Our next NODcast episode goes to Austance Caroline. Austi is a fashion designer who recently launched her first capsule collection “In Search of Elsewhere” to immense commercial success. Austi has worked in the New York fashion industry for the past 8 years and has held a variety of positions ranging from managing, buying, and dressing for companies such as What Goes Around Comes Around, Ground Crew, Puma, and Karen Millen.
Here’s what Austi had to say about being persistent about what you’re meant to do, seeking out discomfort, and staying true to your inner kid.
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Austi: Oh my gosh! You went there. The first… Right at the door. Love it.
So basically, if you read the story, it was about a dream that I had, I feel asleep on the subway, I don’t know where I was going. I fell asleep on the subway, and the dream that I had actually became the fabrication inspiration of the collection. And so the dream that I had, I described.
And basically when I woke up, the last thing I remember was the woman, the queen of the land, running towards the sea. And I wanted to name that. I thought that was really important. Because I didn’t want to say she’s just running towards “something.” I think there is so much beauty in: it’s not here nor there, it’s elsewhere.
It’s a world that’s she’s creating, a new beginning, and this is pretty much a new beginning for me, and anybody that knows me knows that most of the time I’m in my own world, and I named it ‘Elsewhere.’
Because it’s not here or there.
Jenna: Going back to the beginning, where ‘Elsewhere’ initially started, what are some of your first fashion memories, or memories of fabrics that come to mind when you think about the beginning of it all. Before you entered into the fashion industry. Before you got your training?
Austi: My first memories as a kid actually revolve around fashion.
I think it was something that has been so innate since the beginning.
I remember … I think I was six and I think my dad knew somehow that … I don’t know if I was playing with dresses in my mom’s closet and she had a lot of these silk gowns. He gifted me like this Fisher Price sewing machine that was plastic, and it had a bobbin and everything but instead of having a sharp needle, it had a blunt, plastic needle, and you had to thread the bobbin with yarn.
It came with a collection of coloring book pictures. That’s how I actually learned how to color between the lines, I actually had to sew along the lines of the photos that were given with the Fisher Price.
Once I became really good with that, I got my own coloring books and tore pages out, and would sew along the line.
Actually it was so cool, because the yarn would actually go however fast you would go and you would actually have these… they wouldn’t be drawings they would be like sewings, from this little Fisher Price kit.
Then from there my dad would give me all these binders, because he was very cerebral and he had all these binders that he didn’t want to throw away. So he gave them to me, and basically I would have a collection.
I started drawing when I was eight I guess, like seriously. My first collection was a ‘Fourth of July collection’ and everything was red, white and blue. I had dresses and shirts and they were all interchangeable and mix and match, it was so sick.
Then I had the Christmas collections, everything was red and green, and so on and so forth. Those are my really first memories of being involved in fashion and loving it… even though it was just paper, I had ideas.
Then, from there when I actually created something 2D to 3D was when I got these huge pieces of paper and created my own human size paper dolls. So I became my own paper doll, and I would make dresses out of paper.
From there, it was done. I was like, “I need to do this forever.” And it was just paper. So, that was the beginning.
Jenna: How did it evolve from there?
Austi: My first sewing lesson was at Joann Fabrics, if you grew up in midwest and the south you know what it is, right? [Laughs]
I was like “dad, I really need to make this happen, I can’t just sketch, I really want to learn how to turn something that’s just fabric on… wrapped around a piece of cardboard, essentially, I want to turn that into a garment. I want to wear what I make.”
I took this class at Joann Fabrics and it was to make boxers. I was like, “if I’m going to make some fucking boxers, I’m going to make them the best fucking boxers ever.”
So I took this class… it was an elastic band boxer. I knew that I had something, because I picked this crazy… it was a Hawaiian, you know, motif, like palm trees and little tiki ladies… And the crouch of the boxers, I didn’t want the design to stop and start again, I wanted it to be cohesive, does that make sense?
So there’s this seam in the middle and I had to buy more fabric… I said “I need to make sure this lines up.” And when it lined up, it made me feel so good. That was the only class I ever took. And then I bought a pattern for skirts and then everyday from freshman year of high school to junior year, every outfit, I made, I would wear the next day.
It became a point of okay, “every day this week, I want to wear something new.” I would save up my little cash from the little taco joint I worked at and I would buy fabric and make clothes every day after school.
