Tell us about yourself – family background, personal story, education, and previous professional capacities.
I am a native New Mexican, born and raised in the Land of Enchantment. I come from a tightly knit family full of artists. Living here you can’t help not be one with the rich landscapes, the diversity of the people, the beautiful sunsets and magically star filled skies. As a girl I was introduced to the opportunity of fashion design as a career, through the gift of Fashion Plates. This gift set was my creative outlet for design, and mixing colors, patterns and textiles on paper. I spent endless hours designing through this medium. I took the next step into actually creating my own clothing after my parents divorced while I was in the fifth grade. When that life event occurred, I spent countless summers with my maternal grandparents. That’s when my grandmother taught me to sew. It was a wonderful bonding experience and helped me to continue my love for fashion and design. This occurred during my early teenage years, in middle school.
Middle School, I feel, is that awkward time, when you are trying to find your own identity while still trying to fit in with your peers. For girls, acceptance and self-esteem play a huge role in your life at this time and for me without a clothing allowance, creating my own clothing was the way for me to create my own style. As I went on to high school, I was serious about following a path in fashion design. My junior year I signed up for the fashion course and club, only to be disappointed when the class was canceled due to budget cuts and the club disbanded due to lack of interest.
Because I didn’t want to leave the state of New Mexico and the lack of designs schools locally, I followed my second love: studying people through psychology and communications. This led me to work in the field of Human Resources and Community Relations. Through this work, I was able to engage and empower employees to assist them develop their leadership skills and impact the community through non-profit volunteer work. While I wasn’t working in the fashion sector, it was never too far away for me. This role ended in 2013 and that’s when a ticket to New York Fashion Week brought me back to my first love.
Seeing designers bring their creations to life on the world’s stage inspired me to invest into an independent retailer and learn about the business. I learned that I had a keen eye for fashion, buying and styling. I bought out of the Los Angeles market, so I began to appreciate slow fashion, lines that used ecofriendly materials and products that were made domestically or through sustainable manufacturing processes. I loved working one-on-one with customers to help them find the right look. It was incredible to see their transformation, feeling confident and empowered with my assistance. I had built a clientele base, helping people with their shopping and styling needs, and one afternoon I had a conversation with someone who asked me, “Why aren’t you designing?” I thought it was an odd question because he didn’t know that this was a childhood dream, so I responded, asking him, “Why do you say that? You’ve never seen anything I’ve created.” He stated matter-of-factly, “You have an eye for it. You’d make a killing.”
A few months later, I started designing and creating for myself. Being in small business, in order to market the company, I attended many social and networking events (there are countless numbers of them in Albuquerque, NM). Evening wear can get expense and especially when it’s something you don’t wear over and over again. I started making outfits for these events. It was great because I was truly unique in what I wore and received a number of compliments from friends. However, I was never quite sure if they were being just being kind or truly being honest.
Then shop closed. I was devastated and I wasn’t sure I wanted to move forward in this space. I had a conversation with a friend who challenged me. She said, “I’m not going to let you give up on this dream. I want to commission you to create two outfits for upcoming events.” I did and was with her at one of the events when she was stopped over and over again to be told how gorgeous her dress was. It was the perfect market research. That’s when Hopeless + Cause Atelier was launched. It’s a social wear line with a social conscious.
There are three tenants of the line. I want it to be a transformative experience for the wearer by helping them to feel empowered, confident, comfortable while making an impact on the scene (this comes from my background in psychology and communications and I see fashion through that lens). I want people to know who made their clothes and use sustainable textiles and recycled/upcycled materials in the process. One of the companies, I collaborate with is Batiks for Life. The founder, Sara Corry (who also writes for Trusted Clothes), created this company to provide economic empowerment to women in Ghana, Africa while the sales of the batik medical scrubs support health care access to people in that country. I purchase custom batik from her to create my Caprice line. Finally, giving back is hugely important to me. I believe in the work that non-profits do to change the world for the better, so 10% of the sales of each piece benefit a non-profit.
