Illustration by Allyssa Yohana, using a photo courtesy of Calle Del Mar.

Aza Ziegler is the 25-year-old designer behind the clothing line Calle Del Mar. The Northern California-native grew up by the ocean and gravitated to surf and skate culture at an early age. Inspired by vintage athletic uniforms and the color palettes and ease of the 1960s and ’70s, Ziegler started her brand Calle Del Mar, named after the street she lived on as a child.

While studying fashion design at Pratt Institute in New York City, Ziegler created her first collection, which included pleated varsity jackets and bejewelled tennis skirts paired with sneakers. She showcased looks that combined sequins with athleticism, creating looks that coupled traditionally feminine aesthetics with traditionally masculine silhouettes.

After graduation, Ziegler launched her brand and moved to Los Angeles to be near her factories. Sustainability and domestic manufacturing play a key role in her production; she sources fabrics like viscose and cotton domestically and manufactures all of her goods in LA. She works with women-led factories, and, in producing her clothing, she aims to have zero waste.

We spoke about how to find the right factories to work with and where she hopes to take Calle Del Mar in the future.

SHRIYA SAMAVAI: Did you intern or work anywhere before starting Calle Del Mar?

AZA ZIEGLER: I started interning at age 13 with whoever would take me. I worked at Ambatalia, a vintage fabric and craft store. I organized inventory of a company that made t-shirts to raise money for wildlife-based in Sausalito. In high school, I started working for the San Francisco-based knitwear company Margaret O’Leary; I worked in their retail store and interned in their design office. That led me to an assisting job with their lookbook stylist Laura Hollabaugh. In college, I interned for Zac Posen in the sales department and learned a lot about wholesale while listening in at market meetings. I interned in the production department at Thakoon and took a brief internship with the stylist Lori Goldstein. Out of college, I started Calle Del Mar immediately, but I continued to take side work. I did sales and consulting jobs for other designers and some freelance design work as well. I still take styling jobs for catalogs, music videos, commercials, and musicians.

However, I have learned the most for working for myself. When you’re filling every role in a company and have to take responsibility for every misstep, you learn a lot about how things work, including yourself and your capabilities.

You work with factories in the United States. Why is domestic production so important to you?

So many reasons, many of which are obvious, like reducing my carbon footprint, helping the local economy, and ethical production control. But my number one reason is the relationships. I value my friendships and relationships with the people I work with. I love collaborating with them and being able to work together to solve problems and create quality products. I can imagine when working overseas you feel a bit disconnected. You send over a specification sheet, and it’s a toss up of how it turns out. I love how connected I feel to the process and all its details working domestically. I walk into the knitter’s studio and get to see all the yarn on the walls, the t-shirts being knitted, steamed, sewn. I value community and enjoy working with the local community I live in.

How did you find the factories you work with?

I asked for recommendations from fellow designers and mentors, which is rare that someone is willing to give up that information. The CFDA website & New York Garment District directory are great sources of free information when looking to find a factory. I went through their lists and cold-emailed anyone that said they were willing to work with small minimums. I brought the samples I made door-to-door to get price quotes and meet with their production managers.

I have worked with a few factories with Calle Del Mar. It has taken me some time to find the right ones for my needs. Most of that for me has to do with how the factories communicate and their production capabilities with certain fabrics, etc. I started doing my production in New York in 2014 and I was finding it extremely difficult to get basic cut-and-sew knitwear done at a reasonable price. I flew to Los Angeles, land of relaxed T-shirts and sweatshirts, and did a week of factory hunting. Through that I found a factory that was also willing to take on my sequin pieces (which are a production nightmare and everyone in New York nearly refused to try!). I had to train the factory on how to create the sequin fabric and now they’re pros!

In 2016 the owner of the Los Angeles factory introduced me to her cousin, a knitwear designer. Knitwear has always been my dream but affordable USA knitwear production is nearly impossible to find. After working on a few pieces together, I begged her to do my production and now her knitters do all of Calle Del Mar’s products.

Are you working on Calle Del Mar full time now?

Yes. And looking for someone to join the team.

Last year you moved from NYC to LA. What do you love about living and working in LA and what do you miss about NYC?

Both cities are a huge part of me. I grew up in California so I’ve always felt grounded in the landscape here. But I absolutely owe it to NYC for my work ethic and hustle. I miss my community in NYC, how easily day rolls into night and you jump from plan to spontaneity in the span of a subway ride. I was based there for six years and started to crave isolation and quiet. I love the space I have in LA. My work process here is much more meditative. I wake up, water my garden, cook breakfast, go on a hike before heading to my studio which is in my garage. In New York, sometimes everything was moving so fast around me from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep that I didn’t have the time or clarity to focus on other hobbies or interests. I am still in NY every other month so I feel like both cities continue to fill me up in their own ways. I also have been pleasantly surprised by the community of local female-run fashion companies in LA.

When you started CDM, you were following the traditional fashion cycle by designing seasonal collections and selling wholesale to stores. Now you mostly sell direct-to-consumer on your website and you’ve broken away from designing in full collections. Can you talk me through the process of choosing to make that switch? Do you ever think you’ll go back to designing some of the bigger pieces you used to, like outwear?

When I first started CDM I had a collection, I sold it to a few stores, made enough money to buy fabric to make a new collection, took the new collection to Market, and picked up a few more stores. I thought that was the only way to do it. So few clothing lines were direct-to-consumer, unless they were big corporations or accessible streetwear. My prices were higher because I was making small runs in NYC and my product was in a luxury ready-to-wear category. So I thought being in stores was the only way. I was constantly getting emails for direct orders, people who wanted to purchase the clothes through me, and I wasn’t capable of filling those orders because I was only making enough to sell to the stores. I started to feel really disconnected from the consumer and really far away from the product. The dumbest thing about the wholesale calendar is that you make something and stores place their orders, six months later you deliver the product, 30 days later you get paid, if they pay you on time. I didn’t get paid on time by more than a few of my stores, and I got ripped off by a few of the stores I worked with. And all that frustration lead me to say, “Hey, who says I do this my own way.” That’s when I moved online– I stopped making collections and started focusing on products. That was a really difficult change for me because I felt like I was giving up on my “fashion dreams”, but in reality, I was designing a calendar that worked better for me and making adjustments that worked better for my customer.

I don’t want to say I will never do wholesale again because you never know where business will take you, but I have turned my focus to direct-to-consumer and growing my online presence. I now focus on mini collections and staples that I carry year-round, along with engaging content that is relatable. I’ve also entirely switched to knitwear, which feels really suited to the original inspiration of the brand. I do think I’ll go back to outerwear and one-of-a-kind pieces eventually. My plans for Calle Del Mar are to grow it as small a knitwear line and expand it into a full lifestyle brand with stores. We’re not just talking bigger pieces, but home goods, surf wear, music, vintage, etc.

What advice do you have for young people who want to start their own businesses?

Design your own process and your own plan. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people even if you don’t get a reply. Be curious, you can always learn more. ♦