University of Fashion Blog

Posts by: Kara Laricks

Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Style.com. Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.

All Hail the Queen of Raw

Nothing makes us happier at the University of Fashion than featuring power players who are making positive change in the fashion industry. And little did this designer realize I would have my design and production mind blown by the incredible woman you are about to meet.

Enter Stephanie Benedetto, self-proclaimed Queen of Raw.

This former corporate attorney on Wall Street and descendent of an Austrian immigrant turned Lower East Side master furrier is realizing her mission of turning pollution into profit. And maybe more importantly, she’s contributing to a world in which her son can grow up and thrive by breathing in clean air, enjoying access to clean water and wearing non-toxic clothing.

Benedetto suggests turning our traditional design process on its head in an effort to make design sustainable by powering design with dead stock fabrics.

Benedetto explains: Pen to paper or stylus to screen, designing a garment can be one of the most special and intimate experiences an artist can have. It’s no mystery why designers want to start their process with this creative expression. But it’s taking its toll on our world. Where is the business or environmental sense in designing a garment with a fabric in mind without having secured the specific material, figuring out the quantity available, knowing where it’s located, and the ethics in its production? The funnel is broken. Starting with design leaves the rest of the battle uphill.

Have you ever had one of those designer a-ha moments, where everything you’ve been taught somehow goes out the window, and suddenly you see your craft in a new light? Keep reading…

The Queen of Raw continues: The back and forth of swatching and communicating shipping, confirming color, managing orders, the possibility of the material becoming unavailable in the midst of communication – it happens all too often. What if (just trust me for two seconds), what if we started with a material? What if there was a way to see that something was already manufactured and ready to go?”

Once again, a-ah. I’ve faced this production quandary and it wasn’t pretty. On the flip side of things, as an emerging designer with only small orders to fill, I found myself wanting to use fabrics that I could only get by meeting the manufacturer’s minimums. This unfortunate situation left me with all kinds of extra fabric for some garments in my collection and running out of the right fabric (as Benedetto describes above) for others. Had I of started my design process with specific, available fabrics in mind, oh my, how things would have turned out differently.

As if reading my mind, Benedetto continues: You have all the information on where it’s [fabric] coming from, how much is available, how it was made, and it’s cheaper at the same quality you’re used to because it’s “dead stock.” What if designers began with what’s available instead of creating all the problems (for themselves) that slow production down by using/creating new? 

Benedetto will tell you exactly how a fledgling (or seasoned) designer’s business could benefit from this fabric-first design model, and this designer will concur.

Bottom lines would improve.

Price points on finished goods could be more accessible with production costs severely lowered.

Billions of gallons of water would be saved in using already existing excess (700 gallons per yard repurposed).

And fashion could move to the forefront of the sustainable mission instead of being the second biggest contributor to climate change.

Take in those last few words…fashion is the second biggest contributor to climate change. As responsible designers and global citizens, it’s important for all of us to consider all the design and production resources (and options) we have at our fingertips, thanks to thought leaders like Benedetto. If sourcing existing fabric options first makes sense to you, waste no time visiting Queen of Raw. As a bonus benefit, Queen of Raw will calculate the environmental impact of your order free of charge and you can pass the good news (and the savings) on to your customers.

Finally, we couldn’t write a post on responsible design and sustainable uses of fabric without giving a shout out to our friends at FabScrap. This incredible resource transports unused fabric from designers’ factories and warehouses to its sorting location. Then FabScrap either recycles scraps or prepares them for sale at a lower cost for designers and crafters. FabScrap even offers fabric sorting volunteer opportunities where you can earn fabric in trade. If you are in NYC, take advantage of one of two FabScrap locations!

If you have sustainable resources of your own to add, please don’t hesitate to comment and share what you know with our community below!

To sell or to rent? A sustainable business model for independent designers?

Via Bag, Borrow or Steal Instagram Account @bagborroworsteal

The buzz phrase “ethical fashion” has been tossed around for some time evoking concerns regarding fair labor practices and wages, processes that take the preservation of our environment and animals into consideration and supply chain transparency.

Often ethical fashion is confused with sustainable fashion, and yet there is no doubt the two are interrelated. Ethical practices lead to more sustainable processes which in turn mean healthier workers, an environment that can support generations of fashionistas to come and of course, clothing consumers can feel good about wearing.

But what if emerging and independent designers could take all that we’ve learned about both ethical (and sustainable) fashion and roll it into a business model that is growing in popularity and in my humble opinion, might be a way for young fashion businesses to stay afloat?

Hear me out…

The other night I was at a dinner party where several of the guests were talking about how much they loved their clothing subscription/rental services. The conversation went like this:

“I love your skirt.”

