As summer starts to heat up and we've felt the highs get higher already this week, people are going to start looking to getting out into the sun and taking in the poolside fun. --- But you can't quite do it without the right swimwear, and rather than just heading down to the local box store for a something to “suit the need,” if you will, many of the local fashion designers are cranking out some seasonal wears you might dig this year.
A case in point is Persona Swimwear. The brainchild of SLC-based fashion designer Emily Sanders, she's started producing a short line of summer wears for the slightly-modest-but-still-shapely beachcomber looking to show off an artistic side to the hot-weather fashion. Today, we chat with Sanders about her career in fashion, starting up Persona and her thoughts on local fashion.
Gavin: Hey, Emily. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Emily: I enjoy making things, creating. Some people would call me a fun-loving person. I’m motivated visually by traveling or just hopping in my car and exploring. I have a wild sense of adventure. My family would tell you that I was always causing trouble, but no one ever knew about it because I just did my own thing without seeking advice from others. My mom often states, “You smile and tell people what they want to hear and then turn around and do whatever the hell you want.” I was caught streaking at girls camp; it was Fast and Testimony Meeting, and I was just fast -- but not fast enough -- because I was caught! I love to laugh, and there is nothing better than sitting around having a few drinks with friends and shooting the breeze. People give me energy and inspire me through their individual styles and stories. It breaks up the monotony of life when I bump into someone different and see a new perspective. I love the unexpected. Change. I take pleasure in seeing a vision come to fruition. Giving myself a voice. Interested in culture and art. Passionate. Desire to create. Expression in life, creating an environment that transmits a mood, or a little piece of theater. Something you want to project. Pleasure. Something to dream of, something more than just swimwear. I want women to enjoy wearing it. Fusion with culture, art, fashion, and personality. Creativity is the opportunity to deal with beautiful things each day -- models, fabric, designing.
Gavin: What first got you interested in fashion, and what were some early influences on you?
Emily: Being a gallery director let me experience making a show, which is quite similar to a business through gaining exposure for the artists, presentation of the exhibits, and putting all of the details together. Betsey Johnson, Versace. Shopping. Travel. Culture. Art. Intuition.
Gavin: You originally began your career as an artist and received your BFA from the University of Utah in 2002. What was it like for you starting out that way, and how was your time at the U?
Emily: You are young and trying to find your voice aesthetically. You are initially trained to study someone else’s vision in order to learn the elements of design. I think developing your artistic eye comes from practicing your creativity and experiencing life.
Gavin: What was the biggest influence behind your paintings