Tahoe City duo ride waves of loss, support to establish clothing brand
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Drenched with raw imagery, bright colors and the spiritual essence of the Sierra’s natural world, apparel label People of Tahoe is cut from a wildly creative and distinctly local cloth.
North Lake Tahoe natives Cody Lieberman and Alec Griffith are the masterminds behind the People of Tahoe brand, which embodies a naturalist-meets-spiritualist essence, while capturing what it means to grow up in the adventurous playground known as the Tahoe Basin.
“I always had a dream of creating something that was based on local input, and that brought people together through collaboration,” said Lieberman, who began sketching designs for the label out of his freshman dormitory at age 18.
FABRIC OF FRIENDSHIP
Created in 2010, People of Tahoe specializes in hats, T-shirts, and stickers, with success spreading across the shores of Lake Tahoe and beyond thanks to bold graphics, colorful prints and a close-knit crew of creators and supporters.
Lieberman, a self-taught entrepreneur and graphic designer, learned the ropes of screen printing by reading books and watching online demonstrations.
Afterward, he brought the company back to Tahoe City, where he moved in with business partner, Griffith, transforming a spare room in Griffith’s childhood home into a full-time production studio.
“That was a big transition,” Griffith said of building the studio, which is similar in design to a photography dark room. “I didn’t know much about the silk screening process, but I had some background in graphic design, drawing, and the art part of things, but not actually putting the ink on clothes, so Cody had to teach me everything.”
The longtime friends (since eighth grade) and roommates worked like a well-oiled machine, bouncing ideas off one another, challenging each other to think outside the creative box, and pushing themselves to take People of Tahoe to the next level.
“We definitely disagree sometimes, but what partnership doesn’t?” said Lieberman. “That’s just part of growing and learning and becoming a solid company, but it’s been a great experience so far, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner or friend to work alongside.”
TRIUMPH AFTER TRAGEDY
That’s not to say the road thus far hasn’t been rocky for the early-20-somethings, who have both seen their fair share of misfortune in their young lives.
Their partnership came at an important time for both men, having both lost a parent — or in Griffith’s case, two — at a young age.
Lieberman lost his father when he was 11 years old, and Griffith lost both parents within three months of one another when he was just 19.
Griffith credits much of his creative talents to his late father, who owned a graphic design company based in Tahoe City, and who was the designer behind the iconic logos of Alpine Meadows, Northstar, and Star Harbor.
“I learned a lot from my father, and I think design just kind of runs in my blood,” Griffith said “When I was younger, I didn’t always appreciate everything he wanted to teach me about art, but now I see how cool it is to make things that people love, and that they can connect with, and I think he’d be really proud of me for that.”
Though devastated by the loss of both parents, Griffith subsequently engaged in a legal battle to acquire ownership of his parent’s home, which had been left to their only son.
Griffith ultimately obtained the property despite other family members’ attempts to sell it for profit.
“I learned a lot through that process, and I’m definitely more mature in the head than I look physically,” Griffith said, poking fun at his deceptively youthful appearance. “I know for a fact my Dad would be proud that I went on the art path and kept that in my blood.”
Likewise, after losing his father at a young age, Lieberman said the People of Tahoe label came to represent more than just the outdoor lifestyle of Lake Tahoe.
For him, the designs invoke and capture the textures, colors and elements that painted the memories of his childhood — and of his father.
“I learned a lot from my dad, and I like to think that part of what I’m doing now is an expression of the things he taught me,” said Lieberman, his usual cheery voice softening at the mention of his dearly departed father.
Though both designers have experienced tragic loss in their young lives, their resilience is admirable.
In the wake of suffering, they’ve learned to lean on remaining close family members, as well as their tight-knit crew of friends, who help inspire their innovative designs.
“Tahoe is all we’ve ever known, and this community is what has made our brand, and our lives, everything that it is today,” Lieberman said. “Alec and I may not draw every single design for our label, but it is being drawn by one of our super talented friends who are born-and-raised in Tahoe too, so either way, our product is represented by the lifestyle we’ve all grown up around, and I think that’s why it continues to grow.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.