When we set out to plan this year’s Style Issue, one question lingered: How do local designers make a living at what they do? Surely, it must take a special kind of resourcefulness, drive and moxie to make a name for yourself in a world where shoppers default to corporate-manufactured fashions.
As CL interviewed the designers in this issue, we learned that two things were essential in establishing oneself as a fashion designer: Getting pieces out to other markets and being Web-savvy.
“People cannot make it as a designer in the Tampa Bay alone,” Monstruosite’s Dolly Donshey said. “If you are a designer, you cannot rely on good designs and charm to get you by. The business needs to be of utmost importance and knowing how to network and sell in many different markets. Tampa Bay can make a design career, but getting buyers in LA, New York, Miami, Chicago and internationally will help you get there.”
Donshey and other fashion designers in this issue filled us in via email on their selling points, revealing a little about themselves and why they stand out in a highly competitive market.
Dolly Donshey, Monstruosite
What her customers purchase most: “Custom hats and headpieces,” Donshey says. “And I’ve just recently had a boom in sales with our new line of body cages.”
One word to describe her line: “Unapologetic.”
The secret to her success: “The only way to make it as a designer is to never stop fighting, always learn from your mistakes, and never be satisfied with what you are currently doing.”
Not so much into jewelry … “I deal mainly with accessories, but I don’t wear jewelry. I feel trapped and weighed down when wearing jewelry, and I found that I don’t like designing jewelry either. I don’t have any favorite jewelry designers but I thoroughly appreciate a great piece when I see one.”
Where she shops: “There is this thrift shop in New Port Richey that is tax free and is located in a dying strip mall next to a sad laser tag place. It smells like boiled eggs and tennis shoes, but tax free is for me!”
Secret wish: “I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina… but alas … I’m not built for that.”
How you find Monstruosite: monstruosite.com and a new showroom at 540 N. Pinellas Ave. in Tarpon Springs, open by appointment only. She’ll be holding an open house every third Saturday from 9 to 6 p.m. starting in January. For more info, call 212-470-6954 or email email@example.com
Kimberly Hendrix, k.hendrix
Who’s buying her designs? “Mostly I sell custom dresses for weddings, red carpet events and more, and RTW (ready-to-wear) pieces wholesale to retailers,” Hendrix says. “I sell in various retailers from LA to NY to Mexico City, Mexico. And locally I sell out of Cozette’s in St. Petersburg.”
k.hendrix rocks: “My aesthetic is a mix of soft, ethereal and a little rock-and-roll edge, yet very bohemian. I am a surfer girl at heart, but I like to dress up like a princess, too.”
What got her here: “k.hendrix has really been built on my relationships in the fashion world, from celebrities to photographers to stylists. I have been building friendships with talented people for quite some time and we work together as much as possible.”
A kiss may be grand, but … When it comes to jewelry, Hendrix says she loves the classics: “Cartier, Tiffany, Bulgari, but I also love independent designers who go against the grain to create beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces. My favorite designer has always been my friend Melissa McLure — she always inspires my designs.”
Where she shops: “I love MISRED for the staff and the pieces. I shop at Cozette’s, where I also sell, because her pieces are one-of-a-kind, and I’m addicted to her Parisian designers she carries. Thrifting anywhere and everywhere.”
Talents and obsessions: “I speak Japanese and pig Latin, of course. I love to play chess and well, I have an addiction to chairs. I used to buy every interesting one I ever saw; then I learned how to edit.”
Rachana Suri, Accessuri
What turns her on: “I love luxury, silk, glamour,” Suri says. “I like to wear things that make me feel good about myself.”
Minding her business: “Right now I work hard at making a living at this as I use the revenue I make to grow the business. So I rely on my finance and business consulting experience for income to live. Anyone out there looking for someone give me a holler.”
Favorite jewelry: “Taylor Busgith. We are going to collaborate on a jewelry line that matches my dress line.”