Jenna: What was your first actual job in the fashion industry?
Austi: My first actual job… I was an unpaid intern at frenchKISS Atlanta. And it was the sickest boutique in Atlanta at the time. I was in my second year of… Let’s see how old was I? …I was probably 19, turning 20.
It was amazing because I would go, put on my best outfit, I was in school, and I had a job. But I was in school for biology and art. I was like “I need this outlet because fashion is…”
You can’t deny who you are. When you are meant to do something, you can’t deny it.
I was like “well, I’m in school and I’m doing something that’s little more objective, I need to have the creative balance.”
So I go to frenchKISS and I’m like, “I don’t even need you guys to pay me… I know things because it comes naturally to me, but I want to learn… You guys have a brick and mortar store, I want to learn the business, I want to learn the merchants, I want to learn everything, and you don’t have to pay me. I’m free, you can’t turn me down, because I’m going to be free help.”
They’re so hot, they’re all fashionable, and they are like “give us a second” and they go in the back and they go in the back and they talk, and they are like, “Sorry we are not looking for anyone.”
I don’t take no for an answer. I’m sorry, if I want it, Ima get it.
I go back the next day and I was like “I know my outfit was hot, I know I’m speaking professionally, my resume was up to par, its professionally done. I was like, I’m going again, and I’m not going to take a no for an answer.”
So I go back and I’m like, “Listen, I don’t understand why you would turn down the help, take me under you wing, I will do whatever you want, I’ll get coffee, I’ll get… I don’t care.” And they all looked at each other and they smiled, and then they we like, “can you work right now?” I was like, “Damn right.”
From then on, it was on. It’s my first…
One of my favorite memories.
Jenna: That was in Atlanta?
Austi: That was in at Atlanta.
Jenna: Then you find yourself in New York?
Austi: Yes. Finally, yeah.
Jenna: What was the trajectory there, how did you from frenchKISS in Atlanta to New York City which is arguably the fashion capital of the universe?
Austi: Oh, obviously. I mean, no doubt.
It’s so crazy the chain of events that happened, but basically I worked my way up there, from being an unpaid intern to becoming one of the assistant buyers and traveling with them all over and helping them open up their second store which was Shoe Bar.
It was an awesome juxtaposition, because you had clothing on one side, and the shoes on one side next to whiskey. It was just so amazing.
Then the owners, they decided to go their separate ways, and so I was like “I know how to buy, I know the wholesale portion of this business, I know how to merchandise, so I want learn the corporate side.”
I took that opportunity. I started work at Karen Millen England in Atlanta. Amazing British company, amazing silhouettes, patterns to die for. It doesn’t matter what size you wear, everything would look good on you. There’s something for every woman there. I felt I could relate to that, and I could…
I didn’t want to just go into corporate for it, I had to believe in it, and I believe in that brand.
Long story short, I worked there probably for two and a half years and I told them, I was like “Listen, I need to move to New York, you know I’ve hit my ceiling here, and I feel I could really help the company in New York, if anything opens up let me know.” And two weeks later they were like “how serious were you about that?” I was like “As serious as a heart attack.”
The president comes down, and my now husband, I was like, “Babe, they are offering me a position in New York” and he was like, “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t let you follow your dreams? He’s like I’m right behind you,” and I was like “Wow, it’s happening!” So I had to take it. It was literally everything.
Like I said, I’m a believer in… If you really want something I think the universe works in mysterious ways and helps you get to where you need to be, and that’s from frenchKISS. to Karen Millen, to New York.
Then I worked at Karen Millen in New York, and that’s how I got to New York.
Jenna: How would you describe your designs both this recent capsule collection, ‘In Search of Elsewhere,’ and things that you made before that. How have they changed over the years in different parts of your life? Are there certain fabrics that you gravitate towards?
Austi: It’s hard because all of my designs come from stories that haven’t been told before.
The stories that haven’t been told before are like my dreams. It’s silly, I don’t want you to… I can’t say that “ooh you know, I just base everything off dreams,” but I also like to daydream a lot, and I like to make up stories in my elsewhere, my little world that I live in. I feel like that’s what my fabrications are based off of.
This specific collection is kind of like a reflection of my inner dialogue. This is my first time putting out things, and putting out creativity in my entire life for everyone to see as everything has been so private.
