How They're Making It: Gen Art's Spring 2012 'Fresh Faces in Fashion'

Eleven new designers will show their spring 2012 collections tonight thanks to the newly revived Gen Art, an institution that has helped propel labels like Vena Cava, Zac Posen and Phillip Lim into the spotlight. They had to take a little break due to financial woes, but now they're back in full force with their annual "Fresh Faces in Fashion presented by smart car" program. Gen Art has selected the following lucky 11 women's, men's and accessory designers to showcase their stuff for editors and buyers in a fully staged runway show. But, it's not just luck--each of these designers are genuinely talented and, from what we've seen very promising. Many of them are already on the road to success--one's being sold at Madewell--and have impressive pedigrees, like Central St. Martins degrees and a gig at Alexander McQueen. Also, three of them made it into our Fashionista 15. We think they're all ones to watch and we wanted to share their stories so, we interviewed each of them for mini versions of our How I'm Making It series. Click through to find out how these future stars have been and where they're going.
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Dhani Mau
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Eleven new designers will show their spring 2012 collections tonight thanks to the newly revived Gen Art, an institution that has helped propel labels like Vena Cava, Zac Posen and Phillip Lim into the spotlight. They had to take a little break due to financial woes, but now they're back in full force with their annual "Fresh Faces in Fashion presented by smart car" program. Gen Art has selected the following lucky 11 women's, men's and accessory designers to showcase their stuff for editors and buyers in a fully staged runway show. But, it's not just luck--each of these designers are genuinely talented and, from what we've seen very promising. Many of them are already on the road to success--one's being sold at Madewell--and have impressive pedigrees, like Central St. Martins degrees and a gig at Alexander McQueen. Also, three of them made it into our Fashionista 15. We think they're all ones to watch and we wanted to share their stories so, we interviewed each of them for mini versions of our How I'm Making It series. Click through to find out how these future stars have been and where they're going.
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Ace & Jig

Who: Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson What: Womenswear How:

What is your background? We have been in the fashion industry for the last 10 years, many of those spent together. We both have undergrad degrees in fashion design, from SCAD and FIT. We met working as design interns for Language in Nolita. In 2004, we moved to LaROK where we spearheaded the design. We both left LaROK together and started our own families and reunited a few years ago to launch ace&jig.

How did the line come to be? We knew if we were going to launch our own line of clothing, it had to be based on our passion- textiles. We wanted to make a collection, at a contemporary pricepoint, that was unique yet effortless with a strong emphasis on fabric. We felt we needed a very focused concept and started with the creation of our own linen/cotton woven fabric. We then narrowed down even more and decided to just do yarn dyed stripes. So all of our fabrics are custom yarn-dyed stripes of color and texture made of linen and cotton. Our silhouettes are really a reflection of our favorite things from our own closets. What has been your biggest challenge? In the beginning it was finding the right production source where we could have creative control and work with weavers one on one to perfect our textiles. Now, that we have that sorted out- it has been challenging finding the work/ life balance owning your own business. We have toddlers and ace&jig is like one of our babies!

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Most collections aren’t based on one fabrication- But we went for it with ace&jig- and so far, so good! Where do you see Ace & Jig five years from now? We would love to create more avenues for our fabric. A kids line would be amazing! What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Intern with a small designer or company so you can see the big picture.

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Ann Yee

Who: Ann Yee What: Womenswear How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? After I graduated from the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, I designed knitwear for a number of brands, honing my skills and techniques, before starting my own collection. I've designed for LaROK, Elizabeth & James, Barney's, and helped launch DUFFY, a womens contemporary knitwear collection. How did the line come to be? I've always wanted to start my own collection, but felt it was necessary to gain some industry experience before doing so. After working for about 4 years, I decided it was time to make a move so I started sketching a few designs in hopes of developing a small capsule collection. I found the proper resources and the rest is history!

What has been your biggest challenge? Time management, but I've definitely gotten better by setting strict deadlines for myself.

What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Quit my full-time job and dedicate everything to my business.

Where do you see Ann Yee five years from now? I see the collection growing in size and expanding internationally into Asia & Europe for sure. There will definitely be more accessories in the line and possibly a foray into menswear.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Never hesitate to ask for help and definitely be prepared to make sacrifices. You're going to make loads of mistakes before you feel that sense of accomplishment-just remember to learn from these experiences. Be ready to work insanely HARD and try not to lose your sense of humor along the way.

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Eighteenth

Who: Alexa Galler What: Womenswear How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? I designed denim for tweens that sold at Wal Mart. Think lots of rhinestones and butterfly embroideries.

How did the line come to be? Needless to say, making denim for Wal Mart wasn't too fulfilling, so I ventured out on my own.

What has been your biggest challenge? Folding garments into poly bags is quite difficult for me.

What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Starting a company during this recession.

Where do you see EIGHTEENTH five years from now? Intergalactic fame.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Don’t give up despite the blood, sweat, and tears.

