One of the best things about L.A. fashion is that it’s consistently influenced by different cultures. If you go downtown, you’ll find Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Olvera Street. If you travel to Artesia, there’s Little India. On Venice Boulevard in Culver City, the Brazilian Mall stands out in bright yellow.

Here, you’ll find Supermercado Brazil and a beautiful women’s clothing store, Toatoa. Intimate and fun, the shop personifies Brazil’s colorful style.

“I opened my first store at 2411 Main Street in Santa Monica, then moved here two years ago,” says owner/manager Hilda C. Alvarez. “I knew I’d do well since it’s like a Little Brazil with a large Brazilian population and the restaurants Cafe Brasil and Pampas nearby.”

A native of Rio de Janeiro, Alvarez came to Los Angeles on vacation to visit high school friends. It was winter in Brazil and summer here, so she decided to quit her job as a buyer and relocate to enjoy Los Angeles’ good weather year round.

Alvarez chose the name Toatoa for her store, which is Brazilian slang for “chilling” or “I’m just hanging,” because it sounds happy. To evoke an exuberant feeling within the shop's interior, she recreated a mixture of a favela (a group of wooden houses on the hillside) and a 1970s bohemian Haight-Ashbury apartment. Against white walls are wooden fixtures and shelves, birdcages, buddhas and a framed black-and-white poster of Fleetwood Mac.

“I try to be different by carrying funky but inexpensive name brand merchandise that’s unique and made out of good material,” Alvarez says.

She carries dresses, tops, jeans, sweaters, coats, jackets, bikinis, workout wear and accessories from brand names, including Scrapbook, True Religion, Luca and Trinity. Among her most popular items is the Brazilian workout gear made out of Supplex (a fabric that doesn’t hold sweat next to the skin).

“A lot of customers come in for the Brazilian bikinis because they’re so flattering and accentuate the bottom and elongate the leg,” she says.

Ranging from $10 on up, her prices are as easy on the wallet as her clothes are on the body. She regularly gets in women of all ages who learn about her store from either driving by or visiting her stall when she’s selling her merchandise at the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica.

“I’m always renovating,” she says. “I change my stock often because I get tired of things fast and feel my customers need constant turnover.”

This past February, Alvarez started carrying more hemp and recycled fabric. She offers black sandals made from Brazilian truck tires and jewelry made out of golden grass from Brazilian Indian tribes.

Influenced by what people are wearing on the street, Alvarez insists she tries to carry a little bit of everything for women who want to look chic.

For more information, call (310) 836-1185 or visit