In the past few years, the fashion industry in Los Angeles has experienced somewhat of a renaissance. Big-name designers like Rodarte, Juan Carlos Obando, Trina Turk, Jenni Kayne and Monique Lhuillier have proven that, in order to make it in the fashion world, aspiring designers no longer have to move to the East Coast.
Besides a budding creative industry, Los Angeles is the largest garment manufacturing hub in the country. There are over 100,000 workers and 5,000 contractors here. However, many of these garment workers still work in sweatshop-like conditions, and less than 1% of them are unionized.
The Garment Worker Center was started by a coalition of immigrant rights groups who had been helping workers on an individual level for year. Entirely funded by grants from non-profit foundations and run by volunteers, the center holds workshops, functions as an information resource, helps garment workers organize, and provides support for workers who want to take actions against unfair labor conditions.
I was born and raised in California and have a deep affinity for both the natural beauty and cultural diversity of Southern California. This is such an amazing place to live and it only makes sense to support local industry. It’s better for the environment and it’s better for the community.
The most important agents of change in this field, however, are the designers who choose to make their pieces in Los Angeles, according to fair, ethical standards.
“I was born and raised in California and have a deep affinity for both the natural beauty and cultural diversity of Southern California,” says Kristina Lenss, founder of ethical fashion label Kristinit. “This is such an amazing place to live and it only makes sense to support local industry. It’s better for the environment and it’s better for the community. Los Angeles has some of the finest apparel manufactures in the world and I feel honored to support them in any way possible.”
LA, it turns out, is becoming a breeding ground for locally made, considered fashion. Here are some other labels that can proudly label themselves “made in LA.”
Clover Canyon aims to reflect “the eclectic, joyful spirit of California through vivid prints and streamlined silhouettes.” The label, founded by veteran designer Rozae Nichols, does that quite well. The design team works collaboratively and draws on a shared passion for travel and art. This is conveyed through original prints, hand-engineered to frame and enhance the body, in a perfect blend of cutting-edge technology and traditional craftsmanship. The collections are designed, patterned, cut and sewn in the label’s LA atelier.
Jill Aiko Yee
Jill Aiko Yee studied at Otis College and trained with LA-designers Rozae Nichols (of Clover Canyon, above) and Gregory Parkinson before starting her own line. Feminine and sensual yet bold and colorful, Yee’s designs often incorporate sheer fabrics and ombre dyes. She says more designers are starting to look toward manufacturing in LA because of the quality, something that is apparent in her own detail-rich pieces.
Before launching her ethically and sustainably made line in 2006, Kristina Lenss worked as a costume designer for theater, films, and TV. “I love producing the line locally because you get to develop real relationships with everyone involved in the process,” she says. “It’s very fulfilling to work with the pattern maker, cutter, and sample sewer on a one on one basis. We develop friendships in addition to great working relationships and it just makes the whole process more fun. I don’t think you would get that same sense of community by manufacturing overseas.”
Born in Illinois, Melissa Coker landed an internship at Helmut Lang and worked in the editorial ofices of Vogue, W and Details before launching her line, Wren, in 2007. Named after Jenny Wren, a dress-making character in a Dickens novel, the label is now based in Los Angeles. Coker says that one of the reasons she has chosen to manufacture in LA is the slower pace, which allows more time for creativity and reflection.
A Los Angeles native, Ashton Hirota caters to rock stars who are looking for one-of-a-kind custom pieces — designed and made in LA. In addition to creating capsule collections, his label, Ashton Michael, is known for being able to turn custom designs around quickly for impatient celebs, so having centralized production is key to the business. Hirota’s clients include artists like Will.i.am, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Pitbull — chances are you’ve seen his work on stage or on TV.
As one of LA’s most sought after environmentally conscious designers, Deborah Lindquist makes couture-inspired creations from a mix of upcycled, sustainable and organic fabrics. Fans include Hollywood stars like Sharon Stone, Pink, Jessica Alba, Christina Aguilera and the Pussycat Dolls, for which she designed stage costumes. Trained at Parsons School of Design in NYC, Lindquist moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and launched her eponymous line. An early pioneer of the eco-fashion movement, she has continued to make impact in the fashion world without compromising her environmental values.
Dubbed the “Vivienne Westwood of eco” by ELLE, Linda Loudermilk wants to redefine sustainability as something alluringly sexy, fun and edgy. Early on, she saw where the industry was headed trademarked the term “luxury eco” and has used it as both an umbrella for her lifestyle brand as well as a stamp of approval. Loudermilk views nature as the original punk and often incorporates fabrics made from bamboo, seaweed and corn into her designs, along with upcycled scraps of lace and other fine fabric remnants. Her clients range “from celebrities and socialites to biker chicks and boxers” and most of the designs are made in the US.
