer season progressed, Armstrong and Kidson found they had plenty to chat about. Both had spent the previous decade balancing motherhood with careers in the fast-paced world of fashion and retail.
|A handmade birdcage decorates the Atomic Garden boutique||Blousses by Matta and Porridge are made from organic, sustainable fabric.||Clean-burning, long-lasting beeswax candles are natural air purifiers.|
Ten years ago, Kidson designed a successful line of women’s clothes for retail chain Anthropologie. Around that time, the Armstrongs launched Adeline Street, a rock ’n’ roll–themed fashion collection that started with a few hoodies and Ts but quickly morphed into a line of men’s and women’s pants, shirts, jackets, and sneakers. Eventually, Kidson stopped designing for Anthropologie to focus on her kids, and the Armstrongs licensed their brand to a team of Orange County–based designers.
As Armstrong and Kidson continued to get to know each other, they chatted about the stresses and pitfalls of the mass consumer market, as well as their interest in sustainable products. “We finally decided, ‘Let’s open a store and bring in the things we like,’ ” says Armstrong. They found an empty space at 5453 College Avenue, close to their Oakland homes, and opened Atomic Garden last September.
Armstrong and Kidson intend to design a line of Atomic Garden products but are determined to keep things slow and sane. The first items to bear their label are cotton socks and writing journals made from recycled materials. They also stock cool products from companies that import hip handbags made by a cooperative of African women.
They sell organic denim jeans that benefit Japanese teenage suicide prevention programs and pajama bottoms that help support the International Princess Project, a program based in India for women who have been rescued from brothels and sex-trade slavery. Armstrong also has brought in coasters and cutting boards made from slices of naturally fallen ash and maple trees in her home state of Minnesota.
Although she wants Atomic Garden to evolve at a deliberate pace, Armstrong has been amping up her green activism in other areas. She and the members of Green Day recently filmed commercials for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has a new website, www.greendaynrdc.com, designed to connect the band’s fan base with environmental outreach opportunities.
“I love the NRDC because they are reaching out to make a difference in so many creative ways,” says Armstrong. “They also make getting involved really easy. You can log on in five minutes, click on some links, and contact your representatives about all kinds of important issues.”
As much fun as they are having being part of College Avenue’s community of uber-hip boutiques, Armstrong and Kidson say their greatest joy is seeing the environmental awareness their kids are absorbing.
“My nine-year-old was looking at a toy in a store the other day, and he asked, ‘Why does this have so much extra packaging?’ ” says Armstrong. “That was a proud moment as a parent, to see the way he was thinking about the world.”