Photo credit: Los Angeles Public Library
Photo credit: Los Angeles Public Library
This short film about the last of a dying breed of Downtown Los Angeles businesses deserves a look. Produced last year by Ben Proudfoot as a tribute to the fading industries of letterpress and fine paper sales, the video received a new round of promotion when comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted about it this week.
The film's subjects are McManus & Morgan, an 89 year old paper distributor, and its next door neighbor, Aardvark Letterpress, a custom print shop. The businesses' two owners have shifted to a survival mode in today's digital world and may represent the last generations of two types of craftsmen.
In light of our discussion this week about supporting small business and a week removed from the hysteria of Black Friday, the film's message seems timely. Enjoy "ink&paper" and leave a comment below with your thoughts.
The Eames House is the former home and studio of the husband-and-wife design team, Charles and Ray Eames. Constructed in 1949 in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, the home is tucked into a hillside and shielded by eucalyptus trees to balance the geometric architecture of the structure and to integrate the home into the landscape. The layout of the home's interior was designed with the Eames' life and work patterns in mind, rather than adhering to a traditional architectural layout.
Open to the public (although with reservations required), for fans of mid-century modern architecture and design the Eames House offers inspiration and sanctuary. Don't just take our word for it. Here's Ice Cube on a visit to the Eames house last year.
Photo credit: Flickr User Ron T
Last week a pair of news stories highlighted the state of apparel manufacturing up and down California's coast.
An NPR Marketplace segment identified Los Angeles' strength in the genre of "fast fashion." With a portion of the Southern California fashion industry driven by its connection to (often fleeting) celebrity trends, LA's apparel manufacturers are able to capitalize on this almost instant demand for particular styles. These styles have about a 10-week shelf life and thus a built-in obsolescence. Area sewing shops are able to transform a concept into a garment virtually overnight to make the most of that brief selling window. Sourcing those garments from manufacturers in South America or Asia could take up to 10 weeks for delivery. Accelerated production is possible, but requires minimum order sizes that would squeeze almost all of the profit out of the piece.
Bay Area CBS affiliate KCBS reported on the current state of business on San Francisco's Apparel Way, a once-thriving street in the Bayshore district that is slowly returning to life decades after local brands like Levi's and The Gap pulled up stakes and shipped their production facilities overseas. Today Apparel Way is home to smaller, niche brands from Blue Canoe Organic, a line of organic cotton casual and active wear, to Cayson Culinary Designs, an outfitter of chefs and restaurant workers. Production for these lines is small but growing, and the decision to house manufacturing in the city is representative of a desire to maintain control and quality over the increased margins that come with overseas production.
Each story highlighted one of the two primary reasons that American brands cite for maintaining a domestic manufacturing facility - speed and control. Both reasons are especially powerful for small or nascent businesses, even more so than keeping down costs. The ability to ensure that your new brand stays true to your vision - or pivots quickly as your style and methods evolve - is only possible when closely connected to the production process. And as observers of the American manufacturing space speculate over whether Fortune 500 brands reshoring production will be the tide that lifts the entire sector, it may be a grassroots effect of small and newly launched businesses who make over the industry in this country.
Photo credit: Kara Brugman
In a region with a reputation for inauthenticity The Stronghold is a denim brand with deep roots and an exacting level of detail. The Stronghold was the first denim brand manufactured in Los Angeles. From 1895 to 1949 they produced overalls, pants, shirts, and coats for the early 20th century laborers who built the city during its most frenetic growth era.
Dormant for half a century and revived in 2007 by Michael Paradise, the brand's second act has found a new audience among fans of Americana and classically styled workwear. Paradise unearthed a vintage pair of Strongholds and had them meticulously reverse engineered, down to each stitch and rivet.
Photo credit: Art Bandito
Today the brand manufactures reproductions of those original, heritage styles using vintage equipment and selvage denim sourced from North Carolina mills. Old world craftsmanship and historically correct details are their hallmarks. Each piece is handmade in the studio adjoining their Venice storefront.
The eye for detail isn't limited to clothing. The Stronghold's Abbot Kinney Blvd shop (in its own second act after a previous life as a gentleman's club and boxing ring) boasts antique furnishings and swank parlor carpeting. Their ready wear pieces are complimented by accessories from American brands who share some of The Stronghold's DNA, such as Filson bags and Red Wing boots. Customers with a specific look in mind can even commission their own made-to-measure pieces.
