New Fashion Line Showcases The Homeless Talent On L.A.'s Skid Row

Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
When Geraldine Freyeisen was working on a documentary about the homeless women living on L.A.’s infamous Skid Row, she was struck by the community; namely, the support system and activities the residents had organized for themselves in spite of their obvious hardships. “I was attending events, jam sessions, open mics, barbecues, and even the first Skid Row wedding. I started to hang out in Skid Row by myself — residents would occasionally wave at me when I passed by their tents; we would chat and share a cigarette.” As a photographer with a love of fashion, Freyeisen was struck by the creativity of the outfits she encountered. “Amid the chaos, the streets had become some people’s runway and an opportunity to express oneself, depicting a sense of pride in spite of their circumstances. That’s when I decided to grab a camera.”

The photos ended up on her street style blog The Swagabonds. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, a person who’s dressed up with flair is flattered that someone else appreciates their outfit and wants to capture that swag on camera,” says Freyeisen. After the shoots, Freyeisen exchanges numbers so she can share the photos afterward (some Skid Row residents have received free Obama Phones with cell-phone service). This way, Freyeisen has been able to stay in touch with some people, and has used these connections when she started renting a space in Skid Row, providing sewing and art supplies for free use. “I started by simply inviting artists to customize second-hand clothes,” she says. “The first young man I worked with was someone I took photos of, as he was customizing clothes with pieces of fabric he found on the street. It reminded me of Comme des Garçons’ deconstructed shirts.” After seeing the work these artists were producing, Freyeisen decided to start a Swagabonds clothing line, featuring the members of the community.

One of the artists, Gary Brown, is a painter whose work Freyeisen stumbled across when visiting the Skid Row-based LAMP Community Arts Program. Another, Adrian Excel, knew Freyeisen from the blog: “He approached me one day with a concept design of a sheep and a wolf, a symbol of the duality between his troubled past affiliated with street gangs and his reformed side.” Both designs are featured on Freyeisen’s Kickstarter. Even the models have Skid Row connections. One of them is Robert, who models the collection in her official campaign photos. “He was sleeping on the streets when I met him a year-and-a-half ago, but now lives in an apartment in South L.A. But, he comes back to Skid Row to clean the streets almost every week.”

To continue funding this project, and foster the talents of more artists, Freyeisen is raising money on her Kickstarter. Each artist receives 20% of the sales, which they use to carve out better lives for themselves. Excel is planning to use the money to start his own fashion project. Freyeisen has ambitions for herself, too: “The long-term goal is to open a free fashion school in Skid Row.” To contribute, click over to her Kickstarter — there are 12 days to go and more than $57,700 left to raise. Click through to see some photos from The Swagabonds, and check out the photos of the collection at the end of the slideshow.
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Yep, that's a tiny panda bear in Robert's pocket. Says Freyeisen, "With that swag, no wonder he just modeled for a big fashion brand's campaign. Long live Robert!"
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Says Freyeisen, "Andre is one of the sweetest and most elegant Skid Row inhabitants. He's still waiting to be permanently housed."
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Bobby is one of the veterans living on Skid Row.
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Says Freyeisen, "I believe that, rich or poor, paying extra attention to the way you dress is an expressive statement."
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
This is Donald, a.k.a. The Flower Man. Says Freyeisen, "Donald was making these really cool flowers out of ribbon, and I thought it would be great if he could take his craft to the next level using fabric. I found a sewing teacher, and we took classes together at the studio."
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Roosevelt poses by a fire station to match his outfit. Those are monkeys splashed across his sweatshirt.
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
"The Swagabonds is about matching talented people to opportunities that will showcase their talent."
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Malcom is a street artist.
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
"[When I began shooting,] a whole other side of Skid Row, one that's not reported in the media, unfolded before my eyes."
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Says Freyeisen, "Whiteboy is 50 years old and a punk-rock lover. He stays in a tent on San Julian Street, right by the Skid Row sign. His secret to staying young: read cartoons, play video games, and skateboard."
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Gabriel is a trumpeter, and is modeling one of his hats at a festival for Skid Row artists.
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Photographed by Geraldine Freyeisen.
Andre walks down the street like it's a runway. Says Freyeisen, "A few of [the artists] have become really good friends."
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Photographed by Laura Austin.
Adrian Excel's designs.
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Photographed by Laura Austin.
T-shirts designed by Adrian Excel.
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Photo: Via Swagabonds.
"A sea of faces" shirts, illustrated by Gary Brown.
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