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Retro Basics Label Mate's Designer on Why Making Merch in LA was a No-Brainer

Mate the Label

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Before founding retro basics label Mate, Kayti O'Connell Carr was selling the real deal online. Armed with an eye for vintage, the 9-to-5er—make that 6-to-3er, given her "market" office hours at the time—turned her treasure hunting obsession into an after-hours job, selling her finds in her e-shop. But as other girl bosses have discovered, full-time thrifting isn't always the most efficient way to share your talents with the masses. This is how Mate the Label was born.

Four years after starting out as a vintage tee vendor, the DTLA Arts District-based designer now channels her devotion to decades past in her boho-cool basics line. For her latest holiday collection (aptly titled "When You're Strange," the designer has rolled out yet another effortless range of mostly-under-$100 wardrobe essentials.

On top of its wear-anywhere solid basics, other stylish standouts include this perfectly distressed graphic tee, this sexy low-v dress, and this fall-ready sweater. Even better: all of Mate's merch is made right here in LA.

We sat down with O'Connell Carr to find out more about the muses that inspired her latest collection, how she hustled to create Mate, why she made it a point to keep production in LA, and more.

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What's the story behind the brand's name?

When I first started conceptualizing the brand, I was only envisioning selling vintage items. I wanted a word that could represent a connection between past and present. The word "MATE" means to connect or link among other things and I thought it was perfect. A lot of people ask if we are from Australia, which I love that the word can also refer to a friend or companion.

What were you doing before starting MATE?

When I graduated college, I didn't have a clear picture of what industry I wanted to pursue. In order to pay the bills, I ended up working at an investment management firm doing administrative work. I felt completely out of place in a corporate environment. MATE started as a hobby and something I would do on the weekends as a creative outlet. I would frequent flea markets and thrift shops and began to love the process of shooting, styling, and selling [vintage items online].

For the first year and a half I was running MATE, I simultaneously worked another full-time job. I worked "market hours," which means 6am to 3pm and it was extremely brutal but allowed me to take meetings with factories after work. It was definitely a hustle and really long workdays for a while, but I am proud to say that I have funded it 100% by myself. I launched the site with about 10 vintage t-shirts and it has developed and grown from there.

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What's the inspiration behind the latest collection?

For our holiday collection, I envisioned the MATE girl to be rock-n-roll inspired, moody and a total badass. I wanted the vibe to be on the darker side and make my inner-witch happy. We worked with Rubina Dyan for this lookbook and she nailed the vibe perfectly. Her look is everything. Girls like Erin Wasson, Chloë Sevigny, Zoë Kravitz, and Behati Prinsloo embody the MATE girl.

I also am inspired by traveling and beautiful places even if they are hiding here in LA. I went to The Now (thanks to Racked, actually!) and I left feeling inspired for my summer '16 collection.

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What inspired you to base production and design in LA?

When I started the line, I really had no clue about the process of what went into making a single t-shirt. I was completely unaware that a t-shirt often travels between four- to five (or more) different factories before it gets to retail.

I feel fortunate and proud that our fabric suppliers, cutters, sewers, dye-houses, screen-printers, and finishers are located within five miles of our office. It means that our small team can connect with the individuals making our clothes, ensure quality at each step, and have a much smaller environmental footprint.

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It is definitely challenging and an ongoing learning process in regards to production but I feel good about keeping it close to home. It also allows myself to stay super hands on with the entire process. I like to make sure each stitch is perfect, the fabrics feel right, and the cut is exactly what we have envisioned.

The alternative of producing overseas, where many workers face exploitation and unsafe working environments is really hard to stomach and keeping it domestic feels like a no-brainer.

Shop Mate the Label online at Revolve, Planet Blue, and its own web shop and select brick-and-mortar retailers in LA, including Principessa in Venice and DASH in West Hollywood.