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Jennifer Chun

Who: Jennifer Chun What: Womenswear How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? I have a degree in fashion design from Pratt Institute. I interned for Michael Kors, Derek Lam and designed for Brian Reyes. How did the line come to be? After working at Carmen Marc Valvo, I decided to freelance full time while I developed my line. While I was freelancing, I designed a small collection for Fall 2010 and a look was pulled for WWD after that I decided to pursue it full time. What has been your biggest challenge? Young designers face a lot of challenges when just starting out. For me personally, it has been meeting the right people, buyers and stores, etc. while trying to develop my brand and create a team around me that coincides with my vision.

What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? I think for me it’s staying true to my vision aesthetically and for my company. I want to build something I believe in and this has forced me to make difficult choices in order to stay true to the brand. Sometimes this is tough in an industry with so many young designers and the pressures to succeed very quickly.

Where do you see Jennifer Chun five years from now? In five years, I hope to have expanded from boutiques to larger stores and have a full time staff. I also hope I have time to do a collaboration with accessories/shoes.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? I would strongly encourage a young designer to learn about production and sales.

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Sunghee Bang

Who: Sunghee Bang What: Womenswear How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? I studied fashion design at FIT in NYC.

How did the line come to be? I always wanted to start my own line. After school ended, I immediately began working on my first collection.

What has been your biggest challenge? Coming to the US and adjusting to different cultures/people. Also, starting my own business, of course.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Launching right after school, and trusting myself.

Where do you see Sunghee Bang five years from now? Major stores, internationally.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Stay relevant by being open in every way. Immerse yourself in all creative fields whether it’s design or food or art, and be inspired.

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William Okpo

Who: Darlene and Lizzy Okpo What: Womenswear How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? Darlene: I was a visual merchandiser for four years before we started William Okpo. It was a great experience because it was a great marketing tool to engage customers.

Lizzy: When we debut William Okpo I was/am a student. I have also worked with the fashion label Libertine for a few years, in addition to working at Opening Ceremony.

How did the line come to be? We lanned for a few years. It was Christmas of 2009 when we said enough is enough, we rolled our eyes, stomped our feet and put all of the fear behind us. We've just decided to move our feet and stop talking about it. What has been your biggest challenge? Our biggest challenge is balancing all of the work load between us. Dealing with production for a current season while creating a new collection for the next season is a huge challenge. Not to mention we juggle school and work around our clothing line, which is almost like being three different people in one week.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Hahahaha. Everyday is an adventure for us. We are pretty tough girls. Sometimes we show up to an office unannounced. It is important to be upfront and tell people what you want. Usually someone is caught off guard, but we are still able to charm our way into a good deal, respectfully. Where do you see William Okpo five years from now? In five years we expect William Okpo to prosper into a strong, positive venture. Essentially, we expect to expand into shoes and accessories as well as menswear. What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Our advice would be to do your research. Also, being confident and humble comes a long way. It's important to have a strong idea of what you want to do and where you would like to be. It is also ideal to be alert, watch and listen at all times.

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Baron Wells

Who: Mads Madsen and Dominick Violini What: Menswear How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? I (Dominick Volini) worked in marketing at Burton Snowboards. Mads (Madsen) worked on Wall St. How did the line come to be? Baron Wells was an extension of a smaller brand we started a few years ago - producing only neckties and cufflinks. What has been your biggest challenge? Financing and quality production partners took a while to find.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Don't think we've encountered a ballzy moment, but definitely have had some stressful production issues. Relaying fabric around the world/around NYC in trains, planes, automobiles, skateboards, feet.

Where do you see [name of brand] five years from now? flagship retail stores.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? It's all about the product. Focus on that and the rest will follow.

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Collina Strada

Who: Hillary Taymour What: Accessories How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? I went to FIDM and I worked in Product Development at Guess jeans in LA.

How did the line come to be? I made a bag for myself and started wearing it around the city. I got so many reactions from buyers, stylists, and all sorts of people I decided to run with it.

What has been your biggest challenge? My biggest challenge has been deciding how fast to grow the business, sometimes I take a big leap one season, then I decide I need to pull back the reigns a bit on the next. It’s finding that middle ground of how many new styles to develop a season and what shows to do.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? Before I had even launched my first collection in stores I got a call from Target. They asked me if I could do a special bag for them for their Daily Candy shelf. Without hesitating I said yes! I had never manufactured in China before, it was a crazy experience. I learned a lot trying to fulfill such a large order. I have not been back to China since... What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Don’t worry too much, if you think you will be a success you will succeed. Positive thinking always prevails.

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Falconiere Who: Juniper Rose What: Jewelry How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? My fashion background is clothing. I went to Parsons but the majority of my career was in Los Angeles, where I designed for Earl Jean, owned my own contemporary sportswear line, (carried by Barneys, Steven Alan, etc) and finally, ran the international design office for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's kids line with a London base.

How did the line come to be? I was disenchanted with clothing and was looking for something new to do. I was working on writing a young adult, fantasy novel, and I found I was spending a lot of time defining what the characters wore & more specifically, their jewelry. The book was all about fallen Kings and Queens and the children they left behind to grow up wild. Their jewelry was a combination of the heir-loom pieces that had gone to tatters, combined with scraps of cloth and elements of the forest all woven together.