Where she shops: “Heavenly Heels for shoes, of course, but the 600 Block on Central has great designers.”
Oh, what fun: She just finalized an event at Heavenly Heels on Sat., Dec. 21, from 3 to 7 p.m., where local artists will be showcasing jewelry and scarves, guests will be entertained by Christmas music, live guitar and wine, and 10 percent of profits will go toward stopping human trafficking.
Her advice to other designers: Just keep working at it.
Where to find Accessuri: accessuri.com and Heavenly Heels at 300 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg.
The queen of underneath: “I have been designing intimates, shapewear, sleepwear and apparel for over 10 years now,” Shear says, “and I’m having a blast! I also just launched my first fragrance, I’m working on collaboration lines for Crystal Hefner, Kato Kaelin and Anthony Sullivan, writing my first book, and booking tour dates with my Comedy PJ Party! Busy, busy!”
Celebrating all women: “I love comfort, color, and figure-flattering silhouettes. In the fashion world so many designers create lines that look amazing on a size 0-2, but just don’t work for everyone. My line inspiration comes from my own ever-changing body, and is meant to enhance assets, embrace curves, and fit properly whether you are a size 2 or a 2X. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s my goal to allow women to be comfortable and still have some fun with fashion!”
Establishing trust: “I only sell things that I believe in. When you are talking bras and panties, it’s pretty intimate, so the customer really needs that trust level.”
Where she shops: “I love Apropos in Tampa and Entrada Designs for statement evening wear — fabulous!”
Doggone smitten: “I’m pretty much an open book, but one thing would be that I hand-feed my four dogs, Chicky, Tiki, Sweetie and Lexie. They are ridiculously spoiled!”
Where to find her intimate wear: RhondaShear.com.
What she sells: Primarily women’s clothes plus patterns and sample pieces for people who want to create their own looks.
Her aesthetic: “Feminine pieces that are classic, sophisticated and with a vintage touch.”
Favorite local jewelry: “I really like what Scott Durfee and George Medeiros are doing at Spathose.”
Cool irony: “I go to the Goodwill or Salvation Army to find something new and unexpected.”
Eastern promises … “I lived in Japan for 3 and a half years … where I met my husband.”
Her advice: “You always have to be aware what’s going on in fashion. You also need to keep pushing the envelope, and have a great sense of style. Be able to set yourself apart from the rest.”
Where to find Sandra Hagen: etsy.com/people/sandrachagen or on Facebook.
Elizabeth Carson Racker
Dressed to impress: Racker is a ready-to-wear designer who specializes in evening wear.
For the everyday woman: She designs “fashion forward, high quality, and affordable garments.”
Her mission: “To always apply the highest standards of creativity, honesty, quality and innovation,” Racker says. “Continuous research allows me to stay in front of the latest trends while applying the highest standards of fabrication and constantly creating new and fresh silhouettes for that everyday woman.”
Survival skills: “Hard work and staying true to who you are I feel are important. Going back to my philosophy, I continuously research trends, new silhouettes, and fabrication which allows me to create new and fresh designs that women want.”
Favorite local jewelry: “I really don’t have a favorite jewelry designer. I love to hunt for unique pieces at art festivals, antique/thrift stores, or even better local designers like Dana Judge of Tampa.”
Where to find her: “I sell my garments on elizabethcarsonracker.com and I will soon be debuting my spring/summer 2014 Collection in Don Me Now Style Lounge in Hyde Park.”
Where she shops: “Being a Tampa native, I have grown to love and appreciate La France in Ybor City. La France is an amazing vintage house, it just makes you feel good when you walk in. Last year I bought vintage fabric which developed into one of my strongest pieces for my S/S 2014 collection.”
Sibling revelry: “I come from a family of talent, my brothers are musically gifted. My older brother is Shock G from Digital Underground (Humpty Hump).”
