“That’s what that place is?” a friend’s voice rises with incredulity. “I drive by it all the time. I had no idea.” We’re talking about the orange building on Sunset, just east of Micheltorena, with the mirrored sign that says “Sweet Charity.” It’s kind of in Nowheresville, caught between the funky shops and restaurants just east and west of it. People tend to drive, not walk, by it. But the boutique is worth stopping for; it’s been called “a mini Fred Segal without the prices.” The upshot of its discreet locale is you can always find parking, unlike shopping trips on Vermont or Hillhurst, where the search for something to wear comes with an added, fruitless circle-the-block tax.

But what really separates Sweet Charity from the retail fold is that it gives 10 percent of all sales to charity. Every six months, co-owner Hilary Lawson chooses six beneficiaries. After every purchase, customers receive a heart voucher that they can place inside one of six mirrored hearts (one for each charitable organization) by the register. Until August, those groups are Caps for Cancer, Habitat for Humanity, Hollywood Heart, the Humane Society of Louisiana, M.A.C. AIDS Fund and Race to Erase MS.

Lawson will also lend the store’s outdoor patio to organizations for fund-raisers, and she’ll keep the shop open into the wee hours and give 10 percent of the night’s sales to that specific charity.

Sweet Charity looks more like a Robertson Boulevard boutique than a Salvation Army outlet. The store is packed with indie labels (more than 100 designers) from all over the country, hand-picked by Lawson. Nothing is mass produced (except maybe Born Unicorn, actress Taryn Manning’s line). So not only does your money help kids with AIDS go to camp (Hollywood Heart) or fund MS research, but you’re also helping a budding designer — not to mention that you’ll look amazing in duds no one else will have.

A few of my favorite items are Canita’s line of one-of-a-kind women’s ties, with a coral beaded sea horse or lacy trim, great for dressing up a simple white tank; a horse bracelet and Holly Hobbie earrings by Jennifer Perkins’ line Naughty Secretary Club; Pretty Trashy tees featuring tomboy designs like moths and flies; and Suzabelle’s frothy postmodern antebellum frocks Scarlett O’Hara would break hearts in today.

Lawson loves finding unknown designers — even some who do it as a hobby: She has a lawyer who designs cotton dresses and an accountant who makes ’60s shifts in layers of satin and silk crochet. Not long ago, Lawson was just starting out too, with a handbag line called Lottie Dottie. Her signature fringy flapper purses eventually made their way into glossies, onto the arms of red-carpet walkers, and into TV shows and movies. Now they’re sold in more than 300 stores nationwide, including Sweet Charity, and Lawson just wants to give back.

What catches Lawson’s eye when she’s looking for new talent? “I like clothes and accessories with a sense of humor,” she says, pointing to a tee that reads “Burt & Ernie” (the Burt is Burt Reynolds, with his arm around the orange Sesame Street character). Look at the earrings with little monkeys and, upon closer inspection, you realize they have their wieners out; a double take at a New York designer’s miniskirts reveals that they’re made out of men’s undies. One of Lawson’s favorite lines is the New Orleans–based Persona (she went to Tulane) — each dress is a different character. “Art Tart” has a cute girl with cat’s-eye glasses; below her are the words “Intellectuals Ruin All the Fun.” “She Cooks As Good As She Looks” is a takeoff on the ’50s housewife. On each label is a full description of the character.

“Everything in here I responded to in some way,” says Lawson fondly. “This tee with paper airplanes reminded me of making paper airplanes with my grandpa. Every item tells a story, like ornaments on a Christmas tree.” Lawson also exhibits a featured artist of the month; right now driftwood sculptures by Rubin Grell are on display and available for purchase. Sweet Charity has price points for everyone, ranging from $40 to $320. “I’ve had money and I haven’t had money,” Lawson says. “You can always find something to fit your budget here.”

Lawson’s been an actress, a wardrober, a set costumer and a handbag maven. When she was approached by partner Stephanie Graniero last September to open a retail shop, she said she’d do it, “but it had to be a little bit more. A little bit more than just selling stuff.” Imagine if Fred Segal thought that way . . .

Sweet Charity, 3318 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 644-8861.

Don’t miss the sample sale Fri.–Sat., July 28–29, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. & Sun., July 30, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, handbags and accessories, 60 to 80 percent below retail. Citizens of Humanity, Juicy Bikinis, Sugarcoco, Kristinit, Tricky Threads, Alana May, Zola, Kasil Jeans, Biya and many more.

Give Direct

Caps for Cancer (www.capsforcancer.com).Mike Thomas founded this organization in 1996 after his mother, Dorie Thomas, passed away due to breast cancer. He saw the difficulties his mother had trying to cover her head as she lost her hair during her treatment. If you know how to knit, you can donate hats to the organization — or donate money toward the purchase of yarn and needles.

Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org).A volunteer-based organization committed to building shelters for those in need all over the globe.

Hollywood Heart (www.hollywoodheart.org).The group helps children and teens who are infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS to go to summer camp, with its Camp Pacific Heartland program. It also helps many disadvantaged youths learn moviemaking with the Movie Team.

The Humane Society of Louisiana (www.humanela.org). Katrina devastated the Louisiana chapter of the Humane Society, leaving the building uninhabitable, and the group still has not received an insurance check or funds to rebuild. Many supporters and volunteers have moved elsewhere. This organization really needs your help.

M.A.C. AIDS Fund (www.macaidsfund.org).How one lipstick could change the world. M.A.C. gives 100 percent of the profit on every sale of Viva Glam lipsticks and glosses to some 600 organizations to fund AIDS research and supply medicine to patients in need.

Race to Erase MS (www.erasems.org).The Nancy Davis Foundation holds an annual event to fund research to help cure MS. A single evening can raise more than $2.7 million. ?

LA Weekly