Years ago I figured out that to be a successful blogger I must not only be a writer but also an entrepreneur and thus I need to learn not only from other writers but from any creative person seeking to use her talents to make money and make a difference. This is one reason I love immersing myself in Birmingham’s fashion community. And if you think Birmingham doesn’t have a fashion community you obviously haven’t been following all of the events being hosted by the organizers of Magic City Fashion Week. (You can learn more here.)
One event of the week you definitely don’t want to miss is Friday’s Emerging Designer Competition. Hosted by Ty Hunter and Raquel Smith of Beyonce’s style team, the show will feature the works of five emerging designers competing for a prize package valued at $5,000. The show will also include looks from Macy’s and luxury streetwear by Splashed by DKG. This event is set for 6 to 11 p.m. and will be held at the Goldstein & Cohen building in Ensley.
I had the chance to interview one of the emerging designers who will be featured in Friday’s show — Shannon Warren of the Shan Latris Collection.
Warren’s advice for other emerging designers could so easily be applied to writing and blogging and there are so many takeaways from her journey that we can learn from, too.
Do what you can with what you have. Warren couldn’t sew when she was a kid so she used a hot glue gun to alter clothes!
Read, read, read. Before Warren could afford to go to design school she went to the library and read every book she could find about fashion design. And Warren continues to learn more about and work on her craft. We writers and bloggers must remember to do the same.
And whether she knows it or not, when Warren designs her clothes she actually uses Edgar Allan Poe’s single effect theory! She seeks to evoke a single emotion from her customer with each piece she designs just as Poe sought to evoke a single emotion from his readers with each short story and poem he wrote.
Take a look at my chat with Warren.
How did you get interested in fashion design?
Growing up I wanted to alter everything I bought, but couldn’t sew so I used a hot glue gun. However, it wasn’t until I became a huge Destiny’s Child fan that I became interested in fully designing fashion. I was inspired by Beyonce’s mom, Tina Knowles, and her designs for the girl group. After high school, I decided to settle and pursue a degree that guaranteed a job. What changed everything for me was a book by Russell Simmons called “Do You.” The day I decided to try to go after fashion, I went to the library to look at fashion books and randomly came across his book. I was already a fan, so I read it. That book changed everything for me. I credit that book for making me set out to pursue my fashion dreams. I didn’t have money for design school, but I knew I could read about fashion for free at the Library. So I did just that until I was able to attend design school 3 years later in 2010.
What are some steps you have taken to get better at your craft?
I am still working at my craft all the time. Initially, I attended the University of Alabama’s Apparel Design program. I didn’t know how to sew at all when I entered the program. I couldn’t even thread a machine! Since graduation, I’ve traveled to participate in different shows and at the shows, I saw so many techniques that other designers with more experience were doing. I would come home and learn how to do them using old-fashioned self-educating and trial and error.
What tips would you offer to other designers looking to break into the industry? What advice would you give to other creative entrepreneurs in general?
I’d share with them exactly what has gotten me this far:
- Work at your craft all the time and expand your skills.
- Stick to your vision. Don’t let anyone detour you from what you know in your heart is for you.
- You must have perseverance, patience, and as people say today, be “Unbothered” by the word, “NO.”
- Art has no rule so DO YOU. Don’t let your ideas be confined to what everyone else is doing.
You’ve said you try to create designs for three type of women: the chic rebel, the sexy socialite, and the top diva. How would you define each of these?
The woman who’s a “Chic Rebel” likes nice clean looks, with a twist of edge. She’s very into fashion and into pieces that she can style in a dozen ways. The perfect example is one of my designs called the “Chic Rebel” set. It’s a chic, clean, and simple silhouette as a wide leg pant with a basic top. However, it’s a little bold and rebellious with a sheer leg from the thigh down and a full sheer top.
The Socialite loves to look glam and be the center of attention. Sexy, sequin dresses such as my “Gi-Gi” dress are perfect for her. She lives her life to the fullest and enjoys exploring the hottest cities in fashion and entertainment.
The Diva lives in and for red-carpet perfection. Whether she’s on an actual red carpet or at a formal event, she has to be the star and in the most beautiful, couture gown. I will be releasing formal wear in December just for the divas out there.
Do you try to tell a story with your designs? What statement do you feel your designs make?
I’m a little weird as an artist. Most are inspired by physical things such as a certain flower they saw in a garden, a beautiful painting, or even architecture. Then there’s me. I design based on the emotion I want my customer to feel. I imagine that feeling and play songs that express that feeling over and over until the sketch is complete. I still make sure the pieces form a cohesive collection, but they are all meant to spark a certain vibe in the woman wearing it.
Are there any voids in the fashion industry that you believe your designs can fill?
In an oversaturated field, everything is starting to look alike. Fast fashion is really popular and the quality is decreasing. I hope to give the customer what they want while remaining as distinct with my designs as possible and not compromising quality. Also, we never hear about black brands with global, mainstream reach. Growing up, I couldn’t name a black high-fashion brand by a designer that women ran to get. We have music artists and tv stars that have great brands that we love and, of course, Jordan sneakers are always in demand, but where is our Gucci, Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Versace, Christian Louboutin? I couldn’t even name a black designer until after college because for some reason, they aren’t spoken about. They simply go unheard of and there are some amazing black designers that should be on that level, but no one really knows them where I come from. It’s a big dream, but I’d love to be one of the African-American designers that reach that level of being a go-to brand in some area of fashion. I’m only a few years into sewing, so we will see.
Why do you think it’s important for events like Magic City Fashion Week to exist?
It’s important to give the artists coming behind us opportunity. I started traveling to do shows 3-4 hours from home while still in college because I wanted to set up connections early. Unfortunately, I would drive those 3-4 hours during the school week and be in class the next morning at 8 am. It was tough financially and physically, but I had no choice because the opportunities were not here. If a young person doesn’t own a car yet, they’d certainly miss the opportunities I was able to take. With local outlets for their art and opportunities being brought to them, I certainly think it will increase the success rate of our budding artists.
What are your hopes and plans for the near future?
To create empowering brands for women with positive generational effects and success. To grow as a philanthropist/servant in my community and beyond. To become a household name as a designer and an advocate for female empowerment. The simple answer is that I just want to become a woman that my future daughters will be proud of.
You can learn more about Shannon Warren and the Shan Latris Collection at shanlatris.com.
Learn about the other emerging designers here.
Get your tickets for the Emerging Designers Competition at magiccityfashionweek.com.