The American fashion industry's largest party and networking event, New York Fashion Week, came to a close Feb. 16. WW spoke to Portland designer Alexa Stark, who is currently in New York to hawk her fall-winter 2018 collection to buyers from around the globe at the market week that follows it.
How does market week work?
This is my fifth season selling, and I do a showroom in a group of 12 designers. For a whole week we're in a space, and we make appointments to meet with buyers from different shops from all over the world. They come in, and I show them a collection, and they take pictures. You go with your fingers crossed, and you don't know anything until a month later.
That sounds really scary.
There's a lot of risk involved and a lot of hoping and praying. I've been lucky, my first collection that I wholesaled was actually to Stand Up Comedy in Portland. It was very organic, and then I got picked up by another store in New York, and another store in Boston emailed me based on my work through Instagram.
So it's a networking thing.
Totally. It really is about who you know, and it just takes time to build those relationships. I met with the buyers of one of the Japanese stores I sell to maybe three or four times before they actually started buying from me.
Once I meet with a buyer and they place an order, I start producing the collection. I've worked with Portland Garment Factory, but I also work with local seamstresses in Portland that are also freelance. I'm pretty small, but I'm definitely at a point where I'm experiencing some growing pains. If I go a little bit bigger, it might be a little bit easier to produce. Even though I do the two seasons a year, I'm on the sustainable side of fashion.
Your new collection is titled "Beautiful, Because We Are Here." What does that mean?
I started that collection thinking a lot about gender and gender fluidity. A person who was gender-fluid at the time came and interned with me from Central Saint Martins in London, and they really inspired me. My personal style is a mix of feminine and masculine, but definitely more masculine, and I'm definitely embracing more of myself in this collection, more of what I like to wear.
So I made this collection thinking about that, and this was right after Trump was elected. There's a lot of frustration that I was expressing with that collection.
I was visiting with my grandfather, who is 89, before I finished the collection. He said, "I'm going to tell you why we're here." He started literally with the Big Bang, and talked about how human life was made, and the fact that we're actually here is incredible. He told me that if people realized that it's so beautiful that we're even here, then we would find peace, everyone would be in a state of zen. I loved that he said "beautiful."
You have some of the clothes in the collection worn by male-presenting models. What was the impetus for presenting the collection in that way?
Those are two friends of mine, and they are both on the gender spectrum. I felt like I wanted models who would represent that. In hindsight, I think that I could've gone with people who are a little less of the "model" body type. But they're my friends, and a lot of my work gets done because I have friends here who do that. It's all one big collaboration in the end.
In an ideal world for me, I'd just make clothes. There wouldn't be a season and there wouldn't be a gender. This is happening more and more, and we're seeing men walk in women's fashion shows. I realized I need to make more clothes that are genderless. There are a lot of unisex clothing brands out there that are basically men's clothes for women. I'm trying to do women's clothes for men.
See IT: Shop Alexa Stark Spring/Summer 2018 at Stand Up Comedy, 511 SW Broadway.
PS: Our style writer is leaving Portland, so WW is looking for a new one. Send an email and writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org.