KCA by Fashioning Change
Fashioning Change is a startup that helps online shoppers make more conscious purchases by showing customers ethical alternatives to mainstream designer looks. Recently, the site launched their first collection, KCA by Fashioning Change, a line of basics, sustainably made in Downtown LA.
FROCK Los Angeles
Founded in 2009 by Victoria Tik, FROCK creates fair-trade, eco-friendly collections using a unique blend of sustainable jerseys. There are no zippers or buttons, as everything is meticulously shaped around the body. The sexy, flattering garments have been worn by celebrities such as Britney Spears, Leighton Meester and Patricia Field. The entire line is ethically made in the US, using sustainable and organic fabrics, vegetable dyes and low-waste cutting techniques.
Husband-and-wife team Karen Stewart and Howard Brown launched their ethical fashion label in 2002. Since then, Stewart+Brown has gained a loyal following of fans who appreciate the pair’s unique and personal aesthetic and timeless, considered basics inspired by a love and respect for nature. Although the design office is based in Ventura, CA, garments are ethically produced in Los Angeles.
The daughter of two architects, Liz Wasserman had design in her blood from the start. After working at Free People, she lauched Popomomo, which stands for post-postmodern movement, in Brooklyn in 2009. Now based in Los Angeles, the line has become popular with LA’s artsier, gallery-hopping crowd. Wasserman uses sustainable, organic and recycled fabrics and keeps a studio within walking distance of where her clothing is made, making it easy to oversee the production of Popomomo’s collections.
Inspired by the heart of a traveler, designer Natasha Gindin — who was born in the former Yuogslavia — creates pieces that are multifunctional, practical and stylish. Classic silhouettes blend with unexpected details for a look that is decidedly urban. All pieces are made in Los Angeles from sustainable materials like organic cotton, tencel, hemp and dead stock silks. For every garment you purchase, LAVUK plants a tree is planted through the California Wildfire ReLeaf program.
In the 1970s, Los Angeles was famous for hand sculpted wood shoes. This practice has virtually disappeared when Cordero opened her shop in ‘99, intent of resurrect the art of shoe making. Since then, her ruggedly glamorous line of metal-embellished wood and leather shoes have put LA back on the map as a shoe manufacturing district.
Stylist sisters Maryam and Marjan Malakpour launched NewbarK in 2009, making soft, foldable slippers designed to be carried around for when your feet needed a break from the heels. Since then, their collection has evolved into a bohemian luxe line of shoes and handbags — all handmade in Los Angeles.
Penelope and Coco
Founded in 2010 by designer Marisa Spinella and publicist Arielle Vavasseur, Penelope and Coco is inspired by the designer’s two style personas — Penelope, a classic, traditional beauty and Coco, an eccentric wild child. Working with shoe cobblers all over Los Angeles, Spinella learned the importance of true craftsmanship and attention to detail, values that continue to inform the brand’s aesthetic, which is one part glamour, one part rock and roll — just like LA itself.
Just five years ago, Clare Vivier started making laptop cases, after noticing a lack of stylish, functional ones in the market. They were an instant success, and her company quickly grew into a line of handbags, clutches and other accessories that mixes classic French glamour with minimalist Los Angeles cool. From sketch to finished product, Vivier’s bags are made in Los Angeles, creating local jobs and a sense of community.
Created by Beth Goodman, a former lingerie designer, Marie Turnor is a line of luxurious leather bags with a modern bohemian edge. Moving to California, Goodman started incorporating color into her designs and has not yet gone back to black. Her bags are inspired by everyday objects like envelopes, origami and paper bags and made in Southern California.
Alkemie’s designs have a rugged California-cool vibe and are made by hand in downtown Los Angeles, from 100% reclaimed metal. When leather is used it is sourced from sustainable cattle farmers and dyed with earth-friendly dye. Each month the designers behind Alkemie, Dara Gerson and Ashley Lowengrub, selects a charity to which they donate 5% of the retail profits. “At Alkemie we believe an integral part of being a sustainable company is supporting practices and causes you believe in,” the pair says.
Amanda Loos’ playful, geometric designs inspire visions of endless summers, clear blue skies and technicolor sunsets. Inspired by ancient, primitive and tribal art and adornment as well as modernist art and architecture, KYYOTE jewelry is handcrafted in Loos’ LA studio using certified recycled sterling silver and other materials sourced from small, domestic, independently owned companies who supply the gorgeous bits and pieces that construct the line. Since each component is hand selected for its individual characteristics, no two pieces are alike.
Tiffany Kunz’s hammered, hand-forged jewelry is simple, wearable and distinct. Her signature line is entirely made in LA, using rough stones, reclaimed metals, hand-cast shapes and textures inspired by nature. The pieces are delicate, timeless and elegant.
What are your favorite conscious fashion labels that are made in LA? Let us know and we’ll add to the list.
Images courtesy of the designers and labels