Studio Sessions is a new spot for stitching in


Find out which stores have opened, closed or moved and what’s new in Berkeley’s small-business communities. If you have Berkeley business updates to share, send an email to editors@berkeleyside.org.

Open Elmwood

Owner Eli Dembele at the cutting table of her new sewing shop, Studio Sessions. Credit: Joanne Furio

Eli Dembele is a living advertisement for her new sewing shop, Studio Sessions. She has sewn everything in it: the curtains, pillows, jacket, tote bag and sundress in the window, the garments on a rack, even the tres chic jumpsuit she wears. The idea is to show prospective students what they, too, can make if they sign up for her classes. 

“My goal is to bring community together and create things together,” she said. “I want to be more than a sewing shop: a place to learn, to be inspired and meet your neighbors who are also creative people.”

Dembele opened Studio Sessions on April 29 in the storefront previously occupied by the clothing store Barge North. The plate glass window curtains were closed for weeks as she and her husband crafted the store’s interiors in a clean-lined aesthetic that includes potted plants. Her husband built the unfinished pine tables that hold six sewing machines, a cutting table and shelving. 

Dembele, a native of Lyon, ended up in the U.S. five years ago after her husband, an aerospace engineer, got a job here. A former consultant who did search engine optimization for banks, insurance agencies and Fortune 500 companies, Dembele got hooked on sewing after moving here and suddenly finding herself with a lot of time on her hands. 

“Sewing is a great creative activity and also empowering,” Demble said. “You choose the fabric, you choose the pattern, you’re the designer. I think it’s exciting.” 

Studio Sessions’ interiors were designed and crafted by the store’s owner and her husband. Credit: Joanne Furio

Classes range from a super-beginner level for students who “have never touched a sewing machine before,” to classes for more experienced sewers who get to sew a tote bag, shirt, pants, dress, jacket or anything else they like. 

Studio Sessions offers a beginner class for adults, two for children as young as 8 and weekend workshops for more involved projects. In the coming weeks, Dembele plans more children’s classes during the day and more adult classes in the evening. 

Class sizes are small — no more than six adults or four children — so Dembele can work closely with students. 

Tuition ranges from $95 for a single two-hour class to $400 for a two-session workshop, each entailing about four to five hours of sewing. The store also offers a curated selection of books, notions and patterns made by Bay Area patternmakers, as well as those from France. 

“This is awesome,” said Sara Swan of Oakland, stepping into the shop with her daughter, Lucine, 12, who’s a sewer. Swan was happy to discover a local sewing shop, which also happens to look good. “What a lovely place.”

Studio Sessions, 2924 College Ave. (at Ashby Avenue), Berkeley. Phone: 707-582-5871. Hours: Wednesday-Friday 1-8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Connect via Instagram.

Open Poet’s Corner

Jiā Home Co’s scented candles are designed by a seasoned sniffer

Leona Wong inside the shop, which also holds workshops on making scented candles. Courtesy: Leona Wong

As part of her wine industry training, Leona Wong took a wine course that trained her nose in the science of sniffing. In so-called “blind smells,” she had to describe what she was experiencing without the benefit of sight. 

Wong worked in wine for 12 years. After getting laid off during the pandemic, she delved deeper into her scented candle-making hobby, which made use of her olfactory skills. First she experimented with popular fragrances like vanilla, cupcake and lavender, which to her felt like clichés.

“I didn’t grow up with these scents,” said Wong, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. “I grew up surrounded by aromas of exotic fruits, incense, dried herbs, and smoked meats perpetually enveloping the air.” 

Jiā Home Co, a line of scented candles, became her pandemic pivot. Jiā means home/family in Mandarin. 

Wong started selling online in 2021 and opened a brick-and-mortar store in July 2022. 

Owner Leona Wong outside the home of Jiā Home Co, which sells scented candles. Courtesy: Leona Wong

All of Jiā’s 16 fragrances Jiā are inspired by smells from different Asian countries. “Everything has a story behind it and connects with our roots,” Wong said. 

For example, Tea Talk, with jasmine, citrus and ginger scents, “reminded me of gossiping and chatting with our friends and family around a table of dim sum,” she said. Coffee and Cream takes its inspiration from Vietnamese coffee, while Golden Milk, an Indian-inspired fragrance, has top notes of cardamom and star anise. 

All Jiā’s candles are soy and hand-poured in California. The company uses only U.S.-sourced and eco-friendly materials, according to its website, “from fragrances free of phthalates, carcinogens and toxins, down to the core of our lead and zinc-free cotton wicks.”

