In a city where the fashion seasons change more obviously than the weather seasons, trendiness reigns supreme. And while that state of affairs inspires Angelenos to flock to shops in search of the latest, most fashionable clothing, fashion maven Janet Sung saw inspiration in a different place — our closets.
The creative mind behind Denim Refinery, an online store and denim customization site, Sung transforms her customers' outdated denim into something hip and fresh. On the site, visitors can choose from “refinements” such as Dipped (which gives certain parts of your clothing item a lighter look), Wax (which turns denim into a leather-like material) or Paint (which lends your denim an artsy look). Up for more than a year, the site continues to send customers' denim to a Long Beach factory before returning the transformed item to owners around the world.
“It's basically taking the middle man out of the whole manufacturing process and opening up a resource that was only available to manufacturers, to individuals,” she explains.
Sung also created Shop DR, a portion of the site that lets customers choose from already-customized jackets and jeans with brand names like Levi's. Now, loads of denim and Sung's fashion sense come to downtown in a boutique open to the public.
Denim Refinery's new, cozy home lies on the eight floor of the Collection Building on 7th St. The ornate ceilings hark back to another era and the clunky elevators are still run by an operator.
Sung chose to open a Denim Refinery boutique to allow customers to touch and try on clothes, but shoppers can also bring denim to the store to get the same alterations offered online.
Inside suite number 808, original showroom windows frame racks of Denim Refinery individual pieces and outfits. Sung mentions that on the sidewalk near the building, visitors can still read the words “Brack Shops,” a phrase that refers to the string of independent stores that inhabited the building from around 1915, when it went by the Bronson Building. In 1970, it became known as the Collection, and today the thirteen floors house various offices, some still serving as retail spaces.
Sung grew up amidst the denim industry as part of her family's business and originally worked at the Cooper Building, an eleven-story edifice filled with fashion-forward sellers. The hybrid showroom and retails space gives Sung a chance to expose fashionistas to her take on vintage fashion, right down to boxes filled with novelty patches and pins.
“I think a lot of people see vintage as very old and stinky or very era — just completely one era,” says Sung. “But it's a lot easier to wear when it's merchandised. I have it merched like in ensembles so like a top with shorts or a sweater with a denim jacket and a skirt.” On a nearby rack, a hanger holds both a top and denim shorts so customers can see the full outfit.
Sung wants to expand downtown's fashion scene and feels the “artsy and creative community” will dig her passion for creating new looks.
“It fits… the aesthetic, the concept, just who I am as a person because this is a just a big reflection of myself, too,” says Sung. “I wouldn't really say I'm denim or I stand for denim or whatever, but a lot of it is a vision I have and I think that I definitely see it in downtown. Because, you know, people walk everywhere here and people are very independent-minded.”
Sung uses the space as her studio as well and keeps a book that her family and friends signed during the opening party of the store on Jan. 31. In it, she asked for advice and wise words. A nearby shelf holds a television set, the first one her parents bought after moving to the United States from Korea back in the 1980s.
Sung considers herself lucky to have the space and confidently asserts, “This isn't going to be the only store.” In the meantime, Angelenos can either keep sending their clothes to the site or discover the power of denim in the boutique itself — no matter the fashion season.
The Denim Refinery boutique is at 527 W. 7th St., Suite #808, dwntwn. (310) 800-6135.