"I want to be able to show other little boys and girls that Black fashion designers exist."
Kristian Lorén Lopez is a fashion designer in Brooklyn, New York. Originally from Philadelphia, Kristian graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) with a degree in fashion design. During her 12 years in the fashion industry, she has worked for several fashion icons such as Alek Wek and Terry Donovan. Kristian now manages her own line, Kristian Lorén.
We sat down with Kristian to find out about all things fashion, runway, and what it takes to start a successful clothing line.
K: When I graduated from FIT, I didn’t land a fashion design job like I dreamed. Every fashion student has a plan to graduate, go work for a design brand, and work their way up to start their own label. It didn’t happen that way for me. Fashion is such a competitive field. So, I revised my plan to stick within fashion. I just told myself as long as I'm in fashion and learn different facets of it and take different avenues, I'll be able to combine that with my degree and eventually work towards starting my label.
I worked for a luxury handbag company doing production for them, which turned out to be Alek Wek’s handbag line. Then, I decided to pursue talent and model management. I became an intern in a modeling agency, worked my way up through the ranks and became a senior agent working different modeling agencies in New York. I learned so much working the back-end of fashion, from managing talent, how to form a photoshoot, reading contracts, and also networking. I met so many photographers, stylists, and models. I got to go to Fashion Week. I got to be backstage to see how designers formulated their shows. I was soaking everything up like a sponge, and I learned so much.
Eventually, I told myself I had to start putting my degree to use. I wasn’t sure exactly where or how to start. I called my mom (moms are always there, right) and she was like, “Just tell people you’re a designer. You went to school for it. Start putting it out there. Bring it to fruition. Speak it to existence.” So I did. And I learned when doing that, you’re going to hold yourself accountable. After I started putting myself out there, I started putting together a collection to show what I was capable of. Still working at the modeling agency, photographers found out I went to school for design and were like, “Hey, I’ll shoot some of your designs. Let’s just work together. It would be just for fun.” And it built from there.
I got the first opportunity to do a show at British Virgin Islands Fashion Week, which is called Summer Sizzle, run by Terry Donovan. He was looking for models. I told him, "I know you have your designers set for this year and next year. I want to be considered. What do I have to do?”
He told me, “We’d love to have you. Reach out to me a month or two before this time next year, and show me what you have and we’ll go from there.” I kept it in my back pocket. And next year came, and I said, “Hey, do you still need designers?” And he said, “We’d love to have you. Send me your portfolio.” I didn’t have anything ready, at all. I was like, “Yeah, sure! No problem.”
I think I had a month-and-a-half to two months to put something together without a team, without a budget. I told myself, ‘I know how to sew, I learned that at school. I know I can make my own patterns; therefore, I can do that myself. I just have to worry about shoes and accessories. I have a closet full of shoes. I’ll just try to cast models that are my size…can’t be that hard.”
Every day I came home from work, busting it down on the sewing machine, and created a collection somehow. I made the deadline. My friend the photographer took pictures (shout for Michael Isaiah because he looked out for me at the beginning). I showed Terry, and he said "I’ll see you in July." July came, and I did my show. That was the first time my brand, Kristian Lorén, was introduced to the world. And it went really well.
What is the duration of a typical show?
It could be as long as a song, like 2-3 minutes. It depends on how many looks you’re going to show. In that show I think I had 20 looks. It's could be a dress, a top-bottom, a suit—20 looks could be so many pieces, and I was making them all myself. It was a good experience. I really learned what it takes to put on a show, what you need behind-the-scenes and things I can be better prepared for next time. When it is your first time, you don't really know how to maneuver in that space. I would say that's how I got started initially. I just went for it.
What does your day-to-day look like right now?
It depends on what time of year. I'm working on launching my spring collection in January. People go on vacation for spring break, we are soon going to be organizing a photoshoot for that. At the same time, I'm doing the fall 2020 collection that’s going to be premiering in February around Fashion Week.
My day to day it could be anything from ordering fabrics for samples, speaking to mills, revising design. It could be also doing interviews or business admin things, answering emails and things of that nature. Also, schlepping to the Garment District (I’m in Brooklyn) or go to Manhattan to get fabric or speak to a contractor.
What motivated you to get into fashion?
My mom always said I was into arts and crafts. She said I always had an artistic mind. She noticed that early on. I was really into my dolls and made clothes for my dolls. I feel like I really got bit by the fashion bug when I saw the movie Clueless, changed my life. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s the honest truth. I didn’t know people lived like Cher and Dionne, that they had that many options of clothing. Me growing up in West Philly, I just had clothes on my back for the most part. That’s when how I dress became really important to me. When I was about 11 or 12, my mom bought me a book about fashion designers. I was surprised, ‘People can make money…they can make a living…this is a profession of making and designing clothes? That’s it! Sign me up! I’m going to be a fashion designer.’ From 11-12 on up, that's what I wanted to do, and I've been aiming for it since then.
Who has helped you the most throughout this process?
