While the rest of the world catches on to L.A.’s fashion moment, locally based designers such as Andrea Lieberman, Jesse Kamm and Iris Alonzo are benefiting directly from a renaissance that fuels their creativity and devotion to domestic manufacturing.
At a panel titled “Authentic Radicalism,” moderated by fashion journalist Booth Moore and sponsored by Not Just A Label on Tuesday at NeueHouse in Hollywood, the trio was joined by retailer Rose Apodaca and city official Adrienne Lindgren to expound on various issues, such as the requirements for building a brand in Los Angeles, the impact of President-elect Donald Trump’s call to boost U.S. manufacturing and the cost of making clothes locally.
Several of them upheld the motto of Stefan Siegel, founder of Not Just A Label, which is a London-based digital platform that enables sales and hosts virtual showrooms. “Changing the world is not an option. It’s an obligation,” he said.
In a way, it appears easier to undertake such an effort in Los Angeles. “We have an incredibly robust ecosystem,” said Lindgren, who serves as the business development manager for manufacturing in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. She noted two-thirds of its small businesses are started by immigrants and that the base of potential consumers in the city equals 20 million people within 250 square miles. “That gives us the unique edge in Los Angeles to be the sustainability leader.”
Plus, Lindgren said manufacturing jobs were returning before Trump made the issue part of his campaign platform. Still, with a plethora of manufacturers in the region, some suggested the necessity to build the Wikipedia of manufacturing.
“You can make anything in L.A.,” said Alonzo, who served as the creative director of American Apparel before launching Everybody, a brand that sells, directly to consumers, a variety of products made with collaborators who share the profits with her company. Acknowledging the abundance of micro-manufacturers sequestered in downtown buildings, she said there seems to be a disconnect between people who want to make things and people who know how to make them. “It’s really up to the designer to get up from behind the computer and walk into the building,” she said. “It’s about getting out there and seeing with your own eyes…There shouldn’t be a disconnect between creativity and manufacturing.”
Not everyone was tempted to produce everything they possibly can. Kamm, who grew up in a small community of manufacturers in rural Illinois, said the best advice she received when she launched her namesake label 11 years ago was to grow organically. “I don’t think we all need to be good at tons and tons of things,” she said.
On the other hand, gentrification poses a real threat to the small manufacturers located downtown, which is rapidly becoming a congregation of renovated edifices that mix lofts with creative office spaces and stores. As a result, the workers pay exorbitant fees to park their cars near their jobs and the manufacturing is being pushed further south and east, Kamm said. Her concern is “finding a way to protect the manufacturing districts and protect the workers.”
In the shadow of a Trump administration, several worried about the stability of the apparel industry’s workforce, which includes undocumented immigrants. One idea floated to protect such employees was a garment worker program.
“There are many ways we can protect the integrity of our cities,” Lindgren said. “We’re self-sufficient in the ways we raise taxes to pay for our infrastructure.”
“We need to stand for each other as business owners,” said Lieberman, a former stylist for Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani, who started A.L.C. eight years ago. With the decentralization of media, it’s easier for designers to build their brands. For instance, Lieberman staged one photo shoot with a quartet of culturally diverse women dancing down the street in front of her downtown studio. She traced a direct correlation from that fun shoot to a spread in Vogue. “It’s very obviously a democratic time,” she said.
Making a living in L.A. has a price, though. “Labor is one of the most important costs,” said Lindgren. The city’s minimum wage is now set at $10.50 and is scheduled to increase to $12 by next July. Lieberman added that taxes on fabric such as wool that are no longer produced nearby are also expensive.
“If something is cheap, you’re just not seeing the cost,” Kamm said, alerting that the environment and workers’ welfare could be taking a toll. “The cost is being paid by us in the long run.”