Welcome to the Factory Tour, where we take you inside the production facilities of our favorite brands to discover how the clothes we buy are actually made. Next up: Universal Wash and Dye in North Hollywood, California, which has served designer labels, streetwear brands and film studios for 30 years, and is also home to Vintage Souls, a high-end streetwear brand founded by the owner’s daughter.
Self-described valley girl Danielle Brown grew up in the clothing industry, but she never envisioned starting her own clothing brand, especially not in the midst of a pandemic. However, from the outside looking in, it seemed almost inevitable.
Almost 30 years ago, her parents opened what is now Universal Wash & Dye, which quickly became the source for many denim brands in Los Angeles, including early staples such as True Religion and Rockstar. (Washing and dyeing are what give denim its feel and color.) Unlike Brown’s, the dyehouse’s expansion involved a bit of luck—or confusion, depending on how you look at it.
“My mom started getting work from TV shows, movie sets and wardrobe thinking we were part of it Universal Studios,” explains Brown. “She didn’t even know we had a path in the industry.” A successful new business division was born. Today, her mother, Margo Brown, oversees all commissioned work for film and television, including projects for the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises. like “Captain America,” “The Avengers” and “Black Panther,” as well as tour costumes for stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
It was also Mom who helped the business navigate the globalization of the clothing industry, in which brands moved their production – including dyeing – overseas to developing countries in an effort to cut costs. “What [my mom] he realized they didn’t really have the same capabilities in China to make new colors,” says Brown. “My mom started getting more into that niche and that really expanded us.”
On the fashion side of the business – overseen by dad, David Brown – current clients include Nahmias, Gallery Dept. and, as of October 2019, Brown’s own label, Vintage Souls.
A few years before that, Brown set out to carve a different path in the world of fashion – completely separate from her family business. In 2012, she launched her own online boutique. It initially took off, but after a few years, increasing competition in the industry led to the decision to close up shop. Until recently, she helped run the family business full-time, overseeing sales.
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“I think the service ended my whole life, I’ve always seen first hand how difficult and challenging this industry is,” she says. This caused some hesitation when it came to starting her own brand, but eventually she “got tired of constantly designing for other people”.
“I thought, ‘You know what? Knitting, I’ve never done it, but I think I could figure it out with all the connections we have through the dye shop,’ so I just gave it a shot.”
If only because of the timing, it’s hard not to relate Brown’s story to the ongoing “nepo baby” discourse: There’s no doubt that growing up with the family dye shop helped her be able to make clothes, but she didn’t. enough to finance the entire brand. Vintage Souls started as a small side business that used special washing and dyeing techniques to manipulate the look and feel of vintage t-shirts and sell them as one-off items on Instagram. One day, Brown decided to design her own shirt from start to finish, including a custom graphic with the phrase “Souls on fire” in rhinestones. This is where luck came in.
“I didn’t have a sale, it was just a little thing I was doing on my Instagram — and Free People emailed me. They said, ‘We’re interested in wholesale your items,’ and I said, ‘No way.’ ‘” A customer apparently saw a “Souls on Fire” T-shirt on Instagram, stocked up, and then a week later a co-worker came into the office wearing it. “She said, ‘That was too random, so I had to turn to you.'” The retailer ran a small test order of the shirts, which sold out in a day.
From then on, Free People was a key part of Vintage Souls’ growth into a full-fledged brand — especially after Covid-19 hit just a few months later. The retailer wanted to support small women-owned businesses and asked if Brown could still produce. By producing protective masks, Universal Wash & Dye managed to stay open as an essential business.
Since then, Brown has only grown the brand as much as Free People’s profits have allowed. “I just started creating basic pieces. I started with a jogger, then a crew neck and a hoodie…” — all lounge pieces perfect for the sedentary lifestyle of 2020. In October of that year, the brand launched its first collection, which caught the attention of Fred Segal, who bought the brand, which allowed Brown to get her first job as a production manager.
Three years later, Vintage Souls is a three-person team working out of an office attached to Universal Wash & Dye, and Brown is transitioning to focus on Vintage Souls full-time. The campus-like operation is mostly as shabby and unglamorous as any 30-year-old factory you might come across, with the exception of a few aesthetic touches likely done by Brown, like a pink front door and a “We’ll be worried about you” sign.
While the facilities themselves may not reflect the casual glamor of a cool clothing brand like Vintage Souls, they literally allow such a brand to stand out – through innovative washing techniques, unique color development and more. Keep scrolling to see what’s going on inside Universal Wash & Dye and some of the new designs it’s producing.
Here in the spray booth, clothes are placed on inflatable molds to be sprayed with dyes and other treatments. Brown begins our tour by showing us how the special new “crackle” design is achieved.
This pair of runners has already passed the first part of the treatment. “We basically dye the clothes and it’s done in one big load. After that, piece by piece, we basically dip it into clay. Then we hang it up, let it sit in the sun and dry overnight. When it’s dry, we squish it like for the pieces to peel off. Then you have these natural veins through the cracks.”
“Then you spray another color on top while the clay is still sitting there, seep through the cracks, and then wash it off again.” Here, green paint is sprayed over the top.
After washing, the joggers are hung to dry.
This is the final result!
Reception area, with uncolored clothes.
This is a marble paint container, in use. “Basically, you fill this up and it’s a thick, foamy liquid. Then you put in the colors you want and it’s set. Then you just take the clothes, dip them and dye them. Before we had this, we had to do it by hand.”
Vintage Souls garments with marble dyeing technique.
Machine for dyeing clothes in use.
Machine for dyeing clothes, open.
Stone washing machine (with, yes, real stones).
A wider view of the wash/paint room.
Mineral/acid laundry with recently dyed clothes.
Mineral/acid washing machine.
New colors are being developed in the laboratory.
Coating/pressing machines. “We can do heat transfers… We did really cool snakeskin prints on top of the knits, which I feel are coming back.”
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