“How do I describe my job to people? I make the most of every day. I don’t have just one job. Do I really list off all of them? Does anyone care? I’m involved with many organizations, so I don’t have as much free time as I’d like to.”
What does Lauren Koehne do with her free time? Lauren works. At 22, Lauren has already started her own fashion line. She is completely self-sufficient with no less than 5 part-time jobs to support herself and the growth of her line, Flower Child Apparel.
Any young clothing designer can put their sewn garments onto a skinny model and send them down a hallway to strut; but Lauren has not stopped there. She promotes her clothes along side of a distinct vision: Flower Child Apparel offers responsibly made clothing of perfect construction with a bit of a bite. Her world is not one of glamour or disillusionment and neither are her designs. Her clothing is comfortable, affordable, and unique—a mix of “fairytale and raw edge.” The line is a direct extension of the creator, and Lauren is looking to clothe like-minded individuals. Her philosophy is one of hopeful realism and harks from the era that inspired the name of her label. More hippie than hipster and certainly more realistic than her peers, Lauren Koehne has every reason to remain hopeful that her hard work will pay off.
Paper Darts: Can you describe the Flower Child woman?
Lauren Koehne: She is independent, but definitely nostalgic. She is in her mid-twenties and has some interest in “changing the world,” even though she recognizes that this can only be accomplished in small ways. She is generally articulate and cautious. She enjoys learning about the newest music while treasuring the old and reading up on new ideas while forming her own. She is not incredibly up-to-date on current trends and fashion media, but creativity and good taste in dress are both important to her.
PD: What will the Flower Child woman wear this Spring?
LK: It’s a surprise. But I am using ideas and images of dark Victorian styles combined with the edge of the Velvet Underground and other experimental rock groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
PD: What are your greatest hopes for yourself and for your clothing line?
LK: I want to get to a point where teaching and working on my line become my split focus. I have had the opportunity to teach sewing and crafts for different art centers, school groups, and programs. I am hoping to get a Master’s degree so that I can continue to do this and keep working on my line so that it becomes enough of a financial support to drop other “side jobs” or corporate design. Designers may have to "go corporate" to compete, which is natural. I guess I am hoping the main affect that designers like myself have on the industry is a higher regard for business ethics!
PD: What motivated you to go out on a limb and start your own business?
LK: I just figured it was the time! I worked very hard in school, so I graduated without debt. I was ready to work and see where things would lead me, so it was a great time to dabble with ideas and branding for the type of work I would want to do full-time someday.
PD: How does one begin to balance a life and a business, when you alone are the business?
LK: I don’t really know! I try to get out with a friend or do something fun for a couple hours once or twice a week, but that is all I have time for.
PD: What advice would you give to freshly graduated, young entrepreneurs?
LK: Just do it. It’s not going to be easy at all; I struggle with both criticism and people being “too nice” when I am trying to get advice. But it’s all about learning from all of that. Also, do not think that your endeavors will become a great, full-time job anytime soon! It takes years to get to that point. I have learned to be okay with that and I will not give up on my “dabbling” in independent design.
PD: Do you have advice for artists and designers trying to survive in this economy?
LK: We grew up during a time in which having a lot of "stuff" meant success. Times are different. It is essential for us all to realize that having a big house filled with stuff means nothing except that we have joined the ranks of over consumption. Having a lot means that we are taking up more space and resources than we ought to, particularly in light of the way many outside the U.S. have to live. It also usually means that we have invested in quantity, rather than quality.
1. Invest in a few quality items.
2. Know where your money is going.
3. Choose businesses that support local production or fair and equal trade.
4. Choose environmentally produced and/or recycled raw goods and packaging.
5. Know that your money is going to the people who are working hard to deserve it, and need it.
PD: Can you take us through the steps of your process, by describing the creation of a specific design? Sketch, to birth, to buyer?
LK: It actually varies a lot. In general, I just find inspiring music or art movements to get excited about a particular attitude or mood. I start creating ideas based off of this and in the end, structure these ideas to fit a particular fashion season, buyer, or client.
