[Photo courtesy of Left Hand LA]
Established in 2012 Left Hand LASince close to a decade, has been creating thrift-inspired fashion. Or, at least, that’s how it looks on paper. In reality, though, Left Hand LA goes back a lot further—to a passion for clothes and design that started with founder Julie Kucharski’s small-town Southern upbringing.
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Learning to thrift from her father and how to cut and sew from her mom, Kucharski built her process around those inherited talents and with the support of parents who’d rather she was creating than spending all of her money on clothes.
After a year abroad that was creatively liberating, you can return to Central Saint Martins and start studying in LondonKucharski was unhappy with the way she was working back in the States.
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“I think, in American education, we focus so much on the final product that they forget the importance of the process,” she explains over the phone from L.A. “At Saint Martins, I learned that everything was about the process. They didn’t care what the final product was—only what it took to get there.
“I remember getting a D on a drawing that I think I had gotten an A on before because the border wasn’t the size of the border that they had specified in the instructions,” Kucharski continues. “But it was my favorite drawing I’d ever done. I was done then and there, you know?”
After leaving school and moving to Los Angeles, what began as a way to express herself in a community where she didn’t necessarily feel like a part of the in-crowd has become a full-on brand: a brand dedicated to the art of the process itself, where how things are made is just as important as the final product—but also a brand with international recognition and an enviable list of celebrity clients.
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In that sense, what Kucharski has created is a best of both worlds situation: where people can appreciate her work on a massive scale, but where her work isn’t dominated by the requirements of that scale. Left Hand LA is based not only on processes but also on principles.
And Kucharski isn’t one to abandon her beliefs for the sake of business.
Where did your passion for fashion and clothes come from?
As a kid, I was always playing dress up. Now, I can see where it all started. I was just in my mom’s heels and dresses running around. In elementary school, my mom would drop me off at the mall. I’d just walk around and try things on and try to get a job—even though I was only in second or third grade.
Wow, you can really trace this back to its source. Did people support that early passion?
Yes. My mom noticed that it was clearly a passion for clothing and began making my clothes. She believed I was going to be a shopaholic. So she quickly turned it around and was like: “Let’s make our own and cut off the problem right now.”My dad was also very thrifty. In seventh grade, he taught me how to thrift. It all started with these two skill sets.
How did you get the idea to make something so personal a full-on business?
It was my first love. It is still my first love. It was just that I moved to Los Angeles and, as you do with most things, started the brand there. I didn’t actually even think about having a brand until a friend of mine was like, “What are you doing? Why are you just making all of these clothes? What’s the end goal here?”
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I guess when you’re doing stuff for yourself, you don’t really think about an end goal, right?
It is. It is the ultimate goal. My classmates voted that I would be a fashion designer when I was in high school. And it’s interesting that my peers can see that, but for me, it was just what I love to do. Anything clothing-related.
My dream job was actually opening a bus that would go on tours and sell vintage clothes. We would stop in cities all over the country, and you’d know that the tour was coming through. You could think of it as a traveling carnival full of thrift.
That way you’re constantly updating your stock, too. You can move from one city to another.
It was exactly. That was my goal. Thrifting in the U.S. is so fun—a whole other world, really—because if you go to a new state, then the clothes in the Thrift shops just completely reflect wherever you’re visiting. It’s not like it says “Texas” on it in big letters, but if you’re at a thrift store in Texas, then you can tell for sure that you’re in Texas. That culture is my favorite.
Perhaps Vintage is my first love—just like the appreciation of the silhouettes and the construction and the quality. If I could have one superpower, I would literally go back in time just to see what it would be like to actually exist in the ’70s and live among those materials and that design mentality.
There’s also the sustainability issue, right?
People always wanted to know why I did one-of a kind pieces. People who work in business would be like this. “That’s not sustainable.”You know what? And that’s the point. That’s what I want to do: Of course I want to save the planet. Of course, I want to be a role model. I want to show my youth that if they put their minds to what they love, they can do it from their home. You don’t need any expensive supplies, and you can do it all with what you have at home.
When you started the brand, who did you imagine wearing your clothes—who did you think they’d be for?
I would never have thought that I would be making custom jeans. BeyoncéWhen she was pregnant. I was just wanting to make clothes for myself and for other girls that were a little more daring in their choices—who also spoke through their outfits. The first celebrity moment I remember was actually Rihanna.
That’s not bad for your first big name, right?
Not at all! It was a conflict of interest at the time and I was concerned it would get messy. But it turned out to be a great decision. It was the perfect boost that allowed me to quit my day job and take up full-time work.
Since then, I was alternating between day jobs for a while, as everyone needs stability and a regular income. Then one day, I realized that I had missed a Kendall JennerI was working at my day job and needed a job. I thought, “Fuck this. This is not worth it.”And then, I never went back. In a lot of ways, it still doesn’t feel real.
This interview was published in issue 397.