You’ll notice that there is a lot of boning in the designs of this collection, because I wanted to create an exoskeleton for the female that would wear my clothing. It’s pretty much like an exoskeleton. It’s a protective layer, because the fashion industry isn’t pretty.
I’ve been in it for a really long time and you have to be strong. You have to have a tough skin, and you have to have an exoskeleton if you want to progress in the industry.
With this collection I was like “you know what, I’m going to put it out there, but it’s going to be strong.” That was why there’s boning in it and the fabrication like I said was from… if you read the story, it was from the curtains that were in the castle, I’m really inspired by the Rococco period and the Spanish renaissance, and beautiful tapestry fabrics. I’m always attracted to that. There’s something really… gravitating and I gravitate to it all the time. I guess that would describe it as… I don’t know. I honestly… That is something I can’t really say.
For me to look at it… it’s just a part of me, that’s all I can say.
I’m not trying to make the next big suit, I’m not trying to be the next big designer, I’m just trying to be the next me.
Jenna: Your screen name, well I guess your e-mail handle is, ‘whothefukisaustance?’
Austi: It was, I just changed it.
Jenna: I have a question related to that.
Austi: Yeah, go for it.
Jenna: Who the fuck is Austance?
Oh my goodness.
I’m just somebody, I don’t judge, I find beauty in everything. I always say, I always try to find beauty in the mundane, because, especially in New York city you’re bombarded by so many things and I feel like it’s sensory overload a lot of times.
That’s definitely a part of who I am. I’m crazy as fuck. I don’t like to sleep too much, I love people so much. I love to hear people’s stories, I love to see the beauty in everyone, and I love creativity.
If I couldn’t be creative that would be my own jail cell.
I have to be either drawing, or sketching, or making objects that don’t make sense.
Superglue’s my best friend, and I will superglue the hell out of something, you know what I mean?
I like to think of myself as somebody that is really positive, and I try to reflect that and observe that from other people too.
Jenna: Who are some of your favorite designers and why are they some of your favorites?
Austi: I have so many and I don’t want to say who my favorites are, because I would be leaving out so many and that would be unfair. It would be so unfair, because it just wouldn’t make sense. It would hurt me. It would hurt me that I would listen back to this and be like, “Damn I forgot blah, blah, blah” or “it was on the spot.”
My favorite designers are people that live on the edge, they put creativity before business, and I know that everybody is like, “Hey you know, if you want to be a successful person in a creative industry you got to be business minded.”
But I love it when people throw caution to the wind, and when you see their designs walk down the runway, you’re like “they were on another fucking planet, they were inspired by something that no other designers were, and they weren’t afraid to put their stuff out there,” because that’s what inspires me.
I’m inspired by the designers that don’t give a fuck and actually don’t sensor their creativity.
I think when you start to sensor your creativity, there’s something lost.
And you can see that in some runway collections unfortunately. Did somebody critique it and they changed the whole direction?
Anybody that watches the runway shows, you guys know who favorite designers are, based off that.
Jenna: I know you’re not super big on social media but, there was a post that you made in 2011…
Austi: Oh my gosh, I don’t even remember yesterday. [laughs]
Jenna: Where you said, “Fashion design is such a love/hate relationship. I’ve been working on a concept for over 32 hours, and I think me and this ten yards of fabric just had our first argument.
Austi: [Laughs] Oh my gosh, Was that in… How many years ago Jenna? Really? That was…
Austi: Whoa, four years ago, wow.
Jenna: What’s the process of designing something start to finish? For people that aren’t in fashion, they might not have a concept of pattern makers or how that works.
So, what is your process, from start to finish? Take it from inspiration, from that dream, to final completion.
Austi: So… That’s a loaded question. I’ll try and be as cohesive as possible.
If it’s a dream that I’m inspired by, I just gotta meditate on it. I will just close my eyes, or I will literally go on my floor, the floor is the most comfortable place sometimes, I will just lay down, I’ll close my eyes and I will try to be calm and with that dream.
What were the smells like, what were the people look like, what was the energy like, and what were the sounds?
Because it’s not just the clothing, because clothing is… you live your life in it.
Personally I have to imagine, “okay if somebody is wearing this dress, how are they going to sit?” Because it does things, it shifts, it makes the woman’s body look differently.
