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Alternative has come a long way since its beginnings as a wholesale basics brand. Founded in 1995 by Greg Alterman, the socially-responsible and sustainable label evolved from supplying wearable canvases to designers to creating its own ready-to-wear collections inspired by the world's coolest cities and activities.
Originally established in Atlanta, Georgia, the company's design, creative, and marketing teams are housed in an inspiring fourth-floor space in Downtown LA's historic Primrose Design building. (Fun fact: Alternative's 13,000-square-foot space was once a "taxi-dancer" and burlesque club.) This year, the brand it toasting its 20th anniversary with a fall capsule collection inspired by Instanbul. (More on that later!)
Now that we've gotten to know Alternative's creative director, we caught up with lead designer Tiffany Ruiz, who gave us a tour through her cool DTLA workspace. "We wanted to find a space Downtown that felt on-brand and this space was perfect: simple, clean lines but with a vintage, industrial feel," she tells us. "We knew the area would grow and now there are new restaurants and stores popping up on every corner."
Above, take a tour of the space and learn more about what's inside, then read on below to find out how being an LA native inspires Ruiz, her favorite work vacay (yup, it's a thing at Alternative), which pieces are on heavy rotation in her closet, and more.
What were you most excited about when you joined the Alternative design team?
I was most excited about the challenge of creating a seasonal lifestyle brand for a company that was previously known for basics. Alternative had a great reputation already for having soft high-quality fabrics, and it was exciting to have such a great starting point to help develop that into a full collection.
How has being a born-and-raised Angeleno influenced your work?
It influences everything I do, and everything I am. The way that LA is complicated and spread out, and the fact that it has continued to evolve and change and elude any kind of easy summary is a constant source of inspiration. You have to be constantly engaged to keep up, and even after living here my whole life I still feel like I'm always finding new elements of the culture, or new neighborhoods.
For instance, in the inspiration for t-shirt designs we draw a clear parallel to the city's nature. There are things that can't really change—like how Union Station isn't going anywhere, just as a t-shirt has a basic shape—but within that static infrastructure there is a lot that can change at any moment. LA always has a new story to tell if you can work your way into it, and living in this city has helped me to continuously find new ways to look at design.
Where do you go in LA to get inspired?
Walking around any neighborhood in LA is always inspiring to me because the city is full of amazing details, and little insights on its rich history. But, at a personal level the garment district will always be a special place for me. There's a lot of personal history there since my grandparents owned a factory there on 14th and Central. When I was little I used to go down there with them and I was so enamored, and it set me on a path in life to become a designer myself.
When I go down there now and I see the revitalization that's been taking place in recent years, and I think about everything that's lead me here I'm always invigorated. It's an honor, and it's humbling to be a part of this grand process, and have my own unique take on it.
What's the inspiration behind the fall collection?
It started with an inspiration trip to Istanbul, which is an important city in historic trade routes that are nearly as old as human society. It's frequently cited as a source of inspiration for creatives of all sorts, and we wanted to do our own unique take on that. We focused on the creative nomad who travels light, packing pieces that deliver on both design and function.
What's your favorite aspect about the space?
Our building is a historic part of LA, and we didn't change much about it. It has a lot of unique architectural features that harken back to another era that serve as a constant reminder of the grand scale of what we're participating in. The space is well-lit and open, and those are things that definitely contribute to being able to come to work and feel comfortable, and not feel like my creativity is impeded by the limitations of the space that I'm in.
Out of Alternative's many "inspiration trips," which city was your favorite?
Stockholm. There are lots of parallels between LA and Stockholm, it's another metropolis on the water. The city places a high value on design of all sorts, and it's incredibly inspiring to spend time there and be immersed in the architecture and everything the culture has to offer.
What's your favorite piece from the 20th anniversary capsule?
The hoodies. A hoodie has become something that nearly everyone owns, and nearly everyone feels comfortable in. It's exciting to take a piece like that and really expand on how to make a garment like that special with subtle details that preserve its integrity.
Which Alternative staples do you have the most of in your closet?
Move activewear. I'm always doing what I can to stay active. I spend a lot of time at a desk, or in an office so it's important to balance that with physical activity. The second- and third-layer Move pieces are designed to be transitional so I wind up wearing those a lot as well.