Audrey “Pat” McGhee
A double life: “Besides fashions, I love impacting the lives of young people to assist in developing programs for youth to reduce juvenile delinquency,” McGhee says. “Fashion designing is what I love, but working for the state is my full-time job. I work for the state Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the evening hours and weekends I burn the midnight hours creating something fabulous. This would include custom designing for clients that want to look hot and not like anyone one else.”
Her designs: “A masterpiece because of its construction, boldness and color patterns.”
How she keeps it up: “Having faith is key and believing strongly in myself and my work and never giving up. Quitting is not an option. In addition to having a good business plan, financial backing/investments, resources and a good relationships.” (She’s also savvy about media promotion and marketing strategies.)
Favorite local jewelry: Monique Pean International and Leslie of Accessoriz and Nancy of Najea Designs.
DIY to the bone: “I create/design my own clothes because it’s better to promote myself than anyone else.”
Where to find her: audreypat.com, Facebook or at fashion shows.
Lorena Knezevic, Lolodaisy by Lorena
Off to an early start: “Currently, I am still a high school student during the day and a fashion designer by night. The more I develop my brand Lolodaisy by Lorena and gain exposure to a larger client base, the closer I am to the goal of making a steady income with my designs.”
Her looks: “Transitioning between tumbling layers of silks and chiffons and the hard edge of leather, my aesthetic teeters between being modern and romantic. I hope to strike a balance between designs that are made to make a woman feel like she is beautiful, both being herself and the woman she had always hoped to be. Elegance, grace, a buoyant sense of freedom — these are things all women wish to embody, and these are things I wish all of my garments to embody as well. My designs at times are ornate and soft and delicate. There is a difference, though, between femininity and fragility. I call my aesthetic a modern romance because I believe in women being completely confident in their own sense of feminine beauty. (They) can be both soft and strong.”
From thin air: “Doing the impossible seems to be a requirement in the fashion industry … foreseeing the future, deciphering the desires of the masses, producing wearable works of art — it sounds like only magicians and dreamers would be capable of such tasks. Designers are both dreamers and magicians. Personally, I know of no other way to live other than to just keep on dreaming and turning those dreams into reality. I suppose that that is how I ‘make it’ in the fashion industry.”
Favorite jewelry: “Ranges from vintage finds to the ultra-innovative 3D printing designs of Ixism.”
International: “I was born in Torino, Italy and my family is from Croatia.”
Where to find Lolodaisy: lolodaisy.com and her Etsy store, lolodaisy.etsy.com.
Stephen Ogaga, SW8
He’s come a long way, baby: Ogaga was born in Nigeria and raised in London.
His goods: “Clean-cut, high-end street wear,” Ogaga says. “So you’ll see traditionally streetwear pieces with a more tailored cut to them.”
Globally conscious: His clothing line is named after the postal code of his stomping grounds in the London borough of Lambeth, in Vauxhall, and his upbringing and surroundings have influenced his aesthetic. Leather and clothing styles from Africa and around the world have crept into his modern streetwear. “My hottest-selling item is my leather Brixton jogging pants.”
Functional: “My line is unique because I feel like I design timeless pieces that everybody needs in their closet,” Ogaga told Fashion Week Tampa Bay.
Where to find SW8: “Right now we mainly use Instagram for promoting the brand.”
Self-taught: Ogaga began his foray into fashion design as a teen, sewing designer fabrics on the pockets of his jeans.
Go, Bulls! He graduated from the University of South Florida in 2008.
Controversial: His bio says he’s achieved “much success” in Internet marketing. He is facing questions, however, about the payday loan businesses he operated out of Tampa. The Federal Trade Commission halted the companies’ operations in September, charging that Ogaga and a partner used the promise of fast loans to gain access to consumers’ private financial information. Asked to comment, Ogaga responded, “It’ll be resolved soon. Our lawyers won’t allow us to comment on any issues. Sorry.”
If he weren’t a designer: “If I wasn’t in fashion, I would probably be in politics lol.”
(Information from Fashion Week Tampa Bay was used in this report.)
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