Is it going to make her sit, is she going to sit up straight or is she going to slouch? It’s all of those things.
After I figure out what the land looks like … Well, this is from this collection, or I just revel in it, and it could be a few hours.
I like to visualize. I’m visual person. And then from there I look at different silhouettes.
This one I was like okay, I want to create exoskeleton for the woman’s body, so what is an exoskeleton? I looked at all kinds of insects, I looked at all kinds of dinosaurs, I think dinosaurs are really cool, [Laughs], and the shapes that mother nature actually made.
I try to emulate that, because I didn’t want it to be like futuristic, I wanted it to still be organic, so you could see exoskeletons that you’d see on insects, because I do love biology I’m kind of a nerd, so I wanted to reflect that.
Then from there, I looked at silhouettes and how I could manipulate them with this exoskeleton that I wanted to create.
Then I randomly had that dream, on the train about the curtains and so I was like wow, the curtains, the “62 days of the unseen,” that was a big deal, and so I was like wow, I’m back to tapestry fabrics again. I love them. I was like “Eureka! It’s going to be tapestry fabric.”
I literally spent four hours in Mood and they were so nice. I sat on the stairs and I was pacing back and forth and I was like, “This isn’t right, this isn’t right.”
I literally had to take the time. I left and came back over the course of a week to determine. I only have a few fabrics that use this collection but, I really had to meditate on it.
Going back to what you said, for me the process is actually basking in the beauty of whatever the inspiration is and then taking in the sights and sounds and smells of whoever that woman is that I’m creating this collection for. Then figuring out how the fabrication is going to reflect what that place was and go from there.
I hope that makes sense. I don’t know if it’s meant to but that’s how I do it.
Jenna: Definitely. So you pick the fabrics then from there you let them out and you say I want this to be a jacket, or I want this to be a skirt?
Austi: Yeah. I want it to be a jacket, I want I to be a skirt. Then a lot of times I make a mock up and then I have this amazing pattern maker in the Garment District, Valentina.
She’s fabulous and I send to her because a lot of times my ideas are so over the top and she is like, “Oh, this is crazy,” and I’m like, “No, we have to make this work.” How can we shift this pattern to make it work? Every time she helps me make it work, because a lot of the things that are in my mind are so intricate in the pattern making process that … I mean we had to start and fit … One of the jackets we re-did like three or four times to make sure that it was sitting right and then it was right.
The fun part is the inspiration, and then the sketching and creating the play by play with the fabrics a little type with the skirt and all of that and then the hard part is actually creating it in 3D and making sure that not only is it going be something beautiful, but that it makes sense. There’s rulers and there’s … It’s very intricate, there’s a lot of math involved and if something is going to be asymmetrical on purpose, it still has to make sense and it still has to be aesthetically pleasing, so that was really important to me too.
Jenna: When we had ramen noodles the other day and you told me that it’s important for some designers to have a reference collection, a series of garment or fabrics that they can go to and reference as they’re designing something, do you have one?
Austi: No. a lot of designers do that, they have a physical archive of pieces. I don’t want to physically archive from inspiration. I’m like, Hey, I’m inspired by military jackets, I want to physically archive military jackets.”
Me personally I don’t do that, I respect that process and I understand it, but for me that’s not authentic, that’s just not how I work.
For me I want to create my own physical archive, so when I go back 20 years from now, I’m inspired by own collections and create new collections based of that.
Jenna: To be a designer like you, you have grown a lot over the years and you’ve had a lot of experience and all that experience and all that time and energy accumulated and you made this collection.
You also had some mentors along the way that helped you become more you throughout the process. From receiving your first sewing machine, to those girls that gave you a chance in your first internship, what do you think that those people back then would think of what you are doing now?
Austi: Its so funny that you bring that up because before I launched it, a week before I did, I reached out to each and every one of them. I shot them a text message and I was like I just need you to know…
Basically I was sitting down and I was like how did I get here, how did get here, how did I get to this place, how did I become okay with my weird designs and the way that I think?
Because you have to overcome that, you have to be confident when you release your creativity.
And I thought of all those people. From my first pattern marker in Atlanta to when I made my very, very first jacket.
