Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Voltage Designer Spotlight: Kathryn V

by Tara Sloane

This year’s first Voltage: Fashion Amplified spotlight is bright upon Kathryn V, Voltage first-timer and purveyor of chic, funky wares that even mother Earth would adore (her Voltage line is wrought one-hundred percent from sustainable fabrics). Fresh from the U of M’s design program, Kathryn has had quite the busy year (to say the least!). Her collection at the Minneapolis Fashion Initiative’s "Calamity!" show last spring was equal parts sophisticated and playful, polished with just-so details and textile prints, and at Envision: Artopia, she delighted us with 70s-reminiscent slouchy sweaters, paisley prints, and sailor pants. Kathryn finds inspiration in people and places, a process constantly evolving and manifesting in fresh, interesting new designs. We’re sure her Voltage line will be no exception – and we can’t wait to see what the rest of 2011 brings this keen designer.

Kathryn chatted with us about fabric hunting, her “crafty” first line, and the ever-changing design process behind her Voltage collection.

l’etoile: Your Voltage collection is made entirely from sustainable fabrics. What was it like working within the limits of environmentally friendly material? To what extent, if at all, did the material itself inspire your designs and/or help shape the concept for your line?

Kathryn: Working with sustainable materials has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences for my Voltage 2011 line. It uses fabrics that are not only organic cottons, but sustainable in a variety of ways. I am working with a variety of fabrics that use recycled fibers, low impact dyes, and come from suppliers that are using sustainable practices. One of my fabric suppliers ships their fabric in recycled boxes and uses old commercial patterns as packaging; how awesome is that?

Designing with environmentally friendly parameters has forced me to overcome many challenges, like restrictions in fabric color and type. These restrictions have changed the entire way I begin designing a line. In that past I have been able to start with an inspiration, develop a variety of silhouettes, imagine a color palette, and then chose my fabric based on those ideas. While I am often inspired by the textures and patterns that lead to the development of a line, fabric now begins and steers the entire design process. I have to choose my fabrics first since there are slim varieties of sustainable materials available.

Simply finding my materials has been half the battle. It hasn't been as easy as typing "eco fabric" into my Google bar. I spend hours sifting through fabric sites, talking to other designers and comparing fabrics. While it is a challenge now, there has been a fantastic shift in sustainable design with it receiving more and more attention. Especially in recent fashion shows, sustainable design is blossoming. The Organic line by John Patrick was one of my favorites from this past New York fashion week and I can only hope that with more designers working with these materials, the options available will continue to grow.

[photo from Envision 2010]

l’etoile: You started making clothes at the age of thirteen, and selling them at fifteen – that’s an entire young adulthood in the design world! How has starting at such a young age impacted you as you continue to grow as a designer? What principles or aesthetics have you stayed true to over the years?

Kathryn: I hesitate when saying I started selling clothing at fifteen. Not because I don’t feel like I wasn’t taking bold strides at a young age. But, because I started so young, and [being] so inexperienced I was inhibited from entering the fashion scene well built. I mean, my first “line” was a craft fest incorporating a black and white collar shirt paired with a multi colored, ribbon accented skirt (embarrassing). But, while I still need to work up the courage to pull those photos out of the shoebox, the trade-off for an invaluable experience has been worth it.

The first line I’m talking about started in high school with a friend, Andrea Bell. At that time we were mainly altering t-shirts and making simple patterns. We were self-taught but both pursued design in college, Andrea, at SAIC and myself at the University of Minnesota. I continued my design, independently moving to Design Collective and finally to Cliché, where I currently sell my garments. It was a long trek from there to here and I've learned a lot along the way. While those first garments were anything but a masterpiece I wouldn't take back that experience for anything. Trying, and failing, has taught me valuable lessons and I think I am a stronger designer because of it. Mostly, it has taught me that I will always be learning and that’s the main principle that has remained with me since the age of fifteen. There is always something to discover, which makes this industry so amazing. I never want to reach a point where I think I know everything, because there is nowhere to go from there.

[photo from Calamity by Rod Hasse]

l’etoile: From delineation and conception to construction and completed collection, do you find that your design inspiration is an external process, or something more instinctive? What is your typical method for bringing a concept from inception to a blossomed full collection?

Kathryn: Designing isn’t purely external or instinctive. It has been about finding a balance between the two because my designs will eventually be owned and used by someone else, so I need to work to meet their needs. Likewise, it can’t be entirely external or I’ll lose myself, and the things that differentiate my design from others. This balance isn’t something I’ve mastered. I struggle with it everyday. But, I try to stay true to what inspires me and not just follow the trends. I also could not succeed without the input and critique of those around me. My process is never the same but it always involves an inspiration or idea that is so exciting to me I can’t sleep. I love going through the process of ideation to mold that idea into something others want to wear.

l’etoile: What role does music play in your design modus operandi? Are there certain bands or particular songs you put on to cure a design funk?

Kathryn: I cannot work without music. It is the singular most important component to my workday aside from coffee. Done and done.

[Photo of Kathryn V's 2010 Fall Collection by Brad Ogbonna]

l’etoile: Now in its seventh year, Voltage: Fashion Amplified has only intensified in popularity and local talent. To what do you attribute Voltage's success and why do you think it continues to gain momentum?

Kathryn: Minnesota is amping up its enthusiasm for fashion design. This industry is growing in our city and it has come a long way in the past few years. But, in a location where runway shows were not always so accessible, Voltage has offered a generous mix of the well known: rock and roll, with the unfortunately less known: runway show. Voltage has pulled in huge crowds of people each year and acquainted a new population to the fashion design scene. I see Voltage continuing to thrive because of the dedication of those involved, and the always-interesting blend of music and fashion design that makes this show so unique. It is my first year showing in Voltage and I am incredibly excited to be a part of it.

Voltage: Fashion Amplified happens Friday, April 15th at First Avenue Night Club. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.voltagefashionamplified.com.

For more info on Kathryn V, visit

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