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Made in Downtown: SuperLuckyCat's Recycled Womens Wear

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 11:21AM
SuperLuckyCat Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Crystal Butler and Michael Baffico, co-founders of recycled womens wear label SuperLuckyCat.

Women's vintage clothing brand SuperLuckyCat shows up on the racks of stores like Nordstrom's and Urban Outfitters, but every piece the company makes starts its journey Downtown, from the company's loft in the Arts District.

There, founders Michael Baffico and Crystal Butler sort through scarves, sweaters, vests and shirts to find material they use to create their line of playful womens wear.

Baffico and Butler started the label in 1999 after relocating to Los Angeles from New York. At the time, FIDM grad Baffico was working sales for a pants company. Butler had been remaking vintage for herself since 1998, and had worked as a buyer for Urban Outfitters.

They started out small. "Crystal started making some t-shirts at home, and I was working every day," says Baffico. "She made some t-shirts, and we actually sent a picture and a sample to a buyer that I had worked with at Nordstrom. She thought it was so damn cute that she gave us a 300 piece order."

"We didn't know what the hell we were going to do. It was 300 pieces! We had to find t-shirts and then had to find somebody to sew them," he says. "I would work all day at my job, and then I'd come home and we would work until eleven o'clock at night cutting t-shirts. We cut them all ourselves. We made the pattern ourselves."

Baffico explains that SuperLuckyCat mass-produces one-of-a-kindness. "Everything is different colors, different prints, different fabric content, but it's the same fit and sizing over and over and over. We make a one-of-a-kind item a thousand times."

Working with vintage, it's all about the materials. "Instead of buying fabric, we order a thousand pounds of scarves from a rag house in the midwest. They send us a thousand pounds of women's scarves pressed into hundred pound bales."

Staff at SuperLuckyCat sort out obvious damage and separate the items by color and size. Then they send the material out to be washed and inspect it for imperfections. Each item can take multiple pieces of fabric, so complementary materials have to be found. They're then pressed, stacked, and finally cut by hand.

"That's to make the same thing as 'unroll some fabric, lay a marker and cut it.' ... With all the vintage and the hand matching and sorting, we have to have seven people to do the job of one."

Everything but the sewing takes place in the company's Arts District loft.

None of that would make a product were it not for Butler's designs. To have the vision to take one product and be able to turn it into a different one in way that fits properly and is repeatable? "To me, that's the amazing part. She's the real talent. I'm just the bookkeeper and the business manager."

That first Nordstrom order sold out and the department store ordered 600 more pieces. Additional orders from boutiques and Urban Outfitters really got things rolling, and Baffico was finally able to leave his day job to focus on SuperLuckyCat.

"My goal was always to own my own company," he says. "I did everything in my career to learn from the people that I worked for -- what to do, what not to do -- so that I could have my own company."

Today SuperLuckyCat is "a million dollar company," Baffico says. "That's the most we'll ever do. Maybe a little bit more, a little bit less." He explains that the process of what the company does and the limited availability of vintage materials limits the label to roughly its current volume. "It's nice being this size. It's manageable."

This is the first of a series of stories looking at companies who make their products in Downtown Los Angeles.

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