LA Original Uplifts Makers and Showcases Creativity in the City of Angels

By Jeffrey Bonior
Los Angeles makers are able to sell their products at two LA Original stores in Los Angeles International Airport. | Photos courtesy LA Original

The program also helps some of the city’s most disadvantaged citizens.

You might not realize it, but the entertainment mecca of Los Angeles is one of the country's top factory cities.

The LA Original Core Collection Logo Tote is made in Los Angeles by workers earning a living wage.

Manufacturing employs more than 500,000 people in the Los Angeles region, and helping to power the maker’s movement in the City of Angels is LA Original, a program run through Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office that supports local creativity, showcases diversity and works to strengthen manufacturing.

LA Original provides a platform for 45 L.A.-based makers and artists, who are able to sell their wares at two locations at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and several pop-up stores throughout the city, along with the Los Angeles County Store and through the LA Original website.

“We’ve had a lot of amazing folks step up for this and one reason is because of their pride for L.A.,” said Ashley Jacobs, who oversees the program as chief marketing officer in the mayor’s office. “One thing I heard last week from one of the makers is, ‘you’ve created something that we feel like we are part of a community.’

“Everyone is so passionate about making it in America and making it in Los Angeles. They feel like we helped galvanize a community, which I am very excited about, because you know L.A. is so spread out it’s hard to do that in that regard.”

To participate in the program, companies or makers must be headquartered in Los Angeles and design their products in the City of Angels. There also must be at least, if not all, an element of assembly that happens in the city. “It’s not only American-made, it’s made in Los Angeles,” Jacobs said.

A wide range of craft are represented, from the aerospace industry and denim industry to specialized items like candles, skateboards, bicycles and a bevy of other original Made in Los Angeles products.

It’s not just local makers who benefit from LA Original, either. The program uplifts homeless women living on downtown’s Skid Row, as a portion of the money received by LA Original product sales is earmarked for the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), which helps the women get back on their feet.

“The Downtown Women’s Center provides job training to women transitioning out of homelessness,” Jacobs said. “They are located in Skid Row. We’ve been able to provide 1,700 job training hours for women so far.”

Some of it is literally craft trade. DWC has an extensive candle making business and manufactures journals, and even maintains its own brand called “Made by DWC.” Products can also be purchased at the DWC store in Skid Row.

“They also train women how to work at retail jobs and some of the women work at various events like all the pop-up stores we do during the summer months,” Jacobs said. “We also have general interview training.”

Fueling the City’s Creative Spirit

LA Original began in April 2017 with the goal of supporting Los Angeles makers that sell their unique products not only in L.A. but throughout the world. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is a proponent of manufacturing and launched LA Original to showcase the wealth of talent in the Southern California area, Jacobs said.

“The creativity in Los Angeles is unrivaled anywhere else,” Garcetti said  in a statement. “Our artists and manufacturers feed the spirits and better the lives of people all over the world. LA Original showcases that legacy, brings support to a new generation of entrepreneurs and raises awareness of the extraordinary makers who fuel the city’s creative spirit.”

Jacobs is a Los Angeles native who worked for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and L.A.’s renowned Creative Artists Agency before taking the helm at LA Original. Garcetti wanted to “create a brand for Los Angeles,” Jacobs said, and her job is to lead the charge for the mayor.

“He really wanted to do this and, honestly, looking at the landscape of some other cities we did not have a Made in L.A. program,” Jacobs said. “Since we are the No. 1 manufacturing region in the country, it was a great opportunity for us to build that program initiative.”

One small business that has benefitted from its association with LA Original is Pocket Square Clothing. Rodolfo Ramirez and Andrew Cheung launched the business as college students at USC back in 2011. At first they sold bow ties, but soon concentrated their efforts on pocket squares, which had made a resurgence in men’s fashion.

Pocket Square Clothing is headquartered in downtown Los Angeles and manufactured in the city using traditional techniques.

From just $2,000 seed money, the business has increased substantially year after year; the college buddies sold nearly $400,000 of product in 2018. The company’s pocket squares and bow ties are available online and are carried in approximately 350 retail stores.

“For us, LA Original has been such a great campaign because it gave us a lot more visibility than we had,” said Ramirez, the company’s creative director. “We’ve been pretty pro-Los Angeles since our inception. We wanted to figure out if Made in the USA was possible and if made in Los Angeles was possible, and we found out it can be financially soluble. It gave us a radar and we found out a lot people contact us specifically because of LA Original and we love it. It is such a great story because we are in downtown and see the direct correlation behind downtown LA, which is actually the concentration of our homelessness issues.”

Another important cog in the LA Original team is a clothing line company called Everybody.World, which makes a line of T-shirts that are manufactured from 100 percent recycled cotton. Everybody.World launched at the same time LA Original began and it became the first in the industry to make all their T-shirts from recycled cotton.

“We call them trash t’s,” said Everybody.World’s co-founder Iris Alonzo. “At the onset, we were introduced to LA Original by people from the mayor’s office. We said we were working on this program and we would love to get some things made with you and that’s kind of how it started from the onset of the program.”

Everybody.World partners with about 25 factories in Los Angeles, and the ones make the company’s LA Original products are located in South Los Angeles. In addition to five styles of T-shirts, Everybody.World sells tote bags, sweat shirts, hoodies, and sweatpants.

“Most of it is recycled cotton, and we are currently in development on making everything from recycled cotton, but our angle is everything is made locally down to the fabric,” Alonzo said. “The yarn is U.S. grown, U.S. grown cotton, the yarn is spun in the United States and we knit, cut, sew, dye and pack all from L.A.”

Everybody.World has nine employees, some of whom are creative directors who came out of the original American Apparel company, which also was based in Los Angeles. Everybody.World’s products are artisanal basics with an eco-ethical foundation created by an all-female staff.

A LA Original pop-up shop at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

“Business is great because everybody here wants to make things,” Alonzo said. “Our biggest client is Dropbox. They are a public company and they have a lot of resources and they want to be partners with someone they can be proud of and have us design something. It’s not like a logo on tote bag they got on Alibaba. People see it on the Internet and go ‘Wow, this is made by this company in Los Angeles and they designed it for us.

“The Mayor’s office approached us, and we think our mayor is the coolest. He’s very progressive and has always been very vocal and supportive about manufacturing.”

Chief Marketing Officer Jacobs said the mayor’s support has helped in the marketing of the programs that participate in LA Original. There is now talk of expanding LA Original, including via a program at UCLA to teach students in the design program how to take an idea, pitch it and make it in Los Angeles, Jacobs said.

“Part of the story too, is in the society we are living in today, we are kind of giving back,” Jacobs said. “We always do what we can do to drive impact in everything we are doing. This has been a fun exercise in creating.

“I like to call it a civic social enterprise.”