Prices range from $20 for a 5.5-ounce candle to $32 for an 8.5-ounce candle. 

The store also offers weekend candle-making workshops where participants can make their own fragrances, based on about 24 formulas that are not offered for sale otherwise.

“You can come in and make your own fragrances that bring back memories,” Wong said. 

Jiā Home Co, 2229 San Pablo Ave. (off Bancroft Way), Berkeley. Phone: 415-849-0280. Hours: By appointment only (book online). Connect via Instagram.  

In the Spotlight 

Berkeley wellness coach with Dissociative Identity Disorder looks to help others in her many support groups

Wellness coach Crystals Lachman and her dog, Bayless. Courtesy: Crystals Lachman

Through her year-old Berkeley nonprofit called Multifaceted Journeys, wellness coach Crystals Lachman currently runs 11 support groups on topics ranging from  “Living Your Purpose” to “Life Compass Calibration,” which she described as “tuning into your sense of what’s right for you.” Working with groups comes naturally to her.

“It helps that I know how to facilitate groups because I’m always in a group,” Lachman said.

That’s because Lachman, 42, after 11 years of therapy was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder in 2011, which the American Psychiatric Association describes as “the existence of two or more distinct identities or ‘personality states.’” The disorder affects about 1.5% of the global population.

Lachman, who fluctuates between using the pronouns “I” and “we,” said she has “several people in her system.” To recognize that, Lachman added an “s” to her given name after her diagnosis. 

Lachman is not a therapist — her mental health struggles cut short her Marriage and Family Therapy licensing after earning 2,500 hours toward licensure. But she nevertheless wanted to put her many years of training to good use, having spent so much time in the mental health field as both a client and counselor. 

She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from John F. Kennedy University, and spent two decades in the mental health field, including a stint at Berkeley Mental Health from 2017-21, where she did peer support and worked on a wellness recovery team. She founded Multifaceted Journeys “to help people live authentically from a place of authority and wisdom that comes from self-determination and personal responsibility,” according to her website. 

In addition to being led by an unconventional coach, Multifaceted Journeys also operates on an unusual business model. The membership-based organization operates on the gift economy. To join, members pay an initial fee of either $2, $20 or $200, giving participants the ability to choose a price that’s right for them. Right now she has about 65 members, though 10 to 20 regularly participate.

One of Multifaceted Journey’s members, Rose, who lives in Berkeley and wishes to remain anonymous, has been in several of Lachman’s support groups for a year. She said the groups have helped her to be more self-compassionate and aligned her entrepreneurial pursuits with her values. 

“Crystals fosters our individuality and our spirituality without dogma, supports me in tuning into what works for me,” Rose said.  

Since Multifaceted Journeys is now Lachman’s sole source of income, the additional funding she needs to support herself is gifted through member donations. “Part of my mission is to help people be their own authority,” she said. “My charging someone a set fee is not in alignment with that.” 

Multifaceted Journeys’ offerings are not determined by Lachman but by whatever her members are interested in. So there are also walking, art and creative writing groups, often spun off from an existing support group. 

She also does one-on-one coaching for members on finding a therapist and, because of her experience with multiplicity, makes herself available to therapists whose clients have DID.

“I’m trying to make sure good therapy happens,” she said, especially in light of her 11-year search for appropriate treatment.

In everything she does, the vein that runs through it all is an emphasis on personal sovereignty and authenticity. 

“There’s something inside each person that can guide them,” she said, “and we hope people can tune into that.”

Multifaceted Journeys, Berkeley. 

Moved North Berkeley

Bike shop founded by former Berkeley High buddies rolls into former lingerie store

Owners Jonah Thomas and Nick Hoeper-Tomich in the new North Berkeley location of Stay True Cycles. Credit: Joanne Furio

Like a starter house, Stay True Cycles’ first home was in an 800-square-foot shop in West Berkeley the owners knew they would someday outgrow. After four years, that day came on May 16 when partners Nick Hoeper-Tomich and Jonah Thomas opened up their bike shop in a new 1,600-square-foot location in North Berkeley. 

“We were outgrowing the space,” Thomas said, “and also wanted a little more visibility.” 

Stay True Cycles, a few doors down from the original Peet’s Coffee on Vine Street. Credit: Joanne Furio

The new Stay True is on a busy corridor, a few doors down from the original Peet’s Coffee, in what had previously been the lingerie shop Beauty & Attitude. 

Hoeper-Tomich and Thomas met while both were students at Berkeley High. Hoeper-Tomich has been coaching the school’s mountain bike team since 2013. Both are hands-on owners and have been doing repairs for years.