“Thanks! It’s from Le Tote.”

“Le Tote? I’ve never heard of that store. Where is it?”

“Oh, no! It’s not a store, it’s a subscription service, you know, like Rent the Runway. If I stay on top of wearing items they send and sending them back, I can get up to 4 new pieces a week. And if I really like something, I can keep it, pay for it and it’s mine. Otherwise, I wear it once or twice and send it back for the next person to try!”

Via Le Tote’s Instagram Account @letote

As the two talked, I started thinking of all of the sustainable advantages of renting a wardrobe. On behalf of the consumer, subscription services mean fewer unworn clothes packing closets and eventually ending up in landfills. And by giving clothes a “test run” and only keeping those items that the consumer is partial to (or as one guest mentioned, “get a lot of compliments from others”), more thoughtful purchasing choices can be made. Then, of course, there is the option to rent special occasion garments you may only need to wear once…

As a subscription service retailer, there are fewer risks of unsold inventory (and therefore waste in terms of dollars and garments), not to mention real time data revealing what consumers want which can guide future purchasing, order by order. Like the consumer, the retailer enjoys a more thoughtful way of approaching buying and selling in the fashion industry.

When it comes to ethical standards, it is still up to both rental services as well as the consumer to find out how the clothes they rent out (or in) are produced. After my subscription service curiosities were peaked, I did a bit of research only to find companies that curate plus sizes (Gwynnie Bee), bags (Bag, Borrow or Steal), just about any fashion item your fashion-loving heart desires from a wide variety of designers.

Via Gwynnie Bee’s Instagram Account @gwynniebee

But what I did not find is an independent designer who follows this model.

What if (on a smaller scale) independent designers could create a scenario where they could design and produce adhering to their own ethical standards and then rent their pieces in a way that is not only environmentally sustainable, but spares their business from the pitfalls that often cause independent designers to close their doors?

Feeling like I had to be missing something, I tried to create a real life scenario using the wide variety of samples I’ve created and are now tucked neatly away in my storage unit. I could photograph them, write product descriptions and create a website, but instead of selling these samples, I could rent them, earning income, while I designed additional styles. True, I would have to figure out shipping and how to protect myself against damaged garments. I’m sure I might get some pushback for not having a full size range in most styles, but wouldn’t it be amazing for these styles that I still love to see some light of day?

I wouldn’t have to worry about retailers placing an order for my most current (hypothetical) collection and subsequent production, and with the power of a social media following, I could advertise availability of garment rental to those who I already know are fans of my work.

I’m a firm believer that good design is timeless. Just the other day, I was admiring how Thom Browne posts pieces from collections past periodically on Instagram and I can rarely decipher which suit is from 2014 and which suit is from his most recent collection. Does this make me a bad fashionista? Probably. But I believe that we as a culture are trending away from the incredible amount of stress put on designers to produce season after season. Instead, wouldn’t it be incredible to generate revenue, which for a new designer could mean designing and producing the next collection, from styles past that we still love through a rental option?

Emerging designers, I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Are there additional benefits of this model you can think of? Perhaps pitfalls that I haven’t considered? I’d love to know…

Keeping Fashion Real in a Virtual World?

Balmain Campaign featuring Virtual Models Courtesy of The Diigitals

Keeping it IRL, I’m a little bit torn on this topic.

There’s no denying that technological advancements in fashion have advanced our experiences as consumers.

Just last weekend, I stopped into a Fleet Feet with my fiancé to take a look at new running shoe options. The sales associate immediately had Jen step into a 3D fit id foot scanner to guide his decisions about shoes that would best fit her foot. Within minutes, a 3D scan of Jen’s feet popped up on the sales associate’s iPad. He disappeared into the stockroom to retrieve shoes with a fit that would complement Jen’s high arch and supinating feet (in case supinating is a word new to you, too). The result? Jen is killing her workouts in her new kicks! Really, she has commented, “The fit of these new shoes is making all the difference!”

This real life scenario is just one more example of how 3D scans can enhance the fit of our clothes and help designers get the kind of fit that will best serve their customers. But take yourself out of your IRL body for a moment and imagine this process in reverse. Now that we’ve figured out how to use technology to fit the actual human body, photographers, influencers, brands and designers are creating a virtual fashion world from scratch in which we all may be living in one day.

Meet Shudu.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

🍊🍊🍊 . . 📸@cjw.photo . #fenty #fentybeauty #mattemoiselle #sawc #3dart

A post shared by Shudu (@shudu.gram) on

She’s approaching 175,000 followers on Instagram. She walked the red carpet at the Baftas. She’s the face of the likes of Fenty and Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain army. And get this, Shudu is the 100% virtual creation of photographer Cameron-James Wilson.

