Welcome to the Factory Tour, where we take you inside the factories 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 brands, streetwear brands and film studios for 30 years and is also home to Vintage Souls, a high-end streetwear brand founded by the owners’ daughter.
A self-described Valley native, Danielle Brown grew up in the clothing industry, but she never envisioned starting her own clothing label, especially in the midst of a pandemic. However, from the outside looking in, it seemed almost inevitable.
Nearly 30 years ago, her parents opened what is now Universal Wash & Dye, which quickly became a go-to source for many Los Angeles denim brands, including early-child staples like True Religion and Rockstar. (Washing and dyeing is what gives denim its feel and color.) Unlike Brown, the dyehouse expansion involved a bit of luck—or confusion, depending on how you look at it.
“My mom started trading TV shows, movie sets and wardrobe thinking we were part of Universal Studios,” Brown explains. “She didn’t even know we had a path in the industry.” A thriving new division of the business was born. Today, her mother, Margo Brown, oversees all custom work for film and television, including projects for Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises like “Captain America,” “The Avengers” and “Black Panther,” as well as tour costumes for stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
She was also the mum who helped the business navigate its way through the globalization of the clothing industry, which has seen brands move their production – including dye work – overseas to developing countries in a bid to cut costs. “What [my mom] they realized they didn’t really have the same capabilities in China to make new dyes,” Brown says. “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 Department and, as of October 2019, Brown’s own label Vintage Souls.
A few years before that, Brown was set on forging a different path in the fashion world – completely separate from her family business. In 2012, she launched her own online boutique. It took off at first, but after a few years, increasing industry competition led to the decision to close the shop. Until recently, she helped run the family business full-time and oversaw sales.
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“I think being in the service ends my whole life, I’ve always seen firsthand how difficult and challenging this industry is,” she says. This caused some hesitation when it came to starting her own label, but she eventually “got tired of designing for other people all the time”.
“I was like, ‘You know what? Knitwear, I’ve never really done it, but I think I could figure it out with all the connections we have through the dyehouse,’ so I just gave it a shot.”
The timing alone makes it hard not to connect Brown’s story to the ongoing “no po baby” discourse: There’s no question that growing up in her family’s dye shop helped her make clothes, but it wasn’t enough to fund an entire brand. Vintage Souls started as a small side hustle using special washing and dyeing techniques to manipulate the look and feel of vintage t-shirts and selling them as a one-off on Instagram. One day, Brown decided to design her own shirt from start to finish, including her own graphic with the phrase “Souls on fire” in rhinestones. This is where luck came in.
“I didn’t have any sales, it was just a little thing I was doing on my Instagram – and Free People sent me an email. They said, ‘We’re interested in wholesale your items,’ and I was like, ‘There’s no way. ‘” The buyer apparently saw the “Souls on Fire” shirt on Instagram, saved it, and a week later a co-worker came into the office wearing it. “She was like, ‘It was too coincidental, so I had to reach out to you.'” The salesperson started a small trial order of the shirts, which sold out within a day.
Since then, Free People have been a key part of Vintage Souls’ growth into a full-fledged brand – especially after Covid-19 hit a few months later. The retailer wanted to support a small, woman-owned business and asked if Brown was still able to produce. By making protective masks, Universal Wash & Dye managed to stay open as a core business.
From there, Brown only grew the brand as far as Free People’s profits would allow. “I just started creating basic pieces. I started with a jogger, then a crewneck and a hoodie…” — all pieces of casual wear ideal for the sedentary lifestyle of 2020. In October of the same year, the brand launched its first collection, which attracted attention Fred Segal, who bought the brand and allowed Brown to get its first job as head of production.
Three years later, Vintage Souls is a team of three 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, for the most part, as shabby and run-of-the-mill as any 30-year-old factory you might come across, save for a few aesthetic tweaks presumably made by Brown, such as a pink entrance gate and a sign with the slogan, “We’re having fun for you .”
While the facilities themselves may not all reflect the casual charm of a great clothing brand like Vintage Souls, they literally allow such a brand to stand out – through innovative washing techniques, unique dye development and more. Keep scrolling to see what’s going on inside Universal Wash & Dye and some of the new designs they’re producing.
Here in the spray booth, the garments are placed on inflatable molds that are sprayed with dyes and other treatments. Brown begins our tour by showing us how the special new “cracked” design is achieved.
This pair of runners has already completed the first part of the treatment. “We basically dye the clothing and it goes in one big load. Then we basically pot it piece by piece in clay. Then we hang it up and let it sit in the sun and dry overnight. Once it’s dry, we crunch it so that the pieces come off. Then you have these natural veins through the cracks.”
“Then you spray more dye on top while the clay is still sitting there, it seeps through the cracks, and then you wash it again.” Here the green dye was sprayed from above.
After washing, the joggers are hung to dry.
This is the final result!
Reception area with undyed clothes.
This is a used marble dye tank. “Basically, you fill it up and it’s this thick, foamy liquid. Then you put the colors you want in there and it swirls. Then you just take the clothes, wet them and paint them. Before we got this, we had to do it by hand.”
Vintage Souls clothing with marble dyeing technique.
A garment dyeing machine is used.
Garment dyeing machine, open.
Stone washer (yes, with real stones).
A wider view of the laundry/paint.
Mineral/acid laundry with recently dyed garments.
Mineral/acid washing machine.
New dyes are being developed in the laboratory.
Coating/pressing machines. “We can do heat transfers… We’ve done really cool snakeskin prints on the knits, which I feel like it’s all coming back.”
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