PD: What specifically inspired your eco-friendly designs?
LK: I spent the summer before I started my line at my parent’s home in a forest close to La Crosse, Wisconsin. I got more familiar with the trend towards business cooperatives and folk art while I was there. I was very intrigued by the difference that independent production with organic and recycled fabrics could make, and decided to use these ideas in my first line. Although I am not planning to continue using all “organic” due to the financial constraints of my target market, I will continue to find ways to implement recycled fabrics and keep production local.
I am encouraged by the fact that our generation is sick of feeling like a number and a factory-produced thing; we like to think that the products we buy came from an idea. We buy the cheep stuff at Wal-Mart and Target because it suits today’s customers’ needs. It might be what we have to do, but are these really the products we want wear and want to support?
Minneapolis is among the cities I feel are able to make the biggest impact. I don’t feel that I need to move to New York to make my line a success. Resources like Etsy have helped me reach an international audience; I have sold to places like Australia and Germany.
PD: What is your prediction for the world of fashion in ten years; will designers with heart, such as yourself, take over the industry?
LK: I don’t think it will be so easy for us to “take over” the industry. In general, the industry is moving to Asia. Asian countries are very economically competitive to the US, and thus they have been producing most of our apparel for a long time, and so those countries have an interesting hold on the industry. However, there are a growing number of young people who are both opting to design and produce locally, as well as young people who would prefer to invest a bit more money in local design and production. I believe this trend will grow. I think that independent designers “with heart” may grow to a level of competition with the corporate ready-to-wear industry. It will take years of hard work to get there, but we will do it. Eventually, our small socially responsible business may have to “go corporate” to compete. Based on our experience, we will know how to keep production--and our values--close to us through structural changes.
PD: While studying clothing design, you said you were called “the artist”. But you have stated, “art works to destroy boundaries, while design works to fit into boundaries”. Can you expand on your stance of how art differs from design?
LK: Oh I love thinking about this question! When I first started designing, I elected to be an “artistic designer.” In giving myself that label, I felt free to design whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I freed myself from certain industry boundaries: season, trends, conventional silhouettes, etc. So in essence, I was actually trying not to follow the rules. I let ideas flow and was not afraid to make or market the resulting designs. Though I soon came to realize that customers looking to purchase apparel need boundaries. They want to fit in even if they perceive themselves as a very independent person. They want to look current. They want to pay a standard price. Over-the-top ideas may look great on the runway or in a picture. But they may not be for your "daily girl" to wear to work, out with friends, or even to a concert.
That’s when I started to perceive the difference between art and design. Design is all about the consumer. A designer must figure out what a person needs or is missing in their everyday life, then a designer must create a concept and design a product to fit this need. Design stays in the boundaries of everyday life.
Artists work hard thinking of ways to change and do things differently. Although many would argue that Art is essential to the human soul, Art is not a basic commodity. Art is not furniture, clothing, packaging for our foods, etc. Art is something that we do not need, but are meant to take an idea or abstract thought away from.
PD: What art has inspired you recently?
LK: Victorian elegance and the hard glam edge.
PD: What music has inspired you recently?
LK: The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, David Bowie.
PD: What is the next step to your further success?
LK: I am doing a show in late March. This will serve as the perfect opportunity to show my upcoming and slightly experimental Fall/Winter 2010 line!
Also, I have noticed a trend that may influence my future lines; in this economy, women are more apt to spend money on special occasions than on every day wear. I am applying a fairytale with edge perspective to bridal attire by creating an anti-wedding look.
PD: Is there another young talent that inspires you?
LK: Paper Darts!
Most of the photos featured within the interview are from the current line of intimate apparel from Flower Child. The line takes Lauren Koehne’s mission and applies it to clothing that is wearable around the house, but made for the bedroom: everything in the line is both sexy and comfortable. The first two images are from Lauren's First collection.
The photographers for these shoots were Katie Carlson and Tim Koehne. The Main Model is Alyssa Spinks. The Lookbook layout designer is Alysha Lynn Scott.