Shudu is the world’s first virtual supermodel and she’s part of a growing trend. In fact, she is one of 6 virtual supermodels now “signed” to an all digital modeling agency, The Diigitals. According to Wilson, creator of Shudu and her agency,

“Here at the Diigitals, we are utilising the rising accessibility of new technologies and taking the first steps into a new frontier of digital exploration. Within this collaborative hub, we will demonstrate the potential of 3D fashion modelling and showcase its applications for innovative brands. Acting as both a showroom to illustrate possibilities and a gallery where a portfolio of diverse digital identities can be appreciated, The Diigitals erases the boundaries between reality and the digital.”

                           Virtual models signed to The Diigitals agency

And here is where I become torn on the topic of “erasing the boundaries between reality and the digital.”

On first thought, I love the idea of visually creating anyone or anything (clothing included) our minds can dream up. But as I start to think about Shudu’s rise in popularity, I can’t help but think of how her existence might affect the fashion industry at large one day. While a human is responsible for Shudu’s existence, Shudu had started to take on a life of her own, which could cost IRL models, marketers and designers their jobs.

Virtual models don’t have bills to pay or need travel arrangements and accommodations to take part in a photoshoot. In other words, booking a virtual model may be a cost effective option when it comes to marketing campaigns. But at what cost? Real models lose out on opportunities for work, not to mention the risks we run in reversing all the progress we’ve made in terms of celebrating real bodies.

When it comes to selling clothing, the fact that many live their lives virtually as social media influencers is beginning to change the way clothing is designed, sold and worn as well. Designers have started to create virtual collections, perfect for those influencers who have built their brands based on “outfits of the day.” Rarely repeating a look becomes much easier when you can send a designer a photo and have an outfit designed digitally to be worn the next day (and at a fraction of the cost of IRL clothing).

Take Swedish brand Carlings, for example. For the low cost of $10 – $30, you can send a photo, select a Carlings design and it’s yours to wear on Instagram. Here’s how it works:

On the upside, think of how this type of clothing reduces IRL waste from the fashion industry, a cause Carlings stands firmly behind. And just imagine…those who covet brands usually far out of their price range, may be able to afford a virtual piece of Balmain, Chanel or Prada, etc.

But as educators who see such value in the art and craft of clothing made to fit on actual human bodies, we will always advocate for valuing both the technological advancements in our industry as well as the irreplaceable contributions of the makers in fashion. We value all designers’ work whether conceived on a dress form, pattern table or in Photoshop. We also advocate for discussion and thought around the ethical decisions we will make as the world around us changes, so please feel free to share your comments on this topic below. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sustainability Takes Center Stage at NY and London Fashion Weeks

We are in the thick of F/W 2019 runway shows and presentations across the globe. From New York to London and Paris to Milan, each new season brings attention to emerging designers, established houses and a host of hot topics in fashion. Every once in a while, those of us who have seen season after season of fashion, begin to sense a shift. Now is one of those times. Read More

Let’s get nude!

- - Color Theory

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Have you ever stopped to think about the color nude?

Have you ever stood nude in front of a mirror and tried to describe the color of your skin?

And do you think your descriptors would be the same as if your neighbors, coworkers or classmates tried the same exercise?

Most likely not. Read More

All I want for—fill in the holiday—is the gift of fashion

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If you’ve been keeping up with the U of F blog, you’ll know that the Gen Zers on your holiday lists crave experiences. And when it comes to gift giving in 2018 (and beyond), the University of Fashion has experiences galore for the fashionistas in your life, no matter their age. In fact, we have unique gifts that will inspire year-round learning and making for the fashion lovers you know. Read More

Learning fashion design just got easier, thanks to UoF founder and author, Francesca Sterlacci

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Helen Ronan & Anastasia Scott (Laurence King Publishing), Francesca Sterlacci (University of Fashion), Dr. Jennifer Harmon (winner) and Jane Hegland (ITAA President)

In the fashion industry, so many of us can get swept up in the shiny end result presented on the runway during fashion week or the most viewed Instagram story of the day or perhaps, the must-have It Bag of the season.

And sometimes, the work of the dedicated, behind-the-scenes professionals who make It Bags and Instagram-worthy content possible in the first place, can go unnoticed. In this post, I’m not talking about hard-working designers, pattern makers and sewers—I’m going one step further behind the scenes to feature someone who works tirelessly to support designers in every which way she can—University of Fashion founder, Francesca Sterlacci. Read More