Thursday, December 8, 2011
California Custom Logos is hard to find.
It hides in an obscure back corner of a strip mall, past a pizza parlor, hair-and-nail salon, frame shop, grocery store and a fitness center, down a small driveway nestled between huge green trash and recycling bins with black plastic lids.
“In a top secret location,” says owner Leslie Lundy, “by the dumpsters.”
The shop’s location isn’t the only thing that’s hard to find, though. The kind of animal life, enthusiasm and machinery that inhabit family-run Cal Custom Logos are also rare. And people who make careers out of high school jackets aren’t exactly common either.
Two SPCA-rescued boxers at the door of the shop act as greeters, but only after their owner speaks a word of welcome. In one corner of the shop, five turtles of several different breeds – a pot-bellied sideneck and two red-eared sliders among them – reside in a huge 250-gallon tank. In the back room, another turtle, a soft shell, lives in a 500-gallon tank with a catfish and a big Brazilian pacu fish named George.
On the wall, faces, emblems, names, logos, bits of thread and fabric hint at the past projects of owners Lundy and her son Roland Beeson. The mother-and-son team staggers shifts six days a week, embroidering everything and anything, though their specialty is letterman jackets – one wall, perhaps 100 square feet of space, is plastered with glossy photos of smiling teens in crisp, brightly colored woolen jackets with elaborate stitched designs. These photos come in pairs: One image to capture a smiling face, the other to capture an intricate design across the back of the owner’s jacket.
Next to the wall two desks disappear beneath sheets of paper with print outs and sketches of seemingly endless designs and logos. Through a door comes a whir of clacking and ticking, as if an army of steel-legged spiders infests the joint. Through this door, columns of boxes containing as yet unused apparel tower on all sides. In the center of all of this lie three massive sewing machines with digital readouts and multiple bobbins of colored thread. The polished silver stitching heads of the sterile white machines dance over the top of fabric held tight between two polished retaining rings. An occasional beep signals completion or malfunction to Lou Nguyen, the woman in charge of tending to them. She moves back and forth between these sewing robots with regularity, snipping thread and removing completed pieces, then precisely registering the next shirt or jacket and pressing a button to tell the stitcher to resume its jerky dance.
It is not just the three hefty $30,000 Barudan single head embroidery machines that make this embroidery operation impressive. Lundy’s 21 years of experience represent a lot of sewing. And more striking is the bond she forms with scores of high school students every year.
She can rattle off their stories on a whim: The Samoan-American whose uncle designed a baseball logo with sharp black geometric designs in a traditional islander lion head pattern. A two-time track athlete-of-the-year from Salinas High who got over 100 modifications to his jacket design over four years. A Carmel High transplant from North Carolina who reached state four times as a runner and went to Oregon State in 2010. And so on.
“By the time they graduate, we’re good friends,” she says.
While Lundy sees only stars in her clients – “I like to think that we only get the good kids,” she says – some have gone on to big-stage success everyone can agree on, including baseball pro Xavier Nady of the Arizona Diamondbacks or Olympian softball prodigy Monica Abbott.
Beeson could probably go pro in jacket designs; his mother dubs him an “embroidery junkie.” Using embroidery software similar to a computer-aided drafting program, he translates each line and color into plunges of the needle and changes in thread.
“The most difficult thing to do is faces,” he says. “It’s like trying to draw a photograph.”
Lundy’s favorite moment is when one of these extra-curricularly inspired students sees their jacket for the first time. “It’s breathtaking,” she says. Her camera goes “click” and another photograph is on its way to the crowded wall.
Recent closures of competitors have given them a near monopoly – and customers a two – or three-month wait. But the smiles on the wall show they find the work from this hard-to-find business worth the wait.
California Custom Logos is located behind the Carmel Rancho Shopping Center, Highway 1 and Rio Road, Carmel. 624-5646, www.californiacustomlogos.com