L’Elephant Blanc is helping to stimulate the local economy, one Los Angeles-made item at a time.
The gift store, which opened in the in September, is dedicated to the idea of selling items made by craftsmen and artists based in Los Angeles County.
“We travel a lot and people abroad love to get made-in-the-USA products. People really seem to treasure American-made items,” said owner Barbie Faze. “It’s a sad state of affairs that so much sold in American stores is made in China, so I decided this would be a good way to help the local economy.”
Faze estimates about 75 percent of the items she sells are made in L.A. County, including home furnishings, T-shirts and clothing items, artwork, edible goodies and jewelry.
She’s got vegan and dairy-free chocolates made in Montrose, olive oil processed from olives grown on a private estate in Pacific Palisades, Hips & Hair brand T-shirts made in downtown L.A. from designer Jonathan Bussiere and clip-on bow ties created by two USC students that are handmade downtown.
Faze also sells Happy Hour Ties from designer Hugh Simms that come with a bottle opener built into the short end of the tie. Those ties are also handmade downtown.
She has prints by local artist Richard J. Frost, who has done caricatures of the Brady Bunch and the Munsters, among others, plus trendy Plaid Doctrine messenger bags and iPod sleeves, both made out of recycled bottles, created by a local artist.
And one of her most popular items is the Gumball Poodle brand knee-high socks that have various words written up the leg. Among the top sellers, she said, are the ones that say “gay, “nerd” “wicked” and “geek” and the most popular, “bacon.”
“I can’t keep the 'bacon' socks in stock,” said Faze. “They sell out almost as soon as I get them in.”
The mother of two—an 18-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son—Faze had always dreamed of opening a gift store. Her husband, Michael, a residential mortgage broker, was one of the investors who bought the French Market Place last year.
After the purchase, she casually said to him that if a space became available, she wanted it for a store. So in July, when that space opened, she started planning out what to carry.
“Luckily, there were several gift shows coming up, so it was good timing for opening a store,” she said. But while at those gift shows, she admits she was tempted to go the "made in China" route after seeing some prices.
“There were some scarves from China that were $3 each. They were so cute. I thought I could do a nice markup on them,” Faze said. “But then I said that it doesn’t go with the concept of the store.”
As for the store’s name, L’Elephant Blanc (French for “white elephant”), Faze said she just liked the sound of it. It wasn’t intended to imply her shop is a resale store.
Some foreign items
L’Elephant Blanc does carry a few gift items made outside Los Angeles; however, Faze is careful to assure the items are fair trade products where the artists are paid a fair wage and a portion of proceeds go to charities.
Freed by Design jewelry, made out of recycled bombshells found in Cambodia, is popular among patrons. A portion of the proceeds go toward educating women to keep them out of the sex-trade business.
From Nepal, Faze carries colorful baskets, coasters and Christmas ornaments made from recycled food packaging. Proceeds from that go to local charities in Nepal, she said.
Marilyn Monroe prints
For the next six weeks, the store is selling a special series of photos of Marilyn Monroe taken in December 1961 by photographer Len Steckler.
Steckler was entertaining poet Carl Sandburg, who said his friend Marilyn would be dropping by. Steckler was stunned to find that the friend was film star Marilyn Monroe. She agreed to pose for a few photos while visiting with Sandburg, Faze said.
Those negatives remained untouched for almost 50 years until Steckler’s son discovered them in a drawer. They did a limited print run of 250 of each shot and have been selling them for the past year. About a dozen prints of each shot now remain, and L’Elephant Blanc has them exclusively.
L’Elephant Blanc, located in the French Market Place at 7985 Santa Monica Blvd., is open Tuesday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays.