What sparked your love for fashion?
I loved looking through people’s closets and going to stores when I was little, along with playing dress up and incorporating clothing into my imaginative play. I was very interested in clothing products as for as long as I can remember. The process of creating garments also started early with me trying to make things for my Barbies but no one would teach me how to sew, so I turned my energy towards sketching elaborate dresses. A little later on I saw the movie “Pretty in Pink,” and it really resonated with me and made me think that I could learn similar skills too.
When did you begin to pursue fashion and how did you do so?
I didn’t pursue sewing or fashion right out of high school. I was really talented in fine arts and too many people responded with negativity and disdain when I mentioned becoming a designer, so it wasn’t until 2009 that I enrolled in the MFA program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I started out online but quickly realized that it was just too difficult to complete a studio degree remotely, so Tom ( now my husband) and I moved to the Bay Area so I could complete my degree.
When did you create your own brand?
My brand is based off of my final design class mock collection. I developed some of the designs into samples and over time I just kept learning and improving upon them. I made my wedding dress from these designs, and that’s when I knew that I could keep going and create a full collection. I officially created the business in 2018 and worked to launch my collection in July of 2019.
Why did you choose the name Fite?
Fite is my husband’s last name which I took for myself when we married in 2016. It is figuratively a call to action. I have known about the negative environmental and ethical issues surrounding fashion for years and I wanted to combine my skills with my desire to promote sustainability and fair labor. I want to encourage people to fight fast fashion, worker exploitation and environmental destruction.
Why did you choose semi formal/formal wear for your brand?
It started purely out of the desire to use my imagination in a sculptural way that also involved the best, most beautiful fabrics. The shapes I was creating on my dress form were more dramatic than casual or business wear and I decided that I had to follow my inspiration. I then kept researching to see if other designers were making anything similar that was also ethical and sustainable and I realized that there was a hole in the market that I am now trying to fill. I want to create formal and bridal wear that could be in any editorial or on any runway but also embodies my principals.
You said the shapes of your garments are inspired from those found in architecture, nature and origami? Can you give examples of these?
When I started this project in design class I added images of Zaha Hadid’s architecture into my inspiration board along with origami bows, flowers and geometric folded paper shapes and Calla Lilies so my variations on these forms are what you’re seeing in the collection.
Who is your target marketing segment?
Well educated, independent, career-oriented, culturally-aware women who care about the way their purchases affect their health and the well being of the environment, as well as those who create the products they purchase. She may be creative or an entrepreneur herself, such as a free lance journalist, performer, photographer or gallery owner. She may also be interested in the arts and have a career that supports creatives like a publicist, manager, stylist, or fundraiser for a museum. She knows who she is and is far more interested in creating a personal style based on what suits her best than on fleeting trends.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
There are many amazingly talented designers who are also creating elegant, quality formal wear, but I am also trying to create a different kind of fashion house that from the ground up that embodies the principles of sustainable and ethical production. I embrace Ghandi’s words, “there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness” .
Is it hard to find sustainable fabrics?
It is exceedingly difficult-especially when you need fabrics that work well with the requirements of formal wear! The textile industry has made the most progress within the active and casual-wear categories. It is so much easier to find and purchase things like organic cottons in woven and knit form and many of the impressive high tech advancements are geared to that market as well as the outdoor clothing market because the fashion industry as a whole is set up in a way that makes it nearly impossible not to mass produce, and these products lend themselves well to mass production. I am absolutely committed to improving my materials as they become available so that my compromise (for now) is no petro chemical synthetics, a heavy emphasis on natural time-tested and sturdy materials like silk and wool and small-run made-to-order garments to avoid mass production entirely.
Do you cater to domestic or international consumers?
I am a brand new company so I’m doing what most new designers do, which is to focus on the domestic market and learn what I will need to do to properly connect with international clientele.
What are your dreams for your ongoing career in fashion?
There are so many! My immediate dream is to buy a building and set up Net Zero, vertically-integrated manufacturing that will allow me to be efficient, transparent and connected to my community. I will continue my commitment to living wages and offer profit sharing and I want to incorporate community outreach into my hiring process as well as a mentoring program for local at-risk youth who may want to see if fashion is a good choice for them. I like to think that someday every garment I sell will directly improve the environment-and people’s lives too.
What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs?
Trust in your gifts and ask yourself how you can use them to connect with the world. Choose a career that you can never truly master, and that has moments of fiery inspiration to keep you going and create a space for playfulness and the potential for surprising yourself, because those moments deepen your self love and melt fear. Know that you will feel terrified, hesitant, exhausted and lonely, you will fail, and cry and scream and ask yourself more times than you can count ” why did I think I could do this, I don’t know anything? ” and then get up the next day and keep going. Find at least one person you can be really honest and vulnerable around so you can just vent and be messy and laugh at yourself without giving up your boss-babe façade because the world needs you to keep going.