No surprise here: producing a four-color catalog is expensive. Enter Rob Brandegee and Ava DeMarco of Little Earth Productions, who are not exactly big spenders. The co-owners of the three-year-old, $2-million wholesaler of recycled fashion accessories are, however, pros at getting a bargain. They learned the art of negotiating at the local junkyard. "You had to pretend you didn't really want the stuff, or the price went up," says DeMarco about her experience hunting for the seat belts and license plates used in their products. The Pittsburgh company's spartan approach also applies to the production of its catalog.

Although most of the company's competition doesn't bother producing fancy catalogs, Little Earth will produce 30,000 business-to-business catalogs this year. The wholesaler estimates its catalog would cost twice as much if not for its frugal approach. Take the issue produced last February. The photos were shot in Miami by a photographer Brandegee talked into doing the work in exchange for the trip, the clips, and the references. Instead of hiring professional models, the company used its own employees and people on the street to show off its products. While Little Earth didn't pay for models, the company did spend time hunting down fashionably dressed people and persuading them to pose with the accessories. "It wasn't easy finding cool-looking people," says Brandegee, who lined up the final photo shoot at the Miami airport on his way out of town.

DeMarco and Brandegee are always looking for bargains. For the upcoming catalog they have approached two clothing wholesalers to try to work out a deal. In previous catalogs, models wore clothing purchased from the wholesalers. Since neither of the companies produces its own professional catalog, Little Earth asked to use the wholesalers' clothing line in exchange for mentioning them in the catalog. DeMarco and Brandegee hope they'll agree and foot part of the production bill as well.

Little Earth's cost-cutting production strategy has not prevented it from creating sharp catalogs that make sales. During the company's first year in business its black-and-white catalog (the company now produces four-color catalogs) cost $14,000 and sold $120,000 worth of merchandise. This year sales are expected to double, and in March Little Earth won a merit award from the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Advertising Federation for its 1995 catalog. The award, called an Addy, recognized Little Earth's creativity in catalog advertising.