I contacted my mentors and I texted them and I said, “Hey, I just need you to know that you definitely… You were the beginning, you took a chance on me, and you believed in me somehow and you molded me to the person that I am and to think the way I think and to respect fashion and art the way I do, and I’m so overwhelmed with so much gratitude.
I’m just so happy. I’m just so happy that they believed in me and they took a chance, and even the people from Karen Millen taking a chance in me, getting me up here.
People have to believe you along the way, and I’m just really thankful for that.
I don’t know if I answered your question but yeah, I’m just full of … they were all power players and helped me get to where I am for sure.
Jenna: And your dad with the binders?
Austi: My dad, amazing. Also in high school, he knew that I loved fashion so much and I always got big grades so he didn’t care about that. He was like “Listen, finish this dress, I will do your homework for you, because I know you want to wear it tomorrow. And I would just kill it, every single day. I would just … Even if it was hand embroidering things, he would just do it. He would say “I got you don’t even worry about it, I know you know this stuff.”
I’ve always, always had support of people around me that were… that wanted me to really grow my creativity and foster good habits, it was always cool.
Jenna: Do you think that’s essential for someone that’s a creative that wants to make a living by their art?
Austi: Yeah, of course you have … I mean 100%. One thing that I really had to overcome was like you can’t do it by yourself, you can’t.
You need to have people that believe in you, you need to have … Like for me I need a pattern maker. I need the people who would cut my fabric for me.
I need somebody that… There’s so many places in the garment district that I had to say, “Hey, I need you to cut these zippers for me”, there were so many people involved in the process and you need that support, because if you try to do it yourself I just think you will sink. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have support and especially Clifton, he’s always believed, he was like, “When you are ready you are going to do it and it’s going to be great, but you have to do it when you are ready.” It’s just great, yeah.
Jenna: What are some other things that you’ve learned?
Austi: Oh my Gosh, such an open question! Definitely…
Some things turn out better when you let them happen organically.
One of the … I think in life and in creativity as well, it’s like you go in, I went in thinking one thing from wearing the jackets, I really wanted it a certain way, I wanted the buttons a certain way, I wanted my button holds a certain way. Then I didn’t like the way it came out and that was okay.
And so I meditated on it and I said what is the thing that I need to do, what is going to make this better? I just sort of, I was like okay, I will rest on it, I will come back to it and I let it happen organically and it came out better than I had originally planned. I think letting things happen, not over thinking it. I think that’s why people have and I’ve had creative blocks because you overthink it. You mean you don’t allow yourself to be open to you know being inspired by other things and worrying about what other people think. For me I think it’s being open and trusting yourself for sure.
Jenna: After this first collection have you been thinking about the second or the third or the fourth collections or you just basking in the fact that you got it done?
Austi: Well yeah, I have collection 1.5 done because it’s not a full one. This one was just six pieces, just a little capsule collections, this was my baby. I do have 1.5, which is three pieces and I will launch that whenever I am done with this one and letting this one resonate and enjoying it and actually yeah, just enjoying it.
It’s my first time releasing it and that’s another thing I don’t want to get so caught up in.
Okay, you got to have one collection and then launch another one and another one and another one. I don’t want to get lost in that matrix.
I definitely want to let this rest, let it have its moment, and then 1.5 comes out next year, if it comes out in two years, whenever it just needs to happen when it’s supposed to happen, but I definitely have ideas and I have had dreams and I have sketches from things that I am inspired by, because I definitely don’t want to forget but, timing I don’t really want to follow the timeline, I want it to happen and birth these collections when they are ready.
Jenna: You wear a lot of hats and a lot of high heels. Those high heels are really high heels.
Austi: [Laughs] Of course.
Jenna: I think it’s interesting when you see when you see the choices that designers make for themselves. Can you describe your personal style a little bit?
Austi: It is… I don’t know there’s a lot of Victorian Goth, ‘90s Grunge in there. I’m a vintage whore, I collect… I call it my… What did I call it the other day, it’s my cult leader jackets. You know how cult leaders always have these crazy duster jackets that are long and to the floor. I have some realistic ones of those. The ones I made are from a ‘30s carpet, which is really sick. They are not really like coat leader jackets but …
My style I don’t take more than three to five minutes to pick out an outfit. I base it on a feeling. It’s like okay, do I feel like, do I give a fuck today? No. I’m putting on some buggy pants, I still need to put on a six inch heel though and then let’s do a baggy sweatshirt and we’ll go for like boy chic, and then I might put on a bandana and a hat or a bandana and a top hat or put a top hat over a hoodie, so I feel like a bad ass, I don’t give a fuck, that’s still put together.
