One of the first remarks made when people find Tarina Tarantino items in The MiA Shop or in our Los Angeles store is "I didn't know she manufactured here". I've wondered why that is. Perhaps it's because many of the jewelry lines that parrot her whimsical lucite and crystal signature looks are generally assembled abroad. It might also be because she built a considerable following over the years, with lush, celebrity-filled campaigns, Soho and Melrose stores dripping in her namesake bling, and is a brilliant businesswoman. Perhaps that kind of resume seems more in line with a scrupulous, profits-obsessed leader than someone concerned with keeping the the work and workers nearby. I can't be certain.
The Tarina Tarantino line is in fact designed and produced in downtown Los Angeles, in her Sparkle Factory, across the street from the ornate newcomer to downtown LA, The Ace Hotel. The seven-story historic building is a dream for a dreamer like Tarina, with Alice In Wonderland like hiding spots and mesmerizing corners of light. It was actually once the L.L. Burns Western Costume Co. Her commitment to making in LA, to uniting the designers manufacturing in this vast city, and to know her employees by first and last name is one of the many reasons we've partnered long term and pulled this recent holiday campaign together with Amy Roiland of A Fashion Nerd and Fashion Tap. A total dream team. Most jewelry pieces from this shoot can be shopped here.
Born and raised in Southern California, Tarina is a former model and make-up artist and worked for a few high-end fashion houses before launching her eponymous line over twenty years ago with her partner and husband, Alfonso Campos. Following are some excerpts from our many conversations about the future of manufacturing in Los Angeles, the largest apparel center in the U.S., the hurdles champions like us of sustainable production must overcome to keep manufacturing domestic for American artists, and whether anyone really cares.
How long has the brand Tarina Tarantino been in business?
The brand was founded in 1995. It's hard to believe that its been 20 years!
What were the first products you started with?
We began with jewelry then added hair accessories, which created a huge trend. Suddenly, we couldn’t make enough bejeweled hair clips, and they were everywhere - on celebrities, television shows, movies, and in a ton of magazines. I was even once on Oprah talking about “hair jewelry”.
Why Lucite and Swarovski crystals?
I love working with all kinds of materials, but Lucite is a material that can be cast to look like frosted glass, a neon light, turquoise, or stone. I can manipulate it in so many different ways. It can be dyed, tumbled to be smooth like glass, or sandblasted to look matte. Swarovski crystal are the perfect compliment to all the other materials I use like Lucite, metal, and wood, because it sparkles like diamonds but comes in the most amazing spectrum of colors. The sparkle of crystal just makes you feel happy, it makes you smile. If it doesn’t then I feel sorry for you.
What's been your biggest heartbreak in running the business?
The biggest heartbreak is the lack of support at the state and city level. As an entrepreneur it can be disheartening, but I am so romantic about Made in Los Angeles that we just keep fighting and telling the story of how our products are made here.
What's your favorite collaboration you've done?
Its so hard to choose a favorite; they have all been amazing - from Hello Kitty, to Barbie, to the Wizard of Oz and more. Working on those collections, and the campaigns we create to go with them, is pure fantasy and keeps me in touch with my playful side.
What do you think the state of affairs will be for LA's manufacturing and designers in five years from now?
I truly hope it will start to come back stronger, but I have my doubts. There is so much amazing talent here, so many new designers and lots of L.A. fashion pioneers like us who have been fighting to keep our products produced here for 20 years. My doubts are that with all the regulations, restrictions, and the general difficulties you encounter when you become a “manufacturer” it makes it extremely expensive to run a factory in Los Angeles. I think you will see more designers sending their production overseas or to Mexico unless things change. Regardless of that, we work very hard every day to make each and every piece with the highest quality and care to detail while keeping our prices within an “affordable luxury” range. When labor costs go up its going to make it even more challenging.
Do you feel like you compete for consumers and buyers with brands that don't manufacture here?
Not really. While at times it can be frustrating when you have wholesale buyers asking you for discounts and sharper price points, we have tried to stay very focused on what our customer wants, not just what the boutique and department store buyers are asking for. A customer who is going to buy “non-branded” mass produced jewelry at a fast fashion shop is not my customer anyway, so I don’t spend too much time worrying about it. My customer is passionate about being radically unique with her style choices, but she also cares about the world around her and does appreciate that we make our pieces locally. My goal is to continue to tell the story of MADE IN THE USA and to get our buyers excited about sharing this story with their customers, too.
Did you ever consider moving production elsewhere?
Never, it would be impossible and I have no desire to be flying all over the world making sure my pieces are being manufactured correctly. I like to design jewelry and accessory collections that have a soul and a story made with quality and care. These are principles that cannot be mass produced in China or any place else. This can only be created at our Sparkle Factory in Los Angeles.