Carla O’Brien, Australian Empress of fortune cookie-inspired Fortune Tees has been on my radar for a long while now.
I became aware of her saucy T-shirts, at the toll of the Chinese New Year in 2005, and was an instant fan. The first shirt I owned from her line was a white wife-beater featuring a big red rooster standing over the lettering “Year of the Cock.” Being both a Rooster (in Chinese Astrology) and a rebel (in my own mind) I also bought the shirt in black, and a ski bonnet with a rooster patch sewn on.
Chinese New Year 2006 rang in “Year of the Bitch” at Fortune Tees, which I proudly sport (admittedly, for more reasons than one…). Other “Year of the Dog” slogans include “I like it Ruff!” for grown-ups and “Year of the Pup” for little tykes.
Needless to say, when Carla added the “A cocktail is in my near future” to Fortune Tees earlier this year, she became my casual-wear Rock Star.
Carla, a fan of Asian culture, studied Mandarin for four years in high school. While she once read and wrote in Chinese, she laments, “Now, I can only sing Happy Birthday.” The Ozzy native (Melbourne) has lived in Los Angeles for eight years, and formerly worked in sales for an Australian travel company. Tiring of the corporate world, she longed for something more creative.
One day, in early 2002, while noshing Chinese, Carla opened a fortune cookie whose message read, “You’ll make a fortune with a friend.” Taking the message quite literally, she launched Fortune Tees with pal Megan MacEachern. (Luckily she didn’t add the obligatory “in bed” to the end of this fortune, or her career path may have gone quite differently…)
The ladies started off making fortune cookie-inspired T-shirts for babies. Messages include, “A nap is in my near future” and “A surprise will appear in my pants.” (Carla also gave me an adult-sized version on the latter for my husband, which connotes an even better fortune for me…) Moms-to-be shirts say, "Sleepless nights are in my future."
Like many home-businesses, Fortune Tees started small. In 2002, she and Megan schlepped to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market every weekend. Says O Brien, “I made 100 shirts. With that money, I paid for the next week’s stock.” And, so it continued for the first few months. Clients loved the concept so much that word-of-mouth got Fortune Tees into stores.
Within the first year, Fortune Tees made the Top Ten Celebrity Baby Gift List on E!, were included in the 2003 Grammy Award bags, featured on the Today show and included twice in Baby Stuff Magazine.
Carla says that the first year they took Fortune Tees to M.A.G.I.C. (a gi-normous trade show, focused largely on fashion, in Las Vegas) they offered a shot of sake to each buyer for good luck, which, she exclaims, “sure helped sales!”
Eventually, the ladies needed room to grow. Carla explains, “We started in Megan’s back bedroom. Then, we moved into a garage behind Fred 62. (a popular Silver Lake eatery) As fortune would have it, the space next to the restaurant became available.”
In June 2006, Carla and Megan had an amicable split, and Carla nabbed the retail space for the next phase of her budding business. Nestled into a superb location, near popular shops, bars and a movie theater, O Brien says, “Now I create things specifically for the store. If it’s popular, I add it to my line.”
What does the future hold for Fortune Tees? Carla’s newest hot selling is the Kung Pao Combo for babies, an embroidered satin pants and top set. She is also adding lounge pants for kids and adults, and plans to launch some Fortune Tees especially for brides.
Where does Carla consume the “cocktails in her future”? Preferring places in walking distance from her home (also in Silver Lake) she frequents 4100, El Cid and Good Luck Bar (she says she can’t resist the Asian theme).
What does she like to consume while wearing a cool "cocktail" T-shirt? Margaritas. “At home, I make them with cilantro and fresh limes. The green bits get all over your mouth!”
**Mention The Liquid Muse and get a discount on "A cocktail is in my near future" T-shirt!**