by David Mendez
Lauren Kolodny and Johnny Flanagan never actually meant to have a storefront. The couple opened their Etsy store, Right Tribe, in 2014 as a creative outlet deriving from Kolodny’s days running a lifestyle and fashion blog and Flanagan’s production design career.
But their business, driven by the growing popularity of Flanagan’s handmade leather visors, drove the two to find a workspace, which soon became a storefront at 803 Manhattan Ave.
“This place became available and we lucked out,” Flanagan said. “It’s a perfect little shoppable studio — we get to work here, but we get to interact with people and do custom work.”
What you see is what you get at Right Tribe: The front room of the studio has more than just their collection of handmade bags and goods. It also features Flanagan’s 10 foot work desk, leather scraps, paintings and industrial sewing machine.
It’s a welcome reprieve; before the studio, the work was strewn about Kolodny’s apartment.
“The rafters were full of hides of leather, the table, the sewing machine, trunks full of materials,“ Flanagan said. “I was saying, we’ve gotta get the apartment back, because it was taken over completely.”
Now the entirety of the space, which still looks like the old house it once was (kitchen and all) is part of the store. Practically everything is for sale, from the antique knick-knacks, to art pieces made from found natural materials, to new and repurposed leather goods.
“It’s funny — when something sells, we can feel it missing,” Kolodny said, gesturing to a driftwood mobile hanging near the front door. “When the first one sold, I said ‘We need to make another one right now.’”
And being the owner-operator-artists of the place gives them the flexibility to make what they want when they want.
“It’s cool the way it’s set up — we don’t have to buy a bunch of stuff or have inventory, but if we make something nice and it’s one of a kind, we can just make another. It’s an endless artistic outlet,” Flanagan said.
A woman walked into the shop as Flanagan was experimenting with a canvas sack material, Kolodny recalled. He was in the middle of repurposing the bag, sewing leather handles, pockets and a base onto it. But even it its unfinished state, the bag had a buyer.
“She said she’d pay for it now and pick it up the next day — she just loved having a one-of-a-kind bag,” Kolodny said.
The shop’s growth happened organically, from web sensation to storefront, Kolodny said, and she’s glad it happened that way.
“I don’t know if I would’ve been able to open a shop otherwise; the nerves, the stress, the inventory,” she said.
Now, the two are prepping for the future. This week is the Manhattan Beach Sidewalk Sale — their first after opening the shop in November — and while they haven’t set their discount plans in stone, they’re excited to be able to hang with neighbors and visitors.
“It lets us really connect with people,” Flanagan said. “It’s good, even if people don’t buy anything, they love the style and the feel.”
The Manhattan Beach Sidewalk Sale runs from Friday, Jan. 13 to Monday, Jan. 16. ER
Free People Catalog
Getting it Right
May 8, 2017
Written by Tanya Monaghan | Photographed by Lauren Pressey
If you frequented Right Tribe, s storefront in Manhattan Beach, you can consider yourself lucky. Anyone who walked into this creative space came out with a smile on his or her face. Lauren Kolodny and Johnny Red, the inspiring duo behind the creative brand and studio, were often found inside, making their handmade goods. Being in their store was like being in their own home. They would offer you coffee as
your eyes bounced around the room. Johnny’s beautiful handmade leather goods and Lauren’s handmade, colorful pom-poms and wall hangings adorned the shelves. In every space in between you could find treasures found at flea markets or crystals from far-off places.
Taking center stage was my personal favorite: the beautiful, worn-in, vintage Eames chair once owned by Lauren’s grandfather. Johnny could often be found crafting his leather visors or bags by the cash wrap. It was a whole new experience for the South Bay.
Their deep connection to the South Bay originates from Lauren. She was raised in Palos Verdes and grew up very close to her grandmother, who taught her everything from crafts to fashion. In her early 20s, Lauren moved to New York to pursue her career as a fashion stylist. After several brutal winters, she returned to the South Bay in 2004 and made Downtown Manhattan Beach her home.
Johnny Red, on the other hand, grew up in the Pennsylvania countryside on a small hobby farm. He was exposed at a young age to tools and materials of all kinds. His father liked woodworking, and his mother took to sewing quilts.
After graduating college in Colorado, he moved to Japan to teach English for five years before moving to LA to work in film and television as a production designer. It was during this time that Lauren and Johnny met.
After working an entire year together on projects back-to-back, they ended the year filming an independent film in Oregon and fell in love.
Right Tribe was born several years later when Johnny was given the gift of a leather wallet designed and crafted in the U.S. He was inspired by the quality of the material and simplicity of the design. He decided to try to make something with remnant leather.
Johnny soon realized that if you use quality materials, you end up with quality goods. Leather became his favorite medium to work with.
They started by selling their handmade leather visors on Etsy and had a very positive response from customers. After a year they were selling their visors wholesale to Free People and also landed their dream account at Wright’s in Downtown Manhattan Beach, situated one block from their home. Their brand grew from visors to other leather accessories, including hats, handbags and home decor.
Eventually the two had the incredible opportunity to open their own beautiful creative studio/shop downtown. Having a storefront opened up a whole new world, as they were able to personally interact with their customers. They found that their customers also really enjoyed the experience of interacting with them, the artists.
When asked what inspires him, Johnny says, “One-of-a-kind things. Things that have a practical purpose and a timeless aesthetic—for example, the new line of leather plant hangers we have released this spring. I am inspired mostly by Lauren or nature. Sometimes it comes from a single color, shape or material that inherently wants to be something. Most times materials inspire their own design.”
Finding this space was a dream come true for the couple, but sadly they recently learned they needed to move on from that location. So what is the future for Right Tribe? Lauren and Johnny hope to get Right Tribe in more stores across the South Bay and continue to hold workshops within the community. As a regular visitor, I know many people are going to miss their storefront presence in the South Bay.
Johnny and Lauren have definitely felt the love and support from the South Bay community. Mary, a long-time business owner, shared the space with them, helping them be able to afford the opportunity to create their dream studio.
And Nancy McFarland of Wright’s in Manhattan Beach, another long-time South Bay local business owner, started carrying their visors, hanging mobiles, leather plant hangers and koozies. “This town has not only been our home but also a very supportive community,” they say, and this is why they love living here.
They were also pleasantly surprised to find that there is still a longing for the retro style in the South Bay. And people are hungry for the arts, hand-made goods, crafts and workshops. There is a real sense of community, and people want to support local artists and art events.
Johnny and Lauren attended the Tucson Gem & Mineral show and brought back more than 200 pounds of geodes from Morocco for people to crack open at their studio. They have held several community workshops, including how to make leather plant hangers, indigo dying and a geode-cracking event.
They would start their day with a cup of coffee and walk two blocks from their home down to the studio. It gave them the space to be creative, make things and talk to their customers. Lots of people would come in and ask for custom items, which they were very happy to accommodate. If they were not at the shop, they were out in the world cruising in their RV, looking for adventures and inspiring materials.