Left Hand LA’s Julie Kucharski on sustainable thrift-inspired design
Founded in 2012, Left Hand LA has been making thrift-inspired fashion for close to a decade now. Or, at least, that’s how it looks on paper. In reality, though, Left Hand LA goes back a lot further—to a passion for clothes and design that started with founder Julie Kucharski’s small-town Southern upbringing.
Learning to thrift from her father and how to cut and sew from her mom, Kucharski built her process around those inherited talents and with the support of parents who’d rather she was creating than spending all of her money on clothes.
After returning from a creatively liberating year abroad, studying at Central Saint Martins in London, Kucharski found herself dissatisfied with ways of working back home in the States.
“I think, in American education, we focus so much on the final product that they forget the importance of the process,” she explains over the phone from L.A. “At Saint Martins, I learned that everything was about the process. They didn’t care what the final product was—only what it took to get there.
“I remember getting a D on a drawing that I think I had gotten an A on before because the border wasn’t the size of the border that they had specified in the instructions,” Kucharski continues. “But it was my favorite drawing I’d ever done. I was done then and there, you know?”
Since leaving school and moving to Los Angeles, what began as a way to express herself in a community where she didn’t necessarily feel like a part of the in-crowd has become a full-on brand: a brand dedicated to the art of the process itself, where how things are made is just as important as the final product—but also a brand with international recognition and an enviable list of celebrity clients.
In that sense, what Kucharski has created is a best of both worlds situation: where people can appreciate her work on a massive scale, but where her work isn’t dominated by the requirements of that scale. Left Hand LA, in the end, is built not only on process but also on principles.
And Kucharski isn’t one to abandon her beliefs for the sake of business.
Where did your interest in clothes and fashion come from?
I was always playing dress-up as a kid, and now, after watching old home videos, I see exactly where everything started. I was just in my mom’s heels and dresses running around. And then, in elementary school, I would ask to be dropped off at the mall. I’d just walk around and try things on and try to get a job—even though I was only in second or third grade.
Wow, so you really can trace this right back to the source. Was that early passion something that people supported?
Definitely. My mom realized that it was obviously a real love for clothing and started making my clothes. I think she thought that I was just going to be some kind of shopaholic, so she turned it around really fast and was like, “Let’s make our own and cut off the problem right now.” And then, on top of that, my dad was super thrifty. He taught me to how to thrift in like seventh grade. Combining those two skill sets is where it all started.
How did you first decide to turn something so personal into a full-on brand?
At first, it was a hobby, but it was also my first love. It still is, really. I just ended up in L.A. and, as you do, ended up starting the brand here. I didn’t actually even think about having a brand until a friend of mine was like, “What are you doing? Why are you just making all of these clothes? What’s the end goal here?”
I guess when you’re doing stuff for yourself, you don’t really think about an end goal, right?
Exactly. Doing it is the end goal. Back in school, the majority of my class voted that I was going to be a famous fashion designer. And it’s interesting that my peers can see that, but for me, it was just what I love to do. Anything clothing-related.
My dream job was actually starting a bus that went on tour and sold vintage clothes. We would stop in cities all over the country, and you’d know that the tour was coming through. Kind of like a traveling carnival of thrift, you know?
That way you’re constantly updating your stock, too. From city to city.
Exactly. That was my goal. Thrifting in the U.S. is so fun—a whole other world, really—because if you go to a new state, then the clothes in the thrift stores just completely reflect wherever you’re visiting. It’s not like it says “Texas” on it in big letters, but if you’re at a thrift store in Texas, then you can tell for sure that you’re in Texas. I love that culture.
Maybe vintage is my first love—just like the appreciation of the silhouettes and the construction and the quality. If I could have one superpower, I would literally go back in time just to see what it would be like to actually exist in the ’70s and live among those materials and that design mentality.
There’s also the sustainability issue, right?
People always asked why I did one-of-one pieces. Business people would always be like, “That’s not sustainable.” But, actually, that is sustainable, you know? And that’s the point. That’s what I want to do: Of course I want to save the planet. Of course I want to set a good example. I really just want to show the youth that if you put your mind to whatever your passion is, then you can do it from your house. You can do it with just those few supplies that you can find at the thrift store.
When you started the brand, who did you imagine wearing your clothes—who did you think they’d be for?
Well, I never would have imagined that I would have been making custom jeans for Beyoncé when she was pregnant. I was just wanting to make clothes for myself and for other girls that were a little more daring in their choices—who also spoke through their outfits. I think the first celebrity moment I had was actually Rihanna.
That’s not bad for your first big name, right?
Not at all! It was a total conflict of interest with work at the time, and I was worried it would get a little messy, but it worked out in the end. It was the perfect boost for me to be confident enough to just quit my day job and do it full time.
From there, I was on and off between day jobs for a while because everyone needs stability and a regular paycheck, right? And then one day I missed a Kendall Jenner job because I was working at my day job. I just thought, “Fuck this. This is not worth it.” And then I never went back. In a lot of ways, it still doesn’t feel real.
This interview appeared in issue 397, available here.