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It may seem that people like Cara Delevingne and Amber Heard spend their life in couture and straight-off-the-runway ready-to-wear, but they, too, wear — and shop for — “normal” clothes. One of their go-tos for the model-off-duty look: BackBeatRags, a made-in-L.A. brand for sustainable, low-impact basics, vintage tees (starts at $39) and sweatshirts.
Isadora Alvarez, 31, is the brainchild of the label that had its start at the Melrose Trading Post. Her love affair with fashion and vintage in particular stemmed from her teen years in the Philippines (she’s from the dreamy beach town of El Nido, Palawan), and only intensified after moving to San Francisco to study fashion merchandising, and later moving to L.A. What led to the BackBeatRags was in part her growing disillusionment with the amount of waste created by the fashion industry.
We talked to the entrepreneur — whose latest addition to the line is a range of retro-inspired graphic tees — about being kind to the environment and where and how to buy vintage in L.A.
You started BackBeatRags after working for an off-price retailer. How did that lead to this epiphany?
The products were very cheaply made, and were only meant to last a couple of months. After realizing I did not want to be part of an industry like that, I set out to start my own company, starting off with selling vintage first — the greenest way to buy new clothes — until I could figure out how to make clothing that had a lower impact on the environment.
In what ways are your pieces environmentally friendly?
We only use sustainable fabrics such as hemp, organic cotton, recycled cotton and Tencel, which have a lower impact on the land and resources they use. We also produce in Los Angeles, in factories that are less than 15 miles from our studio, so we have a low travel footprint as well. Everything is produced in small batches, so we only reorder once an item sells out, eliminating a lot of extra wastage on unsold styles.
What is your secret to buying vintage?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you! Really, there are a lot of vintage wholesalers out there who have vast amounts of clothing to pick from. It requires long days of going through hundreds of items. And of course, flea markets, swap meets and estate sales. Vintage picking is a constant hunt for stuff — it’s never ending!
What has the journey been like of selling at the Melrose Trading Post and now online?
Melrose was where we first started selling vintage, and where we really built up our clientele. We were basically one of the go-to places for great vintage tees and sweatshirts. Once we started the BackBeatRags line it was a great way to introduce it to a large amount of people who we might not have been able to reach if we just sold online. We are a very, very small company, so our budget is very lean, but fairs and markets are a great way to sell and market with a lower overhead. As the company grew we transitioned into online to reach a wider audience. Melrose has been really amazing, and we will be going back for surprise pop-ups!
Why do you think you’ve attracted such a great audience?
The beauty of our clothing is that anybody can wear it — at the core they are just super dope, super comfortable basics, so we tend to attract all sorts of women (and men). We’ve attracted customers young and old. We’ve had Cara Delevingne, Amber Heard, Amanda Seyfried and a bunch of models and influencers drop by and gush about the softness of our clothes in our pop-ups. Also, rad basics are core items in every model’s off-duty look. A good tee and jeans are staples, so it’s no surprise our pieces speak to that look.
What inspired the retro graphic tees?
We were super inspired by the feel of the Venice Beach skate and surf culture from the ‘70s and ‘80s, so we used a lot of graphics and the overall vibe of those times when we were designing them.
So give us some of your secrets. Where do you find the best vintage in L.A.?
Melrose Trading Post for sure! Best people to score some vintage from there are No Grand Rituals, Babes on Legs, Possession Vintage (they also have a store in Highland Park) and the Japanese guy on the corner by the men’s bathroom. Of course the Rose Bowl is the ultimate place for vintage in L.A. There’s also the Bearded Beagle in Highland Park and Please and Thank You, who have their own showroom on the Eastside they open to the public every so often. I also go to Goodwill stores whenever I’m in a small town — that’s usually where you find the best ones.
Any pro vintage-hunting tips?
Don’t sleep on it. There’s only one, so if you love it, get it.
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Jeriana San Juan