It’s all based on a feeling. If I feel like a girl I’ll wear a flouncy skirt and a crop top and six inch heels. Then maybe I might wear my afro. It just depends. It depends on how I feel.
Jenna: Those heels.
Austi: Obsessed. I’ve been wearing high heels every day since I was … I don’t know if I was 19, 19 or 18, I can’t remember and I, I really … It was like a really tough time for me and my lifestyle I was never get too comfortable because you are going to have to adapt and I had to adapt through so many things from age 16 to 21, there was a lot of adapting.
I was like you know what, fuck this, if I’m going to be going through some shit, I’m going to look good doing it. I bought my first pair of really high heels and my feet hurt but I loved the fact that they hurt because I was like I earned it, I looked good, I earned the pain, fuck it. I was you know, sock my feet at home, whatever and that became my thing and then after a few years my feet stop hurting and I don’t if that a bad thing, and now my feet hurt when I wear flats, so…
I just have to wear six inch platforms every day. I guess that’s just the way it is.
And I think the beauty of it was something that was painful actually became something that didn’t hurt anymore. I don’t know, I think there was something beautiful in that and that’s life too.
You might go through something really fucking painful but there is always beauty, there is always something that you are supposed to learn, and that you can evolve from.
It’s like yeah she wears six inch heels every day but it’s more like I conquered a lot of shit during the time that allowed me to wear these everyday without them to hurt my feet, so yeah.
Jenna: Besides the heels, are there any other, either fashion pieces or life lessons that you gathered from that time?
Austi: I mean I think I learnt a lot about you know…
Clothing for me is something that is your non verbal way of communicating with the world.
When I was going through that tough time, I was you know what, if I am going through this tough time, I’m going to take it day by day, I’m going to look my best and feel good and I think also like psychologically, the way you dress on the outside can sometimes help you feel better on the inside.
Based on color or feel, if you wear something cozy…
I went through a phase of wearing sweatpants and heels because I was a bio-major and I really got no sleep but I still really wanted to feel confident, so I would wear sweatpants, a t-shirt and heels and so for me that was hey, you are comfortable but never get too comfortable, that’s why I had the heels on.
I think I started to dress for how I felt, how I wanted to feel on the inside, on the outside until they matched. Then I got through it.
Fashion is… It’s not just the superficial industry, multi-billion dollar industry. I think a lot of times; it can make you feel really good on the inside too.
When you look in the mirror, you can see a reflection, you can look in your eyes and could be like, I didn’t feel that great when I woke up this morning but this fucking bad ass jacket, it’s making me have to sit up straight and that creates better flow of blood flow in your legs and your toes, in your extremities and I don’t know. It’s psychological for me too.
I think through that tough time I learnt that sometimes you’ve got fake it until you feel it.
Jenna: How does a biology major find herself as a fashion person? Why did you study biology and you knew that you loved fashion even from high school and you said art, that biology seems like, it’s like an other wildcard that was thrown in there.
Austi: It was actually a huge part of my life growing up. My dad was a scientist, he’s fucking genius and I was doing science experiments when I wasn’t at home. I was doing science fairs. I loved science so much, I get it, I love plants, I love, I just always loved it. I think him being a scientist and teaching me things at a really young age.
He used to have all this distillers all over the house and we would distill water and we would … I would be like, oh my God we would do all this water tests, I don’t know, I was 12 in sixth grade.
It was a huge part of my life and then he actually had kidney disease, so he was on dialysis and he taught me, he really trusted me and this was .. He got ill when I as seven. He trusted me ever since and he’s was like “listen, you are going to help me get through this” and he actually taught me how to use a dialysis machine.
Initially I was going to be a bio major to become a nephrologist, which is like a kidney specialist. I understood it, I would measure his water intake, help him with all that stuff, give him his shots if he needed it, help with all his vitamins.
When I look back on it I’m just now realizing he gave me a lot of responsibility as a young kid and I learned so much.
I think I wanted to kind of pay back and help people because I really love to help people. I love the elderly; when people feel ill, I try to make them feel good, I love to make people feel better, make them feel good.