Family, of course. Even from little things like picking me up. I worked from 9-5 and went to school from 6-10 at FIT. Picking me up at one o'clock in the morning from catching the train from school…helped me a lot. Most recently, the organization Harlem Fashion Row (HFR) by Brandice Daniel, she's the advocate and our champion for designers of color, specifically Black designers. That's how I got the opportunity with the Janie and Jack children’s wear collaboration. They provide a lot of information and opportunity in this industry that is not top secret but is "in the know.” You figure it out as you go, which I've been doing a lot. They have been very instrumental with me and my success. And networking—working at the modeling agencies meeting the models and being a kind person. You make those connections and they become your friends.
I feel like so many people have helped me from friends, family, those connections, God. Shout out to God.
What competencies do people need to develop to be successful in this industry?
I feel like you have to know why you’re getting into this business, because it's not easy. There are times when you want to give up. You have to remind yourself why you're doing this, why you're fighting so hard for this. That's really important. Have some sort of knowledge of accounting, general knowledge of profit and loss balance sheets. And just be a kind person. I feel like a like of things I’ve gotten was because I was kind to people, trying to treat people how I want to be treated. Be kind to people, and people will want to see you succeed and want to help you.
What is your unique contribution to fashion?
For my line, I like my clothes to be sexy and have sex appeal. Not necessarily in your face sexy,. but there’s always a dab of sex appeal in my clothing. I make it effortless, and it could take you from day to night. I decided to hone in on that, because I remember when I worked at agencies. It would be an event we had to go to that night, and we found out at three o'clock that day. I didn’t have time to go buy something in a city. Having that experience as a woman, I realize there’s not a lot of things out there that are comfortable that can take you from day to night, where you may just have to change your pair of shoes if needed. I thought about how I can contribute to that and make it effortless. You want to make it as effortless and as seamless as possible.
How diverse is the fashion design field? It is welcoming of diversity?
I see more designers of color, more Black designers now than ever. However, is that because of social media? Back 10 years ago or even more, on the fashion calendar I didn’t see that many Black fashion designers and designers of color getting that opportunity. Back then, I didn’t know any to the exception of Tracy Reese and LaQuan Smith. I feel now the entire industry of fashion is changing for the better.
People are starting to acknowledge that we exist and that we’re here. We have talents. We have a voice. And people want to buy from us. We have a unique perspective. It's about time we start getting recognition.
What advice can you give to people who want to create their own fashion designs or start their own company?
You have to decide if you want to be a designer or if you want to be in the business, because there is a way to have a fashion line without necessarily being the person that constructs the garments. Make that distinction first, if you want to run the company or if you want to be a designer. If you want to be the designer, I think it's best to inform yourself on how to construct the garments… how closures work, where they need to go, what lines you need to pay attention to so you can manipulate the garments to make your own style. Now, if you want to be a person that runs the company, it’s good to know that terminology so when you speak to the contractor or patternmaker or draper you can speak the same language so you can relay the vision that you want them to create. If you want to have the time and want to save money, it’s good to know how to make a garment from scratch. If you have seed capital, you can hire someone to do it for you. Also, start small. I started with a 20-piece collection. I know better now and would maybe start with a 2 to 4-piece and develop them. And figure out what's your signature style or your signature piece that people will go to you for.
What are some of the other behind-the-scene professions within a fashion show?
Besides the modeling and designers there is the production coordinator who coordinates the hiring of models, makeup artist, hairstylist, everything that goes on behind-the-scenes from catering to renting the venue, the DJ.
Then you also have the casting director, that person is strictly there to cast your models for the show if you the designer are not doing it individually yourself. The casting director is there to call all the agencies and see all the models that come, and they pick the top ones based on what you tell them that you're looking for. They call them back to do a fitting, you do the fitting, they book them for the show, then you handle payment with them.
It also just depends on how big your show is to be. If you're inviting celebrities, bloggers, Instagram influencers, then you’ll need a PR rep that can handle all of that for you and also create buzz so people can put you on a fashion calendar and know your show is happening. It’s a moving organization to get a show going. There are so many things you could do—photography, videography. You always want to have someone there to document that moment and you so can put it on social media. There are so many things that people can do in order to be involved in a fashion show, not just the model and the designer. There are many different roles someone can take interest in.
What is the ultimately legacy that you want to leave behind?
I just want to help my community and people. Growing up, the day I fell in love with fashion from Clueless, I didn't see a lot of Black fashion designers. I want to be able to show other little boys and girls that Black fashion designers exist. And once my brand gets to a certain level, I want to go back to my hometown of Philadelphia and create workshops and opportunities for them to get a head start on fashion design and how to form a brand and make money. And also, I want to bring production back to Philadelphia. Philadelphia has an entire area where it was industrial work. If I can bring manufacturing there, that will help the city thrive and create jobs. My legacy, I want it to be that I give back and I care about people. I want to let Black little kids know that you can do this.
Want to learn more about Kristian's fashion line? Follow her here:
Website | www.kristianloren.com
Instagram | @kristianloren
Twitter | kristian_loren
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