Is She Joking With These Clothes?

Not everything sold by Fashion Brand Company is weird or playful or erotic. Occasionally the inventory is mellowed out by the addition of plain trousers or a ribbed tank top.

But it is the more imaginative pieces that have seduced the brand’s customer base: minidresses with 10 cartoonish arms sticking out from both sides; sunglasses with a realistic set of upper teeth embedded into each arm; halter gowns with necklines that make the wearer look as if she is being eaten by a fish or choked by an alien. Even a plain summer frock may have a freaky name, like the “breeze on my genitals dress.”

The clothes are jokes. The woman telling them is Penelope Gazin, a 34-year-old artist who lives in Altadena, Calif. Yet the brand, founded in 2018 in her old apartment, where she boxed and shipped orders herself, should not be mistaken for either a joke or an art project.

In 2023, sales exceeded $7 million, according to Kate Giambra, the vice president and chief operating officer of Fashion Brand Company. Its headquarters is now a former martial arts academy in Glendale, where the ex-tenants left behind several karate trophies. In addition to its roughly 13 stateside employees, the company has 32 full-time-with-benefits garment workers in Guangdong, China.

This ethical factory, as the company calls it, opened in 2021. Ms. Gazin needed patternmakers and sewers who understood how her mind worked, and who wouldn’t, for example, question making a 12-foot-tall version of a jacket to install inside the office. (“The idea came to me on ketamine,” she said.)

“When Penelope would explain what she was trying to do, they would always be like, ‘Are you sure people want to buy this?’” Ms. Giambra, 35, said.

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