Factory Tour: the Family-Run Dye House Servicing Movie Studios and Fashion Brands (Including the Owners' Daughter's) – Fashionista

Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Vintage Souls founder Dani Brown takes us inside her family business, where everything from stylish sweatsuits to "Black Panther" capes are custom-dyed.
Welcome to Factory Tour, where we take you inside the manufacturing facilities of our favorite brands to reveal how the clothes we buy are actually made. Next up: Universal Wash and Dye in North Hollywood, Calif., which has been servicing designer labels, streetwear brands and movie studios for 30 years and is also home to Vintage Souls, a high-end streetwear brand founded by the owners' daughter.
Self-described valley girl Danielle Brown grew up in the apparel industry, but never foresaw starting her own clothing brand, particularly not in the middle of a pandemic. From the outside looking in, however, it almost seemed inevitable.
Nearly 30 years ago, her parents opened what is now Universal Wash & Dye, which quickly became a go-to resource for Los Angeles's many denim brands, including early-aughts staples like True Religion and Rockstar. (Washing and dyeing are what give denim its feel and color.) Not unlike Brown's, the dye house's expansion involved a little bit of luck — or confusion, depending on how you look at it.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
"My mom started getting business from TV shows, movie sets and wardrobe thinking that we were part of Universal Studios," explains Brown. "She didn't even know we had an avenue in that industry." A thriving new division of the business was born. Today, her mom, Margo Brown, oversees all the custom work for film and television, including projects for Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises like "Captain America," "The Avengers" and "Black Panther," as well as tour costumes for stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. 
It was also mom who helped the business navigate its way through the globalization of the garment industry, which saw brands moving their manufacturing — including dye work — overseas to developing countries in an effort to reduce costs. "What [my mom] realized was that, in China, they don't really have the same capabilities to do novelty dyes," says Brown. "My mom started to get more into that niche and that really expanded us."
On the fashion side of the business — overseen by dad, David Brown — current clients include Nahmias, Gallery Dept. and, since October of 2019, Brown's own label, Vintage Souls.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
A few years before that, Brown was set on forging a different path in the fashion world — entirely separate from her family enterprise. In 2012, she launched her own online boutique. It took off initially, but after a few years, mounting industry competition led to a decision to close shop. Until recently, she's helped run the family business full-time, overseeing sales.
"I think being on the service end my whole life, I've always seen firsthand how difficult and challenging this industry is," she says. That brought about some hesitance when it came to starting her own brand, but eventually, she got "tired of constantly designing for other people."
"I was like, 'You know what? Knitwear, I've never really done it, but I think I could figure it out with all the connections that we have through the dye house,' so I just took a shot at it."
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
If only because of timing, it's hard not to connect Brown's story to the ongoing "nepo baby" discourse: There's no doubt that growing up with a family-owned dye house was helpful in her being able to make clothes, but it wasn't enough to fund an entire brand. Vintage Souls began as a small side hustle using special wash and dye techniques to manipulate the look and feel of vintage T-shirts, and selling them as one-offs on Instagram. One day Brown decided to design her own shirt from start to finish, including a custom graphic with the phrase "Souls on fire" in rhinestones. This is where the luck came in.
"I had no sales, it was just a little thing I was doing on my Instagram — and Free People emailed me. They were like, 'We're interested in wholesaling your items,' and I was like, 'There's no way.'" The buyer apparently saw the "Souls on Fire" shirt on Instagram, saved it, and then a week later a coworker came into the office wearing it. "She was like, 'It was just too coincidental, so I had to reach out to you.'" The retailer launched a small test order of shirts that sold out in one day.
From then on, Free People was crucial part of Vintage Souls' growth into a full-fledged brand — especially after Covid-19 hit just a couple of months later. The retailer wanted to support small, women-owned business and asked if Brown was still able to produce. By manufacturing protective masks, Universal Wash & Dye managed to stay open as an essential business.
Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Souls
From there, Brown grew the brand only as much as its Free People profits would allow. "I just started creating basic pieces. I started with a jogger, then a crew neck, and a hoodie…" — all loungewear pieces perfect for the sedentary 2020 lifestyle. In October of that year, the brand launched its first collection, which caught the attention of Fred Segal, who bought into the brand, allowing Brown to make her first hire, a production manager.
Three years later, Vintage Souls is a three-person team working out of an office attached to Universal Wash & Dye and Brown is transitioning to focusing on Vintage Souls full time. The campus-like operation is, for the most part, as scrappy and unglamorous as any 30-year-old factory you might come across, with the exception of a few aesthetic touches that are likely Brown's doing, like a pink front gate and a sign with the tagline, "We will dye for you."
While the facilities themselves might not all reflect the casual glamour of a cool apparel brand like Vintage Souls, they literally make it possible for such a brand to stand out — through innovative washing techniques, unique dye development and much more. Keep scrolling to see what happens inside Universal Wash & Dye, and some of the novelty designs it produces.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Here in the spray booth, garments are placed on inflatable forms to be sprayed with dyes and other treatments. Brown starts our tour by showing us how a special new "crackle" design is achieved.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
This pair of joggers has already undergone the first part of the treatment. "We basically dye the garment and that gets done in one big load. Afterwards, piece by piece, we basically drench it in in clay. Then we hang it, let it sit in the sun, and dry up overnight. Once it's dry, we crunch it so that pieces are flaking off. Then you have these natural veins through the cracks."
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
"Then, you spray another dye color on top while the clay's still sitting there, it seeps through the cracks, and then you wash it again." Here, a green dye has been sprayed overtop.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
After being washed, the joggers hang to dry.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
This is the final result!
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
The receiving area, with un-dyed garments.
Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Souls
This is the marble dye tank, in use. "Basically, you fill this up and it's this thick, foamy liquid. Then you put the colors that you want in there and it swirls. Then you just take the garments, you dip it in, and paint it. Before we got these, we had to do it by hand."
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Vintage Souls garments featuring the marble dye technique.
Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Souls
A garment dye machine in use.
Photo: Courtesy of Vintage Souls
Garment dye machine, open.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
A tub of softener.
A stone wash machine (with, yes, real stones).
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Wider view of the wash/dye room.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Industrial dryers.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
The mineral/acid wash room featuring recently dyed garments.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Mineral/acid wash room.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Mineral/acid wash machine.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
New dyes being developed in the lab room.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Dyes.
Photo: Dhani Mau/Fashionista
Coating/pressing machines. "We can do heat transfers… We've done really cool snake skin prints on top of knitwear, which I feel like is all coming back."
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