The Starks’ business strategy can be summed up as making what they want to make when they want to make it. Most of the products, including sunglasses, are designed and manufactured in the LA factory by artisans who have been trained and employed for many years, some for decades. Some goods are made in Italy or France, such as longtime Baccarat barware collaborations.
They have zero interest in meeting retailers’ demands for timely collections, commercial product lines, or charge-back systems. Rather than rush products to market with efficient inventory systems, Richard has squirrelled away myriad products in Chrome Hearts’s sprawling LA factories. They are secrets just waiting for their moment, he says.
Getting Richard to agree to an interview is no sure thing. He doesn’t like them. Once he agrees, he calls via Facetime and aims the camera variously at his face and his ear canal.
“Hardcore investment banker types — they couldn’t deal with me. No way,” he says. “[Chrome Hearts is] kind of heart-driven. It’s not money-driven.” He adds: “I’m not going to make bathroom slippers for hotels in Asia just because I could make a fucking fortune.”
The Starks control Chrome Hearts, but when the children were small, Laurie Lynn says, they took on a “minor minor” investor who has no say in management but is familiar with the company and its ethos. Rather than to raise funds, the investment was an estate-planning move, she says, so there would be an adult able to step in if something were to happen to them while the children were young. They do not disclose financials.
In a system reminiscent of Italian fashion dynasties, the Starks employ family members and friends, creating a close-knit hive of employees. Laurie Lynn’s mother oversees the knitwear; her brother does the 3-D moulding. A nephew handles logistics.
“We literally have schools, we nurture, we harvest everyone young and old of every culture,” says Laurie Lynn. They teach jewellery making, furniture carving, cutting-and-sewing and 3D rendering to interested workers.
“Most companies take on a corporate type of structure; they say, ‘oh, your EBITDA is this, you should sell that,’” she adds. “But it’s not mysterious or sexy or magic. Business people commit to a formula. It’s the biggest mistake young brands make.”
The Starks have raised their children between their home in Malibu and their ever-growing complex of factories located in the flats of Hollywood, allowing them to start their own brands as teenagers. Kristian, for several years, had a surfing-adventure-wear label with high school buddies. His twin sister Frankie Belle has a swimsuit label, Dipped in Blue. Thirty-something Jesse Jo is a musical artist with a new album and 469,000 Instagram followers, and her besties include Bella Hadid. She’s been screen printing concert merch herself at the Chrome Hearts factory.