Catching Up With Aza Ziegler Of Calle Del Mar At Cafe Henrie In NYC
Nina Zilka, Editor of The ANY Magazine and Co-Founder of Alder New York sat down with designer Aza Ziegler at Cafe Henrie to talk about all the exciting things that are going on in the world of Calle Del Mar. The two talked about the brands unique bicoastal status, Ziegler's latest project with Urban Outfitters, and making things here in the USA.
How Would You Describe The Calle Del Mar Aesthetic?
I feel like colors have always been important to me. I've never been a black and white person; I've always gravitated to bright colors, pastels, and patterns and texture. That's a huge part of it. But I think the aesthetic really comes from reminiscing on my upbringing [in California], like in the cold of winter [in New York] when I was really home sick for a California summer.
Do You Find It Hard Not Doing The Black And White Thing When It's So A Part Of Fashion?
I found that where not doing the black and white is really hard is with sales. A lot of people tell me, like buyers, that "you need to offer this in black," but i find that when I sell things, people buy the pink, the yellow, the purple. My black and whites don't sell as well. I think people come to me for my colors.
Calle Is A Bi-coastal Brand. How Would You Define Your Relationship Between The Coasts?
When I started out I was doing everything here [in New York]. I feel like a lot of people don't understand that when I leave I'm not just on vacation. I'm always working.
When I'm in California or I'm here it doesn't effect my ability to work. I feel like I'm more creative when I'm [in California.] I think my head has more space to breath. When I'm in [New York] things happen and I can fabricate a lot faster. I kind of just made that decision [to be bi-coastal] for personal reasons. I wanted to be close to my family.
When I was in school [at Pratt Institute] I always just wanted to be able to go home. Upon graduating that was one of my things. I knew that I needed to go home more often. I rejuvenate there and I have a limit in New York. After like two or three months I'm like, ahhh I need to get out! I just know I have a limit.
That Means You're Traveling A Lot. What Are Your Travel Essentials?
I'm a light packer. l don't bring a lot of stuff. I usually travel with a few dresses, a sweater, a jacket, and jeans. I don't have a lot of products. Things that I always bring are a notebook, face lotion (the Alba one), and a chapstick...
Alder New York's! My lifestyle is not that high maintenance. I don't like a lot of things.
Right now I'm packing up my apartment, and all my clothes fit in one big bin. I'm so about not having anything.
Tell Us About The Project You Did With Urban Outfitter UK?
They approached me about doing a surf inspired pop up shop. I wasn't sure if it was the right match for me so I did my research and everyone was like Urban Outfitters in the UK is really cool.
Cooler Than Us Urban?
Yeah, they carry Rick Owens and a bunch of cool brands, so I was like, I guess I should talk to them about this. So I met with them and they were like, "we're interested in any stock you have," and that made it really easy for me to sell to them. I was like this is the best selling color and it was the most effortless meeting I've ever had.
They placed a huge order and wanted it in a month and a half - that I couldn't fill. I was like, I'm just one person! So I had to split [production] between LA and New York.
It was a big surf pop up and I got them to do sunglasses with Crap Eyewear, and they asked me for my favorite surf books, surf boards, and records, all sorts of movies to help curate the space. It was very cool because I felt very involved in it. I felt like they really got my aesthetic.
It's in the windows in Barcelona and there's a dress in every window and there's a whole section of my stuff.
I've been getting such a good reaction from everyone. Everyone is like, "this is so awesome! It's so cool!" I think it's given me a little more legitimacy for some people and has helped in other ways.
You Make Everything In The USA. What Lead To That Decision?
I think it was was about being able to be a part of the process more. Also I collect a lot of vintage athletic wear and it's all made in the US in this sportswear factory or in Alabama, or wherever it is. So I wanted to stay true to that.
It's probably a debate for every company if they stay doing that. It's a debate for me with these [varsity T-shirts] because it costs me like this much to make, and then this much to sew and the quality is great. But if I did them in China they wouldn’t cost this much... so it's like they could sell better at a lower price.
Tell Us About Making The Varsity Tees.
There's this woman who I work with in LA and she's a knitwear designer and she has a bunch of knitters in the back of her house in West Hollywood. They do a lot of different projects. She’s a consultant and a designer and does other peoples' production.
I go there and there's a bunch of knit machines and books of yarn and I just brought her a bunch of vintage samples. It was the most rewarding sampling process I ever had because she just got it.
The first sample came out 95% perfect - that never happens, like literally never. I was like "this is perfect!" I was so excited; it's really really great, and I love working with her.
I’m going to expand the knitwear side and it's easy. I also think press has reacted well to it; both boys and girls have reacted well to it. And it's been an easy sell and easy to understand what size people are. Everything about it is really easy. I’m like if I could only do t-shirts for the the rest of my life, I would.
It Sounds Like You're Being Really Smart. You're Not Making Things Too Complicated.
Yeah, it took me awhile, because as a designer you want to do seasons because it's about your vision and your world but I think for me, I kind of accepted that my vision wavered very rarely and it only takes a few pieces for people to get it. It's all still relevant and it's fine.
Has It Been Hard To Find Factories And People To Make Things In The USA?
No, actually that's been really easy. Once you start, it takes trial and error to find the right relationships. I don’t think it's that hard. I think people are really pushing for that and they are really open and I also just ask everyone. It's like, if you don’t want to tell me then fine, I’m just going to ask anyway!
Did I tell you about this sock person in Alabama? They’re the last sock people making socks and they have this factory in Alabama. They do their own line and the one store that they sell to is a store from my home town that's now in New York. And it's my friend's mom's knitwear store that I interned for, that I worked at all of high school and I was like, OMG! I emailed the woman who works at the store and I was like, "get me in touch with this woman in Alabama!" I tried five different emails, and was like, I’m going to make socks and I’m going to make them in America! And I’m going to make my sequin socks.
I sent her actually 15 emails and she did not respond to me and then I couldn't find her phone number and then she finally got back to me and she was like, "sorry we don’t make other peoples socks." I was like, "no, no, no, you don’t understand. You have to make my socks!"
Where You Able To Convince Her?
No, I'm still going to go to Alabama and that's just what I do. I don’t think she has a sense of humor because I was just like, "you don't understand! You're going to makemy socks!"
I Love Those Socks.
I could make them overseas but it's all a part of that debate. I find that being made in the US is very important to the younger [generation.] People are starting to be like, that's so cool!
So What's The Big Picture For Calle Del Mar? What Do You See For Calle?
That's been on my mind lately. I think I would really like to have a store eventually. Kind of like the surf pop up that I curated [for Urban.] I would love to carry vintage clothes, and other stuff to create this whole world. But I feel like I'm in a phase where I can't think too large about it.
It seems intimidating and I feel comfortable in a small company picture. But maybe that will change. I don't know.
I think I know my goal is to open a store. Which then from there it's a whole thing. Opening a store is so expensive and so time consuming. You have to be working there because nobody can sell better than you, so you want to be in there. It's an exhausting thought. I think that's what I would really like to do.
I've found I really like selling myself. I get emails from so many people who purchase from me and I have so many returning customers and I've seen that evolve and I'm really interested in customer relationships.
I was looking at where I am selling most and it's in Australia. The next thing I really want to do is go to Australia.
I just don't know what I will do while I'm there. What stores would I meet with or where to have trunk shows. I was thinking that I have so many returning customers from Australia I want to reach out to them.
I have a friend who lives there and she has one of my jackets and she's like, "I get a million compliments and everyone wants to know where I got it." That's a big goal for me this year- I want to go there.