This article was created in partnership with FOUND/LA, a Wurwand Foundation initiative that connects local entrepreneurs with funding, coaching, and a like-minded community so their businesses, neighborhoods, and cities can thrive. Follow FOUND/LA on Instagram and on Twitter to become a part of our network and support small businesses.
Sustainability. Upcycling. Conscious consumption. While 2020 has made these trendy buzzwords, back in 2013, it was a much more unusual business decision — one that Lily Chehrazi-Barrett, founder of the sustainable fashion brand and certified B Corp Together California, knows well.
"In 2013, the other shops were asking us like, 'Are you vegan?' They didn't get the point of sustainability," says Chehrazi-Barrett, who founded the company with her husband, Benedict Barrett. They've heard it all, but by staying true to their core mission, the San Francisco-born, now Downtown L.A.-based label has continued to survive, even partnering with BBC Earth on their latest collection.
Priced from $65 to $125, the eight-piece range is comprised of joggers, shorts, pleated skirts, and windbreakers featuring rarely-seen wildlife scenes captured by BBC Earth. Think vibrant pink flamingos that reside 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes and purple and blue sea stars in the Ross Sea (at first glance, they might pass for an intergalactic sight).
With the BBC Earth collab in place, the wife-and-husband team was poised to have one of their biggest years ever. However, like many small businesses, 2020 has not been what they planned.
A true partnership, Chehrazi-Barrett uses her husband's nature photography as the basis for her clothing designs. "We've been sustainable from day one — that's been the priority," she says. They fused his imagery and her design skills into an eco-friendly clothing line long before it was trendy. "Even Saks was like, 'We want to make a sustainable section, because we didn't want to make the other brands compare negatively to our practices.'"
The brand's designs range from high-waisted leggings with photographic prints of Big Sur's McWay Falls and Maui's Road to Hana ($77 each) and activewear starring the globular star cluster Omega Centauri as captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Also on offer are staples such as organic cotton muscle tees, oversized kangaroo pocket hoodies, ($30 to $75).
In 2018 she approached BBC Earth at a trade show and told them that they needed a sustainable clothing line. For two years, they collaborated and were set to debut their collection on Saks Fifth Avenue on April 1, 2020 — the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. And then COVID hit.
The wholesale orders that Together California depended on were canceled. And not only that, the collection with BBC Earth was postponed as the world waited to see how long the COVID shutdown would last. Chehrazi-Barrett, ahead of the trend as always, started making face masks from organic and recycled materials.
"When we started doing the face masks we realized that the adults wearing the masks encouraged their kids to wear them, so we made them matching," she explains. Just like the rest of Together California's merch, all face masks were made within ten miles of their home base in DTLA.
Their collection with BBC Earth debuted on the summer solstice instead. "Even though it was later than we thought, the collection was well-received," reports Chehrazi-Barrett. To celebrate the launch, the couple planned a vacation to relax. And then 2020 struck again: "We had a plan to go to Big Sur but we had to cancel that because it was on fire!"
Of those affected was the bassist from her favorite band — the band that played the concert where she and her husband met. Once again, Chehrazi-Barrett dedicated her business resources to helping her community and collaborated with the band on a custom face mask — all proceeds donated to the bassist who lost his house in the fires.
Together California is planning on another collection with BBC Earth slated to drop this month. Set at a holiday-friendly price point (read: budget-minded), this collection will have all new imagery as well as matching adult and child sets. And they are making up for the loss of their wholesale business with a new business partner, Togetherland, a pioneer in virtual concerts.
"We produce the merch for these virtual concerts. So our 'side hustle' is elevated merch for bands. You'll see next year that you can order stuff and we can help produce it for you," says Chehrazi-Barrett. (Their merch already has fans in the music world: Iconic producer Lee "Scratch" Perry recently sported one of their tees.)
Despite the pivots in 2020, she's still optimistic about the future. "People are coming together so we hope that it does get better. It's cool to see how creative people are becoming with necessity," she says.
The L.A. designer continues to stay true to the spirit of Together California and its original mission of supporting worker's rights, the environment, and sustainability. "It's been interesting to see [more awareness] of everything from racism to earth consciousness, coming to light, but it's good for us. That's what we've always stood for."