Designing Between the Lines

I love, live and breathe fashion. I pick season’s colors, watch fashion trends, travel to Paris to source fabrics, and I sketch constantly.  Ah yes, and read fashion magazines and shop whenever possible.  All in the name of work.  Lucky?  Definitely.  Absolutely!  But getting here was a journey, and one that required a complete re-working of my ideas about career and success.

Having been raised by immigrant parents, I grew up in a household where education was highly valued, and having a stable, well-paying career was heavily encouraged.  I always loved fashion but it never occurred to me that it was a feasible career. So, my first choice was the law. And, I worked incredibly hard to get into a great college so that I could realize this pursuit.

Then, during my first semester at U.C. Berkeley, I discovered that lawyers actually have to think about THE LAW. Hmmm. Obvious, I know, but it was a shock to me… It’s funny – when you’re young, you formulate an answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” without really even knowing what certain jobs entail. And, over time, if you’re not careful, you can spend years moving towards actualizing a goal that occurred to you when you were a child. So, there I was, a college freshman, on the brink of giving my professional life up to a pursuit I didn’t fully understand when it struck me that, now that knew a bit more about myself and how the world works, I should probably investigate what I really wanted to be.

At Berkeley, I started giving credit to my passion for fashion, and began thinking about possibly building a career as a designer. After a couple of years of dancing around it, I started taking some costume design classes. This first structured foray into fashion was exciting and profoundly satisfying. When you start actually doing something that, for a long time, has been a bit of a fantasy, you experience great satisfaction, and – dare I say – power. You realize that you are ultimately a self-directed being, and you can choose your professional future. And so, I decided to choose mine.

When the end goal finally crystallized, I began planning. Unlike my discarded decision to become a lawyer, my decision to become a designer came with an understanding of what the path truly entailed. Fashion design is a true trade and craft, and I wanted to be designer in every sense – I needed to learn how to drape, make patterns and sew garments. So, after some very unglamorous, but practical, training at an LA trade school, I was ready to start my own little local line, Lanya.  My first order started as a final school project, and it turned into a birthday present for a friend working at a well-known boutique known as a launching ground for LA designers. The owner wanted 4 tops immediately. And so it began… I was a designer. Or so I thought.

After 2 years of being in the best boutiques, having clothes photographed with fashion dreams like Dries Van Noten, and being highlighted in Lucky magazine, I was frustrated. I realized that when you have your own label, you are not just a designer – you also have to worry about production, marketing and sales. Although I was a designer to the extent that I made clothes, I was, in many ways, an entrepreneur. And although that’s fine, that’s not what I wanted. So, I re-calibrated again. I was self-directed and I could choose my own path, remember?

All my thinking led me to an unmistakable conclusion – I would move to New York so that I could work for a designer… I would design clothes, while someone else worried about everything else. It was difficult to leave my close family and lots of life long friendships but, fortunately, my life in New York is fantastic – I’m in a cute, East Village apartment with a wonderful new love, and I work for a great company, run by a professional woman who encourages creativity and pushing the envelope. She gracefully manages the challenges of running a company, and inspires me to be impassioned by my role as a head designer. And, ironically, as a member of a team that supports and advances a brand built by someone else, I now have the freedom that I expected to have when I was the boss. I can create and have fun and not have to worry about keeping the lights on.

Did I ever think I’d be working for someone else and loving it? No, but it’s been a great turn of events, and I love the listener’s pause after I respond with, “I design lingerie.” So, it’s tough to know when you’re 12 what you’ll end up doing when you grow up, but it’s great to know that we all have the freedom to change our minds when we decide to stop, take stock, and be brave enough to make a decision that can make the difference between just having a job, and getting paid to do what you love.

Looking forward to sharing my designing details, and sprinkling some life in between the lines with all you Damsels in Success!

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