A roomier space has allowed them to add a workstation, so “we’ll be doing a higher volume of repairs,” Thomas said. 

While most of the shop’s business is repairs, Stay True will continue to sell new Rocky Mountain and Marin mountain bikes and Cervelo road bikes. The store will “potentially carry a few more” bikes, Thomas said, “but we are still going to be very service focused.”

Stay True Cycles, 2116 Vine St., Berkeley. Phone: 510-725-6281. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Connect via Instagram

In the Spotlight Solano Avenue 

Another award for hybrid publisher She Writes Press

She Writes Press publisher Brooke Warner and authors Francine Falk-Allen, Jessica Levine, Carolyn Arnold, Susan Austin at this year’s Bay Area Book Fest in May. Courtesy: She Writes Press

On May 2, StoryCircle Network announced that Sallie H. Weissinger’s memoir Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Thinker, won the 2023 Gilda Prize, an award for comedic writing that honors the late Gilda Radner. The book tells the story of Weissinger’s search for meaning after the death of her husband, “keeping her sense of humor through it all,” according to the announcement.

The award “delighted” the first-time Albany author, now in her 70s, and joined a long list of accolades for its hybrid publisher, Berkeley’s She Writes Press. 

“I see awards as being more for the authors, although of course it’s good for the press by extension,” said Brooke Warner, SWP’s publisher. “It’s bragging rights. It means someone — a panel or a team of judges — decided it stands out among others. We’re very consistent winners in indie awards categories.”  

On its website, She Writes describes itself as “the most award-winning hybrid publisher for women.” Since its founding in 2012, the imprint has signed 1,000 authors and received over 1,800 awards, according to Warner. 

The press itself was named Best Indie Publisher of the Year in 2019 by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, the first hybrid publisher to snag such an honor. SWP’s books have made it onto best-seller lists at The New York Times, USA Today and Boston Globe. 

Unlike traditional publishing and self-publishing, She Writes’ hybrid model is “a third way,” according to its website. Authors pay for some or more of the production and editorial costs in exchange for the publisher’s expertise — and higher royalties. 

SWP’s all-inclusive $9,500 fee includes production of the book, distribution, design, proofreading and e-book file conversion and upload to 127 e-retailers and a 70% share of royalties, much higher than traditional publishing’s 5-15%. 

According to a 2022 Publishers Weekly article written by Warner and sponsored by the independent publishers she mentions, there are now about a dozen hybrid publishers in the U.S. and Canada. 

Warner, who lives in Berkeley, now writes a regular column for PW. Since its founding, she has been on the board of the Bay Area Book Fest and board chair since 2020. 

She founded SWP after 20 years in traditional publishing, most recently as the executive editor of Seal Press in Berkeley. Her first publishing job was at Berkeley’s North Atlantic Books, where she worked as a project manager and got her start in acquisitions. It was there she discovered the co-publishing model that would become the basis for SWP. 

“Many traditional publishing houses do these kinds of creative deals and just don’t talk about it,” Warner said.  “It’s been going on for decades.”

What adds to hybrid publishers’ legitimacy within the industry is their vetting process. Warner described the submission process as “100% based on the writing.” Warner said most She Writes’ authors, like Weissinger, are first-time authors in the second half of life. Since SWP specializes in literary and commercial fiction and memoir, Weissinger proved a good fit.

“Sally’s writing was strong. We thought her book would be very relatable to a middle-aged audience who was having these kinds of experiences and renewed leases on life,” Warner said. “There’s a big readership for that kind of book.”

She Writes Press, 1569 Solano Ave., Berkeley. Phone: 510-967-9333. Connect via Facebook and Twitter.

In Brief

Biz Buzz: Business grants for pandemic damage; no more animal rides at the pyramids

  • Berkeley businesses or nonprofits that suffered damage, like graffiti or vandalism, during the pandemic may be eligible for city grants of up to $2,500. Damages must be documented and have occurred during the local state of emergency,March 16, 2020, to  May 31, 2023. The program is administered by the Downtown Berkeley Association. For more information email damage@downtownberkeley.com.
  • After hearing from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Berkeley-based Wilderness Travel will no longer sell tickets for animal rides at the pyramids of Giza or advertise such rides in its marketing materials. The move follows a recent video exposé from PETA Asia showing that such camels are restrained, beaten and abused in other ways. “PETA is celebrating Wilderness Travel for helping to save lives and inspire other tourism giants to abandon cruel practices,” said PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman in a  press release. As part of that celebration, PETA is thanking the travel adventure company with vegan cookies. 

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