I had the opportunity to speak with Sarah LaLonde, a local fashion designer, about her journey making a living in the fashion industry. A selection of LaLonde’s designs can be found in the Pattern Store.
What was your inspiration to begin designing clothes?
Sarah LaLonde: I began to love design as a little girl. My favorite parts of my Barbie coloring books were always the pages with the blank dress outlines that I got to fill in with bows and ruffles and whatever else my little heart desired. I also loved decorating for Christmas because I got to use the garland to wrap myself in and come up with outfits in front of my mom’s full length mirror. I never would have known that the imagination involved in doing that is exactly the same you use when draping on a dress form. It’s trial and error-seeing what you like and what you don’t. By middle school, I started zoning out in math class by sketching clothes. I’m not the most artistic designer I’ve met, but I found out that I was good enough at art to get my idea across on paper and it fulfilled some deep creativity in me. I became consumed with wanting to learn how to draw and make beautiful clothes like I saw in fashion magazines.
How long have you been designing?
SL: If I count from sketching in middle school, it’s been about 18 years. I went to college in Long Beach, California to study fashion design and graduated 9 years ago. I wish I could say I’ve been designing the whole time, but my story is a meandering one. I planned to live and design in LA and then move to New York, but life had other plans for me. I moved back to Indiana after graduating because my mom found out she had stage 4 breast cancer and her time was going to be short. I went to work for my dad and ended up starting a family in the time I was back, so for 7 of those years, I was raising my twin daughters and working at my family’s trash truck dealership. I’ve just been laying down roots in fashion in Indiana for the last year and a half. I have to plug Pattern here, because the organization is such a big part of what inspired me to start designing again. When I moved back from California in 2006, there were no jobs in fashion. I couldn’t find any other local designers. There was no store that was geared toward promoting local designers. Then a couple years ago, I found Pattern and went to a meeting and was really stoked that so many intelligent, creative, and hard-working people were making moves to build a legitimate fashion industry-right here in the Hoosier State! I started my blog, Sew LaLove, in 2013 and my clothing brand LaLove was born out of that.
How would you describe the style of the garments you produce?
SL: I love re-interpreting high fashion artistry to make clothes that can be worn easily and make women feel beautiful. I don’t think average women can feel very confident in what they’re wearing if it is completely over the top, so I do my best to take concepts I fall in love with from the haute couture runway and put those edgy details into wearable designs. My design aesthetic tends to play with a mix of bold and feminine. I love the juxtaposition of elements- my pieces will often have a very girly silhouette in a really strong print, or have very strong lines, but made out of a very delicate fabric. In the last couple years I’ve been making everything from hand-stitch sports bras to outfits for babies’ first birthday to flower girl gowns, but as I move forward, I’ll be concentrating more on women’s separates and dresses. The iconic look and silhouette that drives my design style is the secretary blouse with a wide-leg trouser. If you look hard enough at most of my designs, you can see that play between masculine and feminine.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs? Can you describe your creative process?
SL: Beauty is my inspiration. I find beauty in all kinds of things, but I really seek out fashion inspiration to keep my mind stimulated. I look at the slideshows from runway shows on Style.com and follow some really cool fashionistas on Pinterest. If I want to make a particular item, I’ll do google image searches for that type of item and see which fabrics, silhouettes and details I like. The more images you put into your mind, the more your imagination is able to work up on its own. Sometimes I sit down with the intention to come up with designs and manually mix and match elements on paper until I find something I want to make. Sometimes the designs just pop up from my imagination. Those are the hardest ones to work on for me because you have an image in your mind, but no details. You have to fill in the blanks while still keeping the concept clear. It’s like waking up from a dream and trying to draw the building you were inside in the dream. It’s tough to do because our imagination comes up with beautiful things, but we can’t quite grasp the details.
Do you have any long-term goals for your design business?
SL: My basic desire is to make a living off of design so that I can provide for my family by doing what I love. I can’t wait to build LaLove to a point that I’ve generated enough business to hire employees. I know so many other women who are creative and artistic and want to express that side of themselves while also raising families. I would love to be able to provide a work opportunity to people like myself who just want to use their God-given talents to earn a living. It’s going to take a while to grow LaLove to that point, but I know what I’m doing is solid. I’ve been taking time to hone my sewing skills so I can produce garments with quality I can be proud of. Now that I’m a better seamstress I can begin to work more on marketing. I refuse to take shortcuts or sacrifice time with my children to raise this business, and as a Christian, I have faith that God will honor that. LaLove clothing really is His line, not mine. The reason I sacrificed money and comfort to risk so much for this was because I felt Him calling me back to what He designed me to do. I know that may sound crazy to people who aren’t Christians, but this summer I was blessed to design and make a princess dress for a little girl in a terrible circumstance. I haven’t blogged about that story, because I don’t want to share the details of that family’s pain with the world, but it was probably the most meaningful project I’ll ever work on in my life. Without LaLove, I would never have had that opportunity. I would never even have imagined that making clothes for someone can change lives for the better. My overall long term goal is to keep making an impact on people with LaLove. The rest is logistics.
What’s your favorite thing about being a clothing designer?
SL: This question makes me smile! Man, I just love making clothing! Some people think clothes are shallow, but to me clothes are art. I get to bring these ideas that start out in the far recesses of my mind to fruition and the process itself is beautiful. I love making something where nothing existed before. To build up something amazing from scratch is the most fulfilling work I can think of doing. Designing just makes me happy.
Floral skirt and crop top pictured are LaLonde’s designs and can be found at Pattern Store.