For over 40 years, the Old School Copes brand has been a part of the Oakland community fabric. From the west coast rap scene in the 80s and early 90s, James established himself and his t-shirt and clothing business as a Mecca for the rap music industry. James’ business contributed so much to the revitalization of Eastmont Mall and East Oakland in general that he was popularly referred to as ”The Mayor of Eastmont Mall.” Copes was well known for his excellent customer service. As a trend setter, his Old School Copes unique formula of shirts, hats, designer eyewear (Cazal, Gucci, Eks’ etc.), Cross Colors, afro centric and other fashion items gained the respect of the community and the rap industry.
With the help of his mother, Salem (a.k.a Granny Goo Goo with the Quickness) who was a major backbone in his business, James opened two stores: one in Eastmont mall and one on Lakeshore Avenue. Many clothing lines were prominently featured nationally in music videos by Bay Area rappers and artists like Too Short, MC Hammer, Richie Rich, E40, Tony Toni Tone and The Coup. In
1991, within the first 3 months of opening the Lakeshore store, he was burglarized twice and robbed once. Tragically, one night in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict, Copes and 2 employees were re-merchandising the Lakeshore store when vandals shattered the windows, destroyed fixtures and
looted the inventory. The cost to the business was approximately $30,000. By 1993 Copes shut down both businesses after 8 burglaries and 2 robberies. It took him years to recover from the emotional and financial turmoil after hitting rock bottom in the 2000’s. Copes never gave up, continuing his business in tidbits. With the help of his family, friends and the Oakland Bay Area community, he bounced backed fully in 2008.
Now, Copes is creating excitement again by selling his original t-shirt designs from the 80s and early 90s and creating new designs, across from the Lakeshore Farmers Market on weekends and at most Oakland festivals. Over 25 years ago James coined the word ”Oaktown” still used today. The Oakland community still refers to James as ”Old School Copes” or simply ”Copes.” He has experienced the joy of running a successful business and the pain of watching it collapse. Copes’ dream continues to be that Oakland will produce black entrepreneurs who will establish and successfully run businesses that will attract customers across all racial and ethnic lines. Copes is rising like a phoenix and is determined to reach business success again with the support of the City of Oakland, one of Kiva’s most celebrated Trustees and the Kiva lending family his customers and the greater world community. Old school Copes, the fashion activist and Oaktown civic icon would like to use his $10,000 loan to secure a 1,400 sq. ft. retail storefront location next to the anchor tenant Ross at Foothill Square in East Oakland on MacArthur Blvd. Copes is tired of coping. He’s ready for an epic comeback.