On Española Way in Miami Beach, there are tapas, French onion soup, reggae playing in one store and trance in the next. And at the west end, there's Design Lab, a boutique that holds its own in this international mix.
"We carry designers from all over the world, " says Sol Mata, one of three owners of the store. She strolls around, pointing to racks filled with colorful items and identifying them by designers' origins: "Bangkok, Los Angeles, Colombia, France." And these are just a few.
Opened in October 2005 by Mata, fellow Ecuadorean Juliano Echererrio, and Frenchman Alerig Laridant, Design Lab has become a breeding ground for talented emerging designers, including the store owners themselves.
"Urban, funky, rock 'n' roll" is how Mata sums up her line, Kimikal. A rack of colorful, sexy T-shirts, tanks, bustiers and dresses, ranging from $20 to the mid-$100s, have motorcycle-chic patterns, all handmade in Miami by Mata. Reversible bikinis, which Mata calls "Latin cut" are also part of the Kimikal line, with patterns such as comic strips, made exclusively from Italian fabrics, for $35 per piece.
There are also bags, belts and shoes, ranging from $35 for a simple jean purse to $450 for a handmade leather handbag by Argentine designer Ama.
The clothing is youthful, not because it requires skinny thighs -- in fact, many of the cotton items are forgiving of regular curves. It's the outlandish patterns, unapologetic colors and form-fitting shapes that give them a certain hipness.
Echererrio's line, Funky Urban, features slogans, some of them racy, on items including $1 postcards, $18 hats and super-soft T-shirts in the $20 range. Among the more docile catchphrases: "More Trees, Less Bush" and "Miami: A Sunny Place for Shady People."
There are also funky, sheared T-shirts costing $20 to $30, men's casual button-down shirts for $85, and futuristic, colorful laptop cases by J. Fold for $180. All echo Design Lab's mission: to offer a broad variety of designers at reasonable prices.
Mata says her store was the first to carry certain labels, including Dom Rebel, a T-shirt line now sold worldwide, available for $65.
"It's a store for design lovers, " says Mata, reaching for a Funky Urban T-shirt with the slogan that's printed on the store's walls and website: "Don't Mistreat Fashion."
Design Lab, 445 Española Way, Miami Beach, 305-531-4075
What we love: Triple Five Soul dark-dyed denim high-tops with rainbow elastic and zip-up laces, $157
Why we love it: The colors make them subtle but so cool, making even the simplest outfit funky.
What: Handmade Kimikal bustier and jean skirt, right, with heat-pressed motorcycle-chic patterns and rhinestone detail, $125 and $135.
Why: Individually, these pieces can make an outfit pop, even without added accessories.
What: Black tire bag by Cyclus made entirely from recycled tires, $100
Why: It's a unique alternative to a plain black bag and the orange straps look like seat belts.
What: Various bracelets by Kimikal, below, $20-$35
Why: The bracelets, which have an earthy harmony, can be paired easily with various colors.
What: Recycled disks bag by Dew with old album covers secured in plastic inserts on either side, $45
Why: It's a musician's dream bag; a great way to flaunt your record collection fashionably.
Design Lab owner Sol Solomata lounges amid funky indie fashions in her Espanola Way boutique. Photo: Charles Trainor