How '70s-Era Kenzo and Nature Inspires Ethical LA Kids Label Chaboukie
LA-based label Chaboukie is always in a summer state of mind. Case in point: The ethically-made brand's new spring collection of easy, breezy silhouettes in cheery hues, like blouse and bloomers combos in whimsical botanical or flamingo prints, lavender jersey rompers, and plaid apron dresses in organic flax fabric, to name just a few.
In fact, costume designer and founder Leah Piehl took inspiration from her own sun-drenched Northeast LA 'hood of Mount Washington, where her hillside perch offers clear views of Downtown alongside relaxing scenes of surrounding nature. With all of that in mind, it's no wonder that the Fashion Mamas LA member's unisex essentials were made for neighborhood block parties, kid picnics, and more al fresco adventures.
We sat down with Piehl — who co-founded the brand with her web designer/musician husband, Greg Bertrens — to find out how a pair of DIY leggings for her son led to Chaboukie, how her David Bowie-meets-"carny" sensibilities inform her effortless designs, and more. Read on below, then shop the spring collection (which is available as of today) over on the brand's website.
Tell us about yourself: What led you to the path of creating Chaboukie?
I’m a professional costume designer. I work mostly in the theater designing large scale period productions and dance. I love that each project is different so I’m always working in a new environment, with new people and a new script. It’s definitely challenging, especially being a mom, to find time to really get into the creative process and design something interesting that people are going to want to look at. When I had my first child, Audie, I was working all the time and really struggled with balancing being a mom and cultivating a creative space to focus on my work.
My path to Chaboukie was fairly organic. I wasn’t satisfied with the options in apparel for boys. I also really preferred dressing my son in leggings and t-shirts because it was the easiest way to access a diaper and fun patterns on the legs were a great way to give his outfits some pizzazz. I ordered leggings on Etsy but soon discovered I could buy my own fabric and whip up a pair in 20 minutes. Thus began the business.
I started sourcing fabric at Rag Finders [in] Downtown LA and making leggings to order. It was ALL ME at first, with the occasional assistance of a stitcher. Little by little I worked away from the made-to-order model and had small quantities made Downtown. Then we started introducing other styles beyond leggings and one thing led to another and now it’s a full line with multiple styles, production and wholesale distribution.
How has Los Angeles/your neighborhood inspired the brand's designs?
I love people watching. We live in such a amazing and culturally diverse city with so many unique individuals. Especially in Northeast LA, people’s tastes, fashion, and lifestyles are extremely rich in creativity and individuality. Being someone who really doesn’t like a lot of the clothing marketed to kids, I borrow from what I see around me. Be it my own fashion sensibilities to the stylings of the cool kids eating brunch at Kitchen Mouse, the silhouettes and patterns I gravitate towards are an amalgam of my community.
I also live in Mount Washington, which is like being in the woods. My home, and my studio in particular, is like a tree house. I’m surrounded by nature but have a view of DTLA and Highland Park on either side. It’s magical really and I’m so lucky. This inspires my palette. I’m drawn to colors that feel organic and rooted in the natural world. I garment-dye most of my knitwear and am always looking for the perfect earthy or “dusty” versions of colors.
Who are your design muses?
That’s a tough question. I’m not from the “fashion world” so I don’t know a lot of designers. I’m one part hippie, one part glitter glam and one part “carny" as my husband likes to tease from my days as a cabaret performer/Burning Man participant. I love ethnic prints and natural fibers, a la Chloé and Kenzo circa 1970. I was born in 1973 and my parents were very fashionable. I have some photos of my mom in outfits I wish I had today! I also love the gender fluid looks of Mark Bolan and David Bowie.
It all comes into play when I work — I’m looking to find something that’s culturally relatable, fun and easy to wear. Like most LA Fashion Mamas, I’ve been obsessed with Doen for the past several years. I think they have hit the mark with the ethnic-inspired/easy California living vibe and I’m eating it up.
What inspired you to keep everything gender-neutral?
Initially I wanted cute clothes for my son that didn’t have trucks or robots printed all over them. I also didn’t want him stuck in jeans or cargo pants. I couldn’t find leggings specifically for boys. So I focused on only using fabrics that would work on all genders. Over time the line evolved and I now do dresses and blouses traditionally geared towards girls however I try to make at least 50% of the line gender-neutral. This spring I have a lot more that feels gender specific but fall 2018 is more like 75% gender neutral. It ebbs and flows depending on what inspires me at the time.
What are some of your favorite ways that Chaboukie shoppers have worn your pieces?
Color combinations! I love the way people combine colors I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Also mixing our solids with different patterns is always great to see.
What's the inspiration behind your next collection?
The spring '18 collection is my biggest to date. It was inspired by fabric — I wanted to do lots of prints and I wanted the silhouettes to be breezy and comfortable. The line has a “throw on and go” vibe. All the woven pieces have strong statement patterns and the knits while basic, have style details that make them exciting all on their own. We also have many organic fabrics this time around. I love this collection and am very excited for our launch [on] March 1.