Photo credit: Art Bandito
No store in this neighborhood is complete without its own celebrity connection, and even here The Stronghold stays true to its roots. Hanging in the shop is a 1916 testimonial from Charlie Chaplin, who wore Strongholds onscreen in Modern Times.
For a peek inside the store and the brand, check out Finding America's short video below:
Adventure awaits! Whether Dad’s idea of relaxing outdoors involves hiking deep into the wilderness or simply pulling off at a roadside campground, it’s important to make sure he is properly equipped. Following are our picks for some of the best outdoor products made in America today:
Image via Flickr user camerabee.
A story this weekend in the Los Angeles Times highlighted both the breadth of American Apparel's domestic manufacturing operation and its potential end. Despite revenues of $547 million last year the company lost $39 million and is wrestling with the financial challenges inherent in sustaining their large, Los Angeles-based garment manufacturing.
At 4,500-employees strong, American Apparel's seven-story downtown LA factory is the largest apparel facility in the country, capable of producing 1.1 million pieces per week. With that factory and four other smaller facilities in Southern California American Apparel earns the slogan it plasters across its advertising campaigns: "Made in America. Sweatshop Free." Bean counters both inside and outside the company wonder whether that slogan is worth the cost.
Along with an average hourly wage of $11 that spikes to $18 an hour for its most productive workers, American Apparel offers its employees workplace perks such as subsidized meals, an in house medical clinic and free massages. Those labor costs push the price of their signature t-shirts to $21, compared with the $8-10 charged by Target and Old Navy for their foreign-made pieces.
And while company executives believe that a vertically integrated manufacturing process produces a higher quality garment worthy of its higher cost, industry analysts worry that customers don't account for the difference in their spending:
"There's been a lot of discussion about the importance of American companies employing American workers. But when it comes to fashion items, that doesn't necessarily resonate with shoppers," said Anthony Dukes, a business professor at USC who has studied the retail industry. "There's not a lot of evidence to suggest that 'made in America' is a great model."
American Apparel's controversial CEO won't rule out moving production overseas to lower costs, but notes that it will be a reluctant move, saying "I want to prove 'made in America' is a smart business."
As we noted last week in a piece about Apple's apparent interest in domestic manufacturing, choosing to manufacture products domestically amounts to an idealistic approach today. But that won't always be the case. By digging in their heels American Apparel could turn their US workforce from a cost drain to a strategic advantage. The reshoring trend in manufacturing brought on by rising transportation costs and increases in workers' wages abroad could tilt the competitive balance in favor of a company with an established, efficient operation.
In the spirit of continuing to honor American veterans, we'd like to introduce you to furniture designer Stephen Kenn whose Inheritance Collection line of furniture utilizes repurposed military materials to create sleek furniture with mid-century modern styling. In deconstructing a piece of furniture by reducing it to its primary elements, he's able to show off the simplicity of construction but also underscore the craftsmanship of each piece. And in using WWII-era surplus canvas and cotton, he's connecting their stories to ours.
UNIQUE LA is not your average arts and crafts fair. Established in 2008, it showcases designers and artists whose products are made in the USA, giving attendees the chance to meet and shop directly with the makers and support the local economy.
With your $10 admission fee, you get access to something akin to a party. There are DJs, DIY activities, free beer and drink stations, and even tasty, moderately priced food options (we went with the “Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich” as we’re suckers for grand claims in our sandwiches.)
Still, products are our thing, and the more than 325 local designers and artists showing their creative, high-quality products were the main attraction. Here are a few of our highlights:
3) Delicate jewelry that manages to make a statement always attracts our attention. The handmade gemstone jewelry that Alexa Allamano of Seattle, Washington, the designer behind Foamy Wader, makes struck just the right note with us.
Overall, we had a great time, and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s next with the 1st annual UNIQUE SF and UNIQUE NYC shows coming up later this year.
It’s true. Mom loves her gadgets! For that thoroughly modern mom who is always plugged in, we’ve curated some of our favorite must-have gifts that merge style and functionality:
2) Handmade from natural material by Cdock in Portland, Oregon, this docking station converts an iPhone into a handsome bedside clock while simultaneously charging it.