In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
When designer Araks Yeramyan launched her namesake lingerie line in 2000, she didn't know how to produce the collection for one of her first (and biggest) retailers: Neiman Marcus. Luckily, she quickly learned the process from a contractor she had found in New Jersey, showing up to the factory nearly every day to watch her bras get sewn together. "This factory taught me everything," says Yeramyan. "There were a few people who were really amazing and important."
Yeramyan had studied ready-to-wear at Parsons, all while interning for Marc Jacobs, along with a summer stint at Central Saint Martins. Her first job out of college was at J.Crew, and after finding a box of trims in the lingerie department, she was inspired to start her own line. "I was into cotton lingerie," says Yeramyan, who only wore Hanro at the time. "It was luxe, really beautiful and simple." Though, she felt a little too young to be wearing it, so she decided to create a more colorful collection that was geared towards her age and with the trims that she had discovered at work.
Yeramyan spent an entire year creating Araks, and her colleagues at J.Crew supported her through the way, from finding pattern-makers to sourcing fabrics and elastics. Her supervisor also helped with editing ideas and designs. Today, Yeramyan admits to providing the same assistance to her own employees: "I have people come in here who want to start swim lines and I just say, 'Here, this is everything.' Why not?"
The foundation of Araks has been built on teaming up with others, whether it's friends, acquaintances or even professional colleagues. And with more than 16 years in the business, it seems to be working well enough to sustain her label. Branding is one of her favorite duties, which started by asking a friend to illustrate marketing materials for prospective buyers. Every year, the brand releases "Lingerie on Film," a lookbook comprised of its current offerings photographed by a slew of impressive contributors. (This year's edition comes from fashion editor Caroline Issa, retailer and creative director Alex Eagle and writer Stephanie LaCava, among others.)
Most recently, Araks partnered with artist Quentin Jones on a small range of swimwear bedecked in abstract paint prints and collage-like motifs. "Everything I've done since the beginning has always been a collaboration of some sort," she says. "Whoever gets involved, their perspective is as important to me as mine. I love working with creative people and having this shared input. Creating something you couldn't do on your own becomes an even bigger idea."
We stopped by the Araks studio downtown — total #interiorgoals, by the way — to speak with Yeramyan about how she finds inspiration, challenges throughout her career and what new designers should expect when starting a brand.
How do you get inspiration and continue to bring newness to your brand every season?
You always have to keep inspiring yourself. You don't want to look at what everybody is looking at, but you do want to be informed about what's going on. And then from that, find your own voice and your own inspiration. Go see things and be cultured in different ways. I read a lot. I see a lot. I constantly fill my brain with things like a library.
And with that, how do you make sure you're staying on brand?
I used to have a whole girl wall. It was more when I was doing ready-to-wear and I always looked at the wall and made sure that the Araks girl would wear it. Always being true to that and never selling out for a trend. You can pick up cues from the world but if it doesn't fit into who your girl is, you have to say, "I'm sorry but I can't go there."
Production was a big challenge for you in the beginning. What other challenges have you come across since then?
This whole business has changed. It seemed so simple back then: You design, put it out there, people put it in the magazine and people bought it. Now, you have to have social media and there's marketing and there's digital marketing. And there's a thousand things that you have to do and it keeps on getting more and more. The amount of things that I have to do in a day that never existed before that I have to think about, that's a challenge.
In 2006, you expanded into ready-to-wear, but eventually had to close the line, re-introduced it in 2010 and then ended it indefinitely with its spring 2015 collection. Did you find that decision difficult?
It was a painful decision, but now I feel amazing about it and [I'm] so glad it happened. It was the best thing for my business and brought clarity. I feel like everybody should have a focused idea. In this business, there's so much competition you need the most finite idea and [to] just go with it. You're talking about a hundred million brands out there. And most of them all look the same. There's only a handful of brands — in ready-to-wear, there's more — but let's say in swim and lingerie that have their own identity and everything else is just... sometimes that brand looks like that brand, that brand and that brand.
We've been covering a lot of news about indie designers dealing with knockoffs. Have you experienced this?
Yeah, but that's been something from the beginning. I remember I saw my collection at Target with three or four seasons in one. It doesn't bother me that much if it's not going interfere with my customer. As long as my customer isn't going to this place instead. I get more bothered by more brands that are much closer to mine. I think that gets me down sometimes. I just tell myself that I'm the creator and I can create something else. I can always move on and create my own thing.
What's your advice for new designers who want to work in a specific category like lingerie or swimwear?
You have to have a really clear idea and the expectation that design is such a small part of it. You have to look at it as a whole business and all of the areas that you need to work on. And it's not about being famous. Someone asked me how to become big on Instagram. I have no idea because I'm not big on Instagram. That's not where I care to focus my energy, but I do want to make sure that I have that part covered in some way. Digital marketing, e-commerce, taking care of my wholesale, taking care of the press — taking care of it all. These things should come together and make a whole.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Would you ever expand beyond lingerie and swim again?
I definitely want to expand. I think I was sacrificing a lot when I had too much, so I want to make sure everything is self-sustaining. If I can manage it at the same level that I'm managing it now, I'd like to grow — but very slowly and organized and quietly and not take any huge leaps. I would like to expand to grow this world and Araks woman and who she is in many areas.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.