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Go For Broke: Brokedown Clothing

Brokedown Clothing at 1604 Babcock Street in Westside Costa Mesa

 

We all know Costa Mesa as the “City of the Arts” – but it could just as easily be “The City of the Side Hustle” for all the scrappy creativity and bootstrapping going on behind the scenes. Costa Mesans have been side-hustling long before it was ever a meme.

With so much “garage hobbying” going on, it’s no surprise some of our best-received, locally-born brands started out that way. This trajectory is one that’s all too familiar for Jodi Benavidez.

Benavidez is Owner and Lead Designer at Brokedown Clothing – a soft, supple line of t-shirts, tanks, sweatshirts and scarves that appeals to locals and celebrities alike. It’s the kind of gauzy, high-fashion knitwear best draped over a tanned, pilates-chiseled frame.

We sat down with Benavidez at Brokedown HQ in Westside Costa Mesa to get the story behind her garage-to-glam success.

Brokedown Clothing: Tank Tops, Sweatshirts, Festival Wear in Costa Mesa, California
The Break Down On Brokedown: Owner, Jodi Benavidez, Walks Us Through Her Brand in Westside Costa Mesa
Owner Jodi Benavidez at Brokedown Clothing in Westside Costa Mesa, California
Photos: Brandy Young

“I was into fashion from a very early age,” began Benavidez, as we sat down in her bright, airy, industrial space next door to the now-defunct Open House Creative. “I grew up in a small, New Mexico farm town. Even so, I paid attention to fashion religiously. My friend and I were kind of like the fashion influencers of our high school – always trying to outdo each other with the latest and greatest looks.”

Rural roots didn’t stop Benavidez from making the leap to London, England when she was just 22 years old.

“Going to fashion school in London was really cool, it expanded my experience tremendously,” said Benavidez. “It was a big culture shift. Traveling around, you really do get inspired over there.”

After a couple years, Benavidez found herself in Costa Mesa. By day, she worked for a trend-forecasting company – at night, she worked at the Atlanta Lounge (now Out Of Bounds) to make ends meet. That was when the idea hit her… hats!

“I can’t really explain how the idea came to me,” said Benavidez. “But suddenly, 10-years ago, I just saw what I thought was missing in the market – what was needed going forward in fashion – so with just $1,000, I took a chance.

“I started doing hats out of my house. Within two or three months I had Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton and Vanessa Hudgens wearing them. The photos ran in all the celebrity gossip mags and yeah, after that, it exploded.”

The exposure got Benavidez’ creations into Kitson, a wildly-popular (at the time) L.A. boutique.

“Whatever was selling at Kitson is what every other boutique wanted,” said Benavidez, who was quickly swamped with orders. “I grew really fast right from my garage. We started adding t-shirts, sweatshirts, scarves. At the time I had two employees and we were all moving as fast as we could go.

“I was up until 3 A.M. every night, packing orders. I called in favors to my friends, asking them to come over and help me put labels on stuff. Looking back, I don’t really know how we got it all done. We just did it all ourselves, somehow.”

 

Costa Mesa’s Brokedown Clothing: Beach-Inspired and Celebrity-Approved
Festival Ready: Brokedown Clothing Specializes in Fun, Festival Ready Tops (Costa Mesa, California)
Photo: Brandy Young

These days, Benavidez is a long way from those scrappy, side-hustle days. (Although she still does all her own design work via Photoshop.) She’s now managing a full line of “super-soft, vintage, beach-inspired t-shirts, sweatshirts and scarves” – along with those iconic Love Cadet Hats – with plans to expand into other areas, soon.

“At some point, I outgrew the garage and in 2010 I found this space here,” said Benavidez of her Westside studio-cum-headquarters. “I fell in love with this part of the Westside. It’s got an industrial style that’s more unique than other parts of Orange County. All of the buildings are totally different.

“This space actually used to be a hydroponics shop before I moved in. I fixed it up myself. We lifted the ceiling up and took it out. Now it’s our favorite place to do photo shoots.”

What’s difficult to convey through photos alone is how decadently soft each of Benavidez’ pieces feels against the skin.

“I think what sets us apart is just our really soft-hand feels and unique washes,” said Benavidez. “And they’re so much fun to wear! We’re also quite innovative with our graphics and work hard to stay ahead of the game.

“This time of year, April through August, is huge for us. It’s ‘festival season’ so you’ve got all the music festivals happening right now. Our clothes are great in that environment because they’re very conversational. A fun tank can draw attention. It’s inviting – an easy way to send the message that you’re approachable.”

Blooming Cactus: Delicate Details at Brokedown Clothing Costa Mesa
Brokedown Clothing Lemon Tank Top, Costa Mesa, California
Something To Talk About: Fun Graphics + Delicate Fabrics at Brokedown Clothing in Costa Mesa
%22Maybe Partying Will Help%22 Shirt, Brokedown Clothing, Costa Mesa
Photos: Brandy Young

The clothes don’t just play well with the Hollywood set. Locals go for Brokedown, too.

“We always put a lot of thought into what’s going to be a good fit for our customer,” said Benavidez. “Our clothes appeal to a wide audience. We’re making something that ‘the daughter’ would wear – a 16-, 18-, 21-year-old – as well as her mother, too. A lot of moms around here look to their daughters to see what they’re wearing. A lot of daughters are stealing their mom’s clothes. Ours work going both ways.”

At the end of the day, Benavidez doesn’t just see her brand as clothing. She finds higher purpose in her pursuits.

“Fashion is an art form, whether you’re making it or wearing it,” said Benavidez. “Fashion sets the vibe for who you are. It expresses the ‘inner you’ to the world.”

With so many sweatshirts, tanks and tops to choose from, which is Benavidez’ current favorite?

“Definitely the catcus tank,” she said. “We introduced it a year ago and then, seven months ago, it started blowing up on Instagram. Even though it’s ‘old’ to us, it just started having its moment. It’s exploding! I think that’s the cutest style we’ve got going, right now. It’s definitely my favorite.”

Thank you Jodi Benavidez and Brokedown Clothing for having us!

After 10 years growing her brand – from garage-based side hustle to celebrity fave – what’s Benavidez’ perspective on Costa Mesa?

“Costa Mesa may not be the mecca of fashion, but it’s still got a lot going on,” said Benavidez. “RVCA is here. Volcom is here. Hurley is here. We’ve definitely got some big brands headquartered here. I think this city is really innovative, lots of opportunities for fashion and art to combine. We’ve got an artsy scene. You see a lot of cool stuff stemming from Costa Mesa.”

But still, she feels like it’s all a bit disjointed.

“I think we could be doing more, as a city, to bring all these creative, innovative people together in a big way,” said Benavidez. “Especially something on this side of town. Get a music-and-arts event together. Start some networking groups so we can use each other as resources. Maybe some after-work mixers. I would love to see something like that. Some of these brands around here are not fully-advertised so they’re easy to miss.

“The truth is there are a lot of little hidden gems in Costa Mesa. You just have to know where to look.” ♥

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to support I Heart Costa Mesa, here is our Patreon.

About The Author

The Mesa Maven

The Mesa Maven is a writer, entrepreneur, community organizer and - most importantly - Costa Mesa Superfan!!! She's simply mad for this Mesa On The Coast and all the creative, independent, amazing, everyday things happening in our sunny backyard. The Maven lives with her husband, two kids and guinea pig...in Costa Mesa, of course!

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