Nina Garduno, Owner of Sweatpants To The Stars Brand Free City
The Supermät, which opened last fall on Hollywood’s Highland Avenue, is a riff on the idea of a Laundromat, “which is a shared space in a neighborhood,” Garduno says. “I was in Malibu for five years, but it didn’t feel like a neighborhood. Besides, people in Malibu see a lot of great things. People in Hollywood may not.” The supergraphic of an open hand, which along with a Twitter-like bird has become a symbol of the brand, “is an evolution of a hand that we created that at one time was similar to a ‘power to the people’ fist,” says Garduno. “It has now opened with the opening of the Supershop Supermät, with love.”
Inside, the shop is decorated with found objects from around L.A., pieces of stone and crystal that Garduno brought back from her travels, DIY knit projects, old album art, bikes, posters, and more. “The most amazing thing about building a store is that when it’s done, you realize it’s an extension of yourself. As narcissistic as that is, it’s the truth. You’re drawing from your own life,” says Garduno.
The food section of the shop sells Kind Kreme non-dairy ice cream, almond milk, juices, and these artisanal bread loaves from the Bread Bar bakery in Los Angeles. “Everything in here is small batches of things,” says Garduno. “The bread takes two days to make; it rises twice, and they don’t use machines. It really is an honor to highlight these things. It’s not preaching vegan or non-dairy or vegetarian, it’s just really well-made, beautiful, pure products.”
One of the brand’s signature sweatshirts. “It’s hard. It’s not like I’m making a cashmere sport coat lined in alpaca and hand-embroidered by a lady in Sicily,” Garduno admits. “It’s a sweatshirt, and it’s $198. But we designed it, all of the labels are hand-sewn, every color is made from pigment that’s mixed by an actual person rather than purchased, and this shirt is printed by hand with nine different screens.”
Garduno designs all of the prints, but she says that the rest of the shop is a totally collaborative experience. “There’s someone in our workshop who makes the furniture, but there’s also a person who paints it, or who hand-screens a tarp, or creates a thread installation. There are a lot of hands in everything we do.”
The Camper Bike that sits in the rear of the store, for example, has a trailer filled with decoupage doodles culled from artists who work at the Free City workshop a block away. “It reflects the history of all past things that we’ve created,” says Garduno.
Garduno has begun collaborating with other brands but will only do so if the result still feels like a Free City product. These special-edition shoes made from army tent material were done in collaboration with Vans, and a small collection of puffy vests and jackets, snowboard pants and sweatshirts is in the works for November with the snowboard brand Burton.
Hand-sewn shoes made in collaboration with the Maine-based boot brand Quoddy. A Free City fragrance is also in the works, and when I visited the shop in January, these sample scents from the Los Angeles brand L’Oeil du Vert were on display for research purposes. Customers were asked to place a penny in the jar that matched the fragrance they preferred; the resulting notes will be mixed in a secret formula set to debut in October. A record player DIY’ed by a workshop member who also set his knitting needles to work on the cash-desk computer, a scanner, and other still functional items throughout the store. The rest of the shop is filled with objects that serve as a point of inspiration for Garduno and her team. This owl was a gift from Seilin & Co., a like-minded clothing manufacturer in Japan that Garduno considers a mentor. On a trip to Brazil before the shop opened, Garduno picked up pieces of pyrite both large and small that are now for sale in the shop. “I don’t make anything this great,” Garduno marvels. “This came from the planet. It’s flipping magical.” Of this crystal, also from a quarry in Brazil, Garduno says: “I have objects like this because I’m amazed by them. Anything we’re manifesting doesn’t hold a candle to Mother Nature. Mother Nature is our teacher, that’s why they call it mother. To remember that this didn’t come from man is important.” A display of hand-crafted Indian adornments collected by photographer, filmmaker, and Los Angeles denizen Lisa Eisner. A massive cart in the middle of the store serves as a sort of metaphor for Free City’s unlikely success. “The idea behind this is impossible commitment,” says Garduno. “Someone in Taiwan only has this and if a guy says, ‘Hey, can you move my stuff?,’ he’s like, ‘Ok, I’ll do it,’ and finds a way against all odds. I think I can relate.” Free City is located at 1139 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, California.
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