Initially that’s what I wanted to do but…
Okay, I was going to go to FIT as my senior year. I’m not going to name the person but somebody really close to me, I told him, I was like “hey, I think I want to go to FIT,” I was about to put on my applications into all these colleges and I was like “you know what I really want to follow fashion, I really, really want to follow fashion.”
I don’t want to put a damper on it because it’s actually a beautiful thing but my dad actually passed away the day before my 17th birthday.
He’s in a better place, he is not in pain anymore and so when he passed away… he always told me, he was like “don’t be like me, you don’t need to be a scientist, you need to be who you need to be and you need to be a fashion designer, I can see it.” He said “I can see it for you, your name is going to be in lights” and then I was like “whatever dad, I want to be a scientist! I want to help people like you.”
And he said “No. Don’t be like me. Be yourself.”
That was another reason why I love to be myself, I have imaginary friends my whole, well not my whole life, but for a long period of time.
When he passed I was okay, he told me to be myself, I need to be a fashion designer.
Somebody really close to me I told them and I was hey, I think I’m going to apply to FIT, I need to get to New York, fuck Kansas. These people don’t get me, I need to get somewhere where there is… I need to be fucking challenged.
And this person said laugh this crazy cackle and said “are you kidding me, fashion?! Are you kidding, that’s not a lucrative job, you are never going to be a designer and you are not going to make it, are you kidding?”
Being young and naïve and in such a vulnerable state of mind, I was like “oh, I was just kidding. I’m going to apply to Stanford, I’m going to apply to these places”
And they were like “okay, that makes sense, don’t do FIT.”
Coming full circle, I don’t know how I got on that tangent but coming full circle, it took a lot of time going, I think what you are talking about is how did bio happen.
It was my dad and that was our bond but fashion was also our bond because he supported it and then when I was discouraged to follow my heart, that’s when I went to bio, but then when I was sketching in my chemistry classes and it was my second year of college.
I was like, if I’m going to live this life and I want to be happy and if I had to pick my future, I need to design.
I need to make these designs come to life, so here we are.
Jenna: Fashion is your way of helping people?
Austi: Yes, of course. I mean my designs aren’t for everyone. I mean I could design for everyone but that would be the… The purpose of me even doing this, there’s already people that design beautiful things for the masses and most people, I can’t be one of those people, I wouldn’t be, I don’t think I would be living my purpose.
Whoever wears my pieces, that’s a bad bitch, that’s a different kind of girl, it’s a niche type of girl. She doesn’t care and hopefully she feels good wearing it, when she wears my pieces, because there are different, and they feel good.
I don’t know, I like them.
Jenna: Fashion can be empowering?
Austi: Of course, it’s so empowering. Oh my gosh, it’s so empowering, how many times have you… You are walking on the streets especially in New York and you see this, this power bitch and her trench coat, glasses, hair slicked back. Some sick ass heels, a nice bag and some leather gloves and you are oh she’s yeah, she’s doing something, she’s living her… and you feel inspired and you might go out and buy some other gloves, there you know go buy a trench or of course.
It’s our way of communicate, like I said, it’s a non-verbal communication system.
You can be empowered and if somebody gives you a comment, you will be oh my God, that can turn your day around. It’s like oh my God when you get a blow out, your hair is like oh my God I love it. You just feel good, you walk different, you talk different, you are more yourself, so of course fashion is very empowering for sure.
Jenna: Let’s say there is a girl in Kansas that really wants to do fashion and you had an opportunity to tell her something, that she should know before she starts on this journey that you’ve already started on, what would it be?
Austi: Man, don’t lose that little girl. Don’t lose your inner child for sure like don’t…
You know it’s good to bounce ideas off people, but sometimes you just have to listen to yourself.
I think the difference between children and adults, is children have no filter, they “are like oh my God!”
There is this little girl that I see all the time and she’s like “oh my God, what’s that hat, why are your lips purple?” I’m like “Okay, I can’t tell you” but the difference is there is no filter, they have cake all over the face, they don’t care and if I can tell that little girl in Kansas don’t be afraid to, just be yourself and don’t listen to everybody because not everybody knows your path.
Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to get cake on your face.
I mean I still buy coloring books, I have crayons at home. Everything can be inspiring and don’t over think, don’t over think it, trust your gut and just go for it because you never know who you are going to inspire, you never know.
