Every Saturday morning, the Silver Lake farmers market on Sunset Boulevard is alive with the smell of cheese tamales, fresh ripened fruit and organic coffee. Vendors hawking their wares are a cultural hodgepodge of Los Angeles life — Mexican tamale makers, African jewelry importers, a retro chick who makes dog outfits, and environmentally friendly sorts, including 39-year-old Saundra Brungard, a petite mother of two who designs unique, ethically made, sweatshop-free kids’ T-shirts and dresses.
Her booth is easy to find: Just look for the toy animals placed strategically at the front to lure curious kids (and their moms), and the impossibly cute T-shirts, featuring quilted lions, chimpanzees and giraffes, that hang inside. Brungard called the line Precious Few on Earth because she decided to pick animals that are endangered or have habitat issues — like polar bears, elephants and sea turtles — for her designs. On the back of each homemade T-shirt is stamped the word conservationist. The line includes pieces for babies, toddlers and grade-school kids, and comes in a feast of colors, including pink, green, slate and light blue. Recently, it has expanded to include African-influenced dresses and skirts inspired by the four years Brungard spent in South Africa as a kid. She also plans to make her Web site, www.precious fewonearth.com, educational for children by linking to environmental and conservation sites, and giving animal lovers the opportunity to adopt an elephant from a sanctuary in Thailand where her sister worked for a month last March.
Brungard always wanted to start her own business, but didn’t until a major setback forced her to do it. She graduated from Irvine High School and L.A. Trade Tech, where she studied design. To pay her school bills, the L.A. native worked as a waitress at a bunch of pricey French eateries, slinging foie gras and crepes. At the age of 26, she met her future husband at a going-away brunch at a French café off Robertson Boulevard. He was a young French maitre d’ who was five years her junior. In 2002, after six years of marriage, the couple had a son, James, and moved into a cozy two-bedroom bungalow in Highland Park. While raising her son, Brungard, who volunteers at the Wildlife Way Station, designed vintage shirts for the shop Traffic Women. Her husband started teaching at a local culinary school.
But her cozy family life was turned upside down in November 2004, when she was four months pregnant with her daughter, Juliette. “My husband said he wanted to separate,” she says matter-of-factly as she sips on a freshly squeezed orange juice at the makeshift booth she shares with Marcel, a guy who makes handcrafted voodoo dolls. “I couldn’t believe it.” She says she persuaded him to stay through the pregnancy and try to work it out. It didn’t stick, though. He left when their daughter was 6 months old. Brungard’s hormones were still in a tizzy, and she was unemployed.
However, it turned out that the breakup forced her to make one of the best moves in her career. She began experimenting with different T-shirt designs for kids because she didn’t want to buy anything manufactured in sweatshops in Asia. “You can buy clothes at the Gap, but everything is the same,” she says. “For a single mother on a budget, it can be expensive too.”
Her son, James, became her biggest fan and critic. His favorite design turned out to be a plush elephant with floppy ears. “He identified with the elephant like it was a stuffed animal,” she says about her design appliqué, which looks and feels like a slightly skinnier version of a stuffed toy. “It became his favorite T-shirt.” At play dates, his T-shirt became a hit. “The kids would make animal noises and touch the floppy ears.” She then started getting stopped on the street by strangers who asked where they could pick one up.
“So many designers are doing punk rock, and heavy metal, and I was like, What does James know about being a punk?” Brungard says. “I wanted to stick with something more educational. I wanted to do something with meaning. My objective is awareness, conservation and environmentalism. The future is our children’s.”
Precious Few on Earth is available at the Silver Lake farmers market, Sunset Blvd. between Griffith Park Blvd. and Edgecliffe Dr., Sat., 8 a.m.-noon, (323) 661-7771; Montrose farmers market, in the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Honolulu Ave., Glendale, Sun., 9 a.m.-2 p.m., except for the first Sun. of every month, when Brungard sells at Kraftworks in the Ghetto Gloss Gallery lot, 2380 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., (323) 912-0008; Rockin’ Baby, 5048 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock, (888) 645-BABY; the Secret Pocket, 144 E. Colorado Blvd., Monrovia, (626) 698-0782.