Since its inception, Hopeless + Cause Atelier has grown through word of mouth marketing and it’s moving at the right speed for me. I’ve hosted a couple of runway shows for the local New Mexico market. For the first time this October, the line will be showing outside of New Mexico during FWLA’s (Fashion Week Los Angeles) Spring/Summer 2017 Discovery Session. I’m excited to work with FWLA and out of the Los Angeles market because it will put me closer to more options for domestic manufacturing and sourcing of eco-friendly and sustainable textiles.
You have background in psychology and communications. There are aspects of having a designer’s eye from the story told by you. If someone has a designer’s eye, and if they’re dealing with people a lot of the time, what is the intersection between those two? Between knowing what will look good with a particular individual and for the individual to understand that.
I think you have to understand your clients comfort zone and what they are willing to try. I then push them out, just a bit. I had a customer visit me who I did a stylist session with. She told me she loved black and wasn’t a fan of too much color. Listening to her I pulled a couple of black options. However, looking at her skin and hair coloring I also pulled some earthy tone colors and asked her to try them on just for fun. She did and she was amazed of how good they looked on her. She and I have become good friends and always teases me, saying to herself on the days we get together, “I’m seeing Dara today. I better step up my look today.”
I had another customer send me a wonderful thank you note. It stated, “Thank you again for the beautiful dress. I felt like a movie star and received so many compliments on the dress!!” You can bring your personality through in whatever you wear and it doesn’t have to be drastic. The way that you can carry yourself because of your armor, because of what you’re wearing, has a profound effect on the way you arrive on the scene for an event or a job interview. I am happy that I can provide that kind of service.
Those are important points. When individuals go into an interview and don’t feel comfortable in their own skin, by which I mean the clothes they’re wearing at the moment, it can detract from the full focus of the interview at the moment. If it is some important job interview, it matters.
Yes! I’ve been blessed with countless stories of men and women who have told me how I helped them their look. One woman in particular came back and said, “I got the job. I wouldn’t have done it if you wouldn’t have spent the time with me.”
With regard to organizations/companies, and so on, like Trusted Clothes and Production Mode, what’s the importance of them to you?
These types of companies are helping the general public better understand where clothing is coming from and who’s making it. There’s such a movement around sourcing organic and local foods (the importance of what we put in our bodies). I love that I’m starting to see that happen in what we put on our bodies. Companies like Trusted Clothes, helps create and highlight transparency. I am continuing to learn and comprehend all of it. From fast fashion, like Zara, H&M and Forever21. If that shirt costs $5. How much is the person who is making that shirt being paid? Looking at supply chain.
I’m also looking at the other side. I love high end designers, but if you are charging $300 for a shirt that uses man-made materials and is manufactured in Bangladesh or China. I always wonder, “how much are you making off the garment?” I have a hard time with that. Through Hopeless + Cause Atelier I hope to create price points that people who believe in the slow fashion movement can afford: liveable wages, sustainable practices and investing back into the community.
One of the big things is to your earlier point about transparency. Many people don’t know the supply chain, the production line, and the working conditions for the people that make their garments, especially when it comes to decent pay for them to have a decent life. It comes down to varying considerations. What do you consider valuable? How much do you put on each variable in the eventual calculation? To close, what places would you like to take your company?
I would love to be able manufacture in New Mexico. I would like to slowly grow the line into more customizable, ready-to-wear pieces. There are a couple of manufacturing options and one I found a non-profit organization working with women to transition them out of homelessness. I want to be thoughtful in the growth of the company to make sure it is sustainable. A company that can meet the demands and continues with the tenets of the company set out by me. I am hoping by showing in LA later this year that I can grow in nearby markets like LA, Denver and Phoenix who appreciate the
slow fashion movement.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?
I think by continuing the conversation with writers like you, Scott, Sara Corry and the entire team at Trusted Clothes, slow fashion won’t be a niche market, but instead the norm.