Kansas is actually a beautiful place, it really is musical place and I had a whimsical childhood and is so beautiful and take in but also never lose… There is no place like home. We grew up in Kansas, and there is no place like home.
Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t be afraid to go away either, to evolve.
Jenna: All right, fashion memories. Whether it be backstage at a fashion show to wrestling with that fabric in your studio, to begging the people at Mood to cut the fabric a certain way, what are some… When I say best fashion memories, what are the things that come to mind and they can be fabrics, it can be people, it can be people, it can be places.
Austi: You know one thing that I really miss. Okay style the … Style Network, in the ‘90s was the fucking bomb.
There was no such thing as a reality TV yet. Real World, I think was going on but nobody really jumping on the band wagon just yet.
My God the Style Network they would play 24 hours of runway shows.
When I tell you I learnt how to walk by watching Giselle Bundchen walk down the runways.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw on Alexander McQueen runway. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Bottega Venetta literally that was … and I have my 13 inch television in my room and my family knew not to bug me because I would be practicing my runway walk and I would be watching these shows, and literally for 24 hours, literally, it was so insane.
And there would be these awesome interviews and backstage and you just felt you were there and it felt organic and it didn’t feel it was this thing that was so unattainable and that fashion was something was like this mysterious animal and only certain people get in, it didn’t feel like that.
It felt like listen these are the shows, they had amazing hosts and that was so inspiring to me. I would be cutting my fabric; I’ll be making jewelry while watching the Style Network that was one of my favorite memories.
On my 13 inch TV with my bright pink walls, that was awesome.
Then obviously taking magazines and cutting out my favorite pieces and making collages, I was such a collage whore as a kid. Like a glue stick, you couldn’t take me away from it, collages and actually I think it was in 2008 I started working backstage at the shows while I was still living in Atlanta. I was back and forth every season and my first show was Shadow Ralph Rucci and was the most beautiful show I have ever worked in. It was so beautiful. I actually dressed… I am a professional dresser; I would help dress the girls backstage and just seeing that he would look at his own designs and fall in love all over again. Just still before the girls would go out into the runway would just still tweak it, and a lot designers are really like that.
Working backstage and seeing that energy, it’s like there is nothing like it and it’s only 15 minutes, and it’s the most nerve racking beautiful scary experience ever. I’m not even the designer because I’m oh my gosh, I’m going to make sure I put the right ring on the right hand I got to make sure that this course it doesn’t burst while she’s walking down the runway and I got to tell the stylist that her shoe broke before. There are so many things that happen before and it’s beautiful insanity basically. Working backstage fashion, there’s nothing like that for sure.
I think that’s I mean, yeah those are my memories, making boxers for my dad from when I got the pattern, big boxers for myself…
There was this pair of pants that I wanted to make and they were pink denim and I couldn’t get the cards right. Anyone that sews knows that the crutch can sometimes, it’s a struggle and I would cut and I would take… and they started out being my size but I flicked them up so many times that I ended up just making a purse out of the denim just because it just did not work.
I was really frustrated and it took a few days but it was still beautiful, I still made something out of it. I had to give up though, I was too young and inexperienced but yeah, that was kind of funny. Yeah… I think that’s it those are my favorite memories.
Jenna: What do you want to be able to say about yourself in 10 years?
Austi: That’s tough.
I honestly want to be able to look back and say “I’m so glad you didn’t give a fuck, you threw caution to the wind and you did what the fuck you wanted to do.”
That’s really what… and you just stayed true, you stayed organic to your creative self. That’s what I really want to say, I don’t want to look back and be oh my God, why did I… oh my gosh, those designs don’t look like me. That would be so scary.
If I were to look back on my designs and feel I changed them because of what somebody said or I don’t want to look back and be oh, I remember that skirt, I remember that dream or I remember, you know. I remember that feeling.
I want to look back and be like you stayed true to yourself, good job.
Yeah that’s really important to me.
Jenna: I think I’m good, are you good?
Austi: I’m good. You asked a lot of questions girl, damn.
Thanks for listening to Notes on Doing episode 007 with Austance Caroline.
Check out her work at austancecaroline.com and keep an eye out for her collection 1.5 launching next year.
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Until next time! In the meantime, always do.