What has been your biggest challenge? Right now it's the loss of power! One week to go until the show & the week after that is Coterie, and I am currently without power due to the hurricane. Other than that, I would say my biggest challenge is to find a balance for my line that has both creative, editorial appeal, as well as being commercial. My natural inclination is for the over-the-top, show-stopping pieces, but I am always challenging myself to also come up with the more wearable options.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? When you have your own business, everything you do is ball-sy. At every step, except for the creative expression, it would be a million times easier to work for someone else, get a steady paycheck and be able to leave things behind at the end of the day. When it's your own thing, you can never work enough. You can never do enough to keep things going. When their are mistakes or problems, they all come down to you to work through.

Where do you see Falconiere five years from now? Five years from now, I'd like Falconiere to be an established brand for luxury costume jewelry.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Get as much experience as you can working for someone else, and then if you have the guts & something that's just got to get out creatively, try working for yourself!

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Osborn

Who: Aaron and Carla Osborn What: Shoes How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? After graduating from RISD, I moved to Guatemala and was working with NGO’s , organizing various art programs. There we would teach disadvantaged kids silk screening and make great shirts and bags. Our fashion background stems from our fine art background. We were supporting ourselves as fine artists, selling paintings, drawing and prints. How did the line come to be? I wanted to start to use the talent I was engaged with in Guatemala for economic development, and community growth. Running aid, and working with non-profits, most of the older men I was interacting with were out of work cobblers and tailors. I had always wanted to make shirts and shoes. So, we just started to make shoes. I had a vast collection of Huipile, Cortes, and other various folk weavings. I had always been trying to use these weavings in a new way. I thought that using them with classic shoe shapes would be killer, and I think it still is! What has been your biggest challenge? Owning our own production. Organizing the work force, and dealing with Guatemalan law and gangs, while maintaining our standards has been very difficult, and continues to be our biggest challenge.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? The ballsiest, well, I don’t if I can talk about it. (Let me just say, the gangs of Guatemala are no joke, and you need to protect your people and keep them safe.) The second ballsiest thing we did was dumping every last penny we had into our Guatemalan production while we were still uncertain of sales. We simply had to keep all our peeps working. Where do you see Osborn Design five years from now? I’d like to see us grow in production. Our goal is to do good with good design. I want to keep growing our workforce as this strengthens the communities we work with, and provides economic development. We are starting to branch out and use our workforce to manufacture other items besides shoes. We want to start producing Jeans for a designer friend of mine, and I’d love to see Osborn be associated with killer craft and ethical manufacturing. We are also getting our hands deep into weaving textiles. We work exclusively with wooden foot looms, and don’t use any electricity (see

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Wool and the Gang

Who: Lisa Sabrier and Carolyn Main What: Knitting How:

What did you do before launching your own line/what is your fashion background? Since graduating in Textile Design at London’s Central St. Martins College, we work for established names in the world of design such as Alexander McQueen and Balmain, our time at St.Martins gave us the confidence and skills to pursue a career in fashion; it brought us our friendship, and it brought us to WATG. It's really the best thing to work with your friend everyday. It sounds cheesy but it's really true.

Our passion for knitting tricks on sticks was a hand-me-down straight from our Grandma's, we still enjoy the startled looks on people face's when they realize we're professional knitters.

How did the line come to be? Unlike other fashion brand - we have the challenge to design pieces that are not only easy to wear but easy to knit. The whole creative process inspires us, but more specifically the textiles and craftsmanship behind design. The early stages of designing for WATG are the most exciting. We discuss and brainstorm, sketch and paint, and make a big creative mess. Then from the sketches we develop the textiles and knitting samples with different yarns and stitches, all while remembering to keep our designs easy to knit and easy to wear. Then it's off to Peru, where we work with an incredible team of Peruvian knitters. They are the most inspiring women we've ever met, not only for their mind-blowing skills but their whole attitude to life and their warmth and generosity. Every step of the design process is so rewarding. Once we receive the samples the pattern - writing process begins - to write a perfect pattern we must knit the product at least 4-6 times to make sure every step of the pattern is correct. One out of place stitch can ruin a project for our knitters and for us it's our responsibility to write the patterns in easy to follow manner.

What has been your biggest challenge? The biggest challenge thus far was opening the Wool and the Gang studio/shop - we gave ourselves 4 weeks. It was a real intense and incredibly fun time. We worked day and night, building and painting, running around the city, we put all our love, sweat and tears to build the store. As soon as the first customers started to come in, it was the most rewarding moment to see people getting inspired to be creative.

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What's the ballsiest thing you've had to do to for your business? We feel everyday you have to be ballsy in this fashion business.

Where do you see Wool and the Gang five years from now? As Lisa Sabrier, our founder said, "Wool And The Gang is a school." We don't only offer DIY kits, but we also teach people skills; we have video tutorials online, and we organize knitting parties around the world. We aim to build our wool school and continue to promote creative approaches to sustainable living by providing chic and individual alternatives to disposable fashion.

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Entering the fashion world is daunting but we don't think anyone should be put off. If you work hard, and you're good at what you do, there is hope. It takes being creative and having fun with your work, even under pressure. At the end of the day it is a business. Don't be scared, be excited!