Rajh Kirch inside of his shop. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
Sitting on a vintage pedal car inside his boutique, his bow tie neatly arranged below his thick rimmed glasses and cabbie cap, Rajh Kirch recites the odyssey that lead him to Long Beach and the many hats he‘s worn along the way.
Kirch worked as a retail window display designer. He studied cosmetology. He even released a hip-hop album under his stage name, Rajh. But since the March opening of his children’s clothing store, Sandbox Social Club, Kirch is only interested in clothing toddlers in adult styles made of the finest fabrics.
“I like timeless, I like things that don’t go out of style,” Kirch said. “I think that’s kind of our duty as adults and parents, to try and school our kids on what was cool back then and culture them.”
Kirch's north Pine Ave. shop is brimming with culture. An antique record player greets customers as they walk through the doors with boxes of donated vinyl waiting to serenade them while they shop. Throwback toys and the rhymes of Dr. Seuss pepper the bookshelves. A television mounted to the wall is connected to a Nintendo Entertainment System, allowing children to transport back to a time when even some of their parents weren’t even a glimmer in someone’s eye yet. And a 50s gumball machine provides a sweet treat for all.
Like a Pixar movie, his boutique appeals to parents and kids equally.
“We don’t try to be just a kid's shop but we also never do anything that’s not in good taste for children.” Kirch said.
Kirch grew up skating the San Diego streets that littered the rhymes he launched at the crowds of the clubs he once performed in. A spill he took while skating is what initially spurred his desire to get into the world of fashion as he sought a career that could pay the bills that kick flips and nose grinds could not.
At sixteen, Kirch convinced him mother to let him drop out of high school, earn his GED and pursue his passion. He received his first internship at Armani Exchange and moved out of his house a year later. After enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing in San Diego, Kirch bounced around the fashion industry, working for companies like BEBE, Levi's and Lucky Brand by day and rapping at underground hip-hop shows by night. However, after nearly a decade in retail and unsatisfied with his direction, Kirch decided to move to Long Beach and study cosmetology.
He became one of the first artists to perform at MADhaus, a music venue that showcases local musicians and artists. But after the birth of his son, Josiah, he became disenchanted with the music scene and all the things it didn’t have to offer to a family man. His desire to cut hair was also waning but he decided to do something he’d never done to that point in his life, finish.
“Rajh, when are you just going to graduate?” he said about the question his friend would constantly ask him. “I’d studied all these things and I never graduated. I’d always done enough to get by and get some mediocre job. So I did my 2,000 hours and after that I got back into retail again and that’s when things started to click.”
His endeavor back into the fashion game was reinvigorated while walking by a children’s boutique much like his own. After initially being declined a position at the now defunct Trucker Mouth on Main Street in Seal Beach, he was later hired and made head buyer. Eventually Kirch was offered an opportunity to buy the shop. He worked three jobs, putting in nearly 80 hours a week while raising his son, putting away every check he earned from his graveyard shift at Walgreens. The sale fell through though, and he nearly gave up his dream of being a shop owner.
Kirch built this vintage pedal car from old rusted out frame and the mannequin and front table display (previous and next image) are part of his clothing line that's supposed to go hand-in-hand with the pedal car.
Dejected, he called out sick on one of his last shifts at the drugstore and went to a charity event in Long Beach where he reconnected with Mike Wylie, who helped book Kirch as a musician at MADhaus.
"Mike just pulled me aside and said, 'Hey, you know, I have a store for you,'” Kirch said. Kirch received the keys to the shuttered storefront in January and immediately went to work. Instead of paying for an outside contractor, he used YouTube to research how to refinish the concrete floors of his showroom.
Despite his years in retail, he knew little about the production process. So, he subleased a portion of his building to his seamstress, Celia Cruz--who he likens to a grandmother for her guidance and home-cooked meals--and begin learning the intricacies of tracing patterns, cutting fabric and screen-printing.
He even took his hands-on approach a step further when designing the pedal car that serves as a complementary center piece to his current line of toddler cardigans, skirts and bowties. After originally outsourcing the project, Kirch hand painted the car and even helped in designing the SSBC 24 karat gold-plated emblem that serves as the hood ornament.
“You know, none of us are too cool to get our hands dirty,” Kirch said.
Kirch’s store sits in an area of North Pine that is starving for retail space. A combination of economic factors and an unwillingness for business to open in such a desolate part of the strip have kept Pine Ave. north of 3rd St. relatively underdeveloped. However, with Millworks set for the completion of two new Molina Healthcare buildings at the sites of the old Press Telegram and Meeker-Baker buildings, city leaders and shop keepers are hopeful that the influx of workers in the neighborhood will increase sales and loosen the grip that has kept North Pine silent for so long.
Kirch has embraced being one of the few storefronts trying to lead the resurgence of this historic part of Downtown.
“This is a great opportunity to be part of the resurgence of North Pine and we’d be honored to be a part of that and seeing little kids jamming down on pedal cars and bring out families,“ Kirch said. “It makes it something more than just a business.”
The revitalization of North Pine has been a communal effort. The Historic Old Pine Avenue Business Assocation, which is a collective of businesses between 3rd and 8th streets, puts on Twilight Walks where shop owners are encouraged to put on sales and creative promotions to engage the community and draw interests to their shops. Kirch is in the process of releasing shirts he designed for neighboring businesses DG Boxing and Anderson Hardware, two businesses standing alongside SBSC in the battle for North Pine.
Kirch plans to expand on this idea by having monthly book readings from local artists and musicians as a way to draw in parents for something they can mutually enjoy with their children.
Although Kirch has hopes of branding SBSC to a point where it could be sold in major retail stores, his main focus is to continue putting out imaginative, high-quality clothing for children that even their parents are jealous of as well as repaying those that took stock in him. He cites the story of Microsoft janitors becoming millionaires because they stayed loyal to the dream and he hopes that one day he can make the people that stick with him profit from his business. Until he can reach that point though, Kirch knows that dreams are achieved by doing. He vows to keep pushing forward, stitch by stitch and fold by fold.
“I’m really excited about the future,“ Kirch said. “If you look at us right now, we’ve done more in six months than some brands have done in five years. I just want to keep that momentum going.”
Sandbox Social Club is located at 743 Pine Ave., sandboxsocialclub.com