Sisters of Los Angeles Reinvent the City Souvenir

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Shot glassesGo to any city and you’ll find memorabilia to take home with you: Eiffel tower snow globes; Empire State Building mugs, Princess Kate T-shirts. Not only are such souvenirs often cheesy with, at best, kitsch appeal, but they also tend to celebrate limited aspects of a place – in England, say, the Royal family; in Italy, the glorious architectural past, and in LA, the focus is on Hollywood.

That’s according to longtime LA-based fashion publicist Sara Stein who recognized a gap in the market for a well-designed souvenir that could be a real keeper, what she calls “modern memorabilia.”

She joined forces with Karen Alweil, a veteran product developer with a base in LA Mart in downtown Los Angeles and Silverlake-based architect Barbara Bestor, well-known for her contemporary variants on LA’s Modern architecture, as well as a book, Bohemian Modern (Barbara, shown below with one of SOLA’s totes, also heads up the Julius Shulman Institute at Woodbury University and you can hear her talking about architectural photography on this DnA).

products on shelf with view of backgroundTogether they became SOLA, or the double-meaning Sisters of Los Angeles or SO LA; and last year they launched a line of sunny, pop variants on the standard souvenir: candles, tote bags, shot glasses, bearing colorful abstractions of mountains and beaches, and cheerful hand-scribed logos.

Now they are selling in outlets from the internet to museum gift stores, and have had other — less sunny — cities coming knocking on their door for their Mod interpretations, designed to capture in a deceptively simple way the essence of a place: the natural splendors, atmosphere and hues.

When you see SOLA products you have that feeling of, what an obvious concept, how come nobody thought of it before? So I went to meet with the Sisters of LA and found out how they came up with it and how they went about turning a concept into a reality. Along the way I learned about the difference for Barbara between building a building and creating a product, how the “sisterhood” of diverse professional experience enabled their entrepreneurship; and about the most difficult part of getting their product to market.

SOLA will also be be part of KCRW’s pop-up gallery of LA design, at Helms Bakery on Sunday April 14th; and they have customized their tote bag and friendship bracelets exclusively for KCRW listeners at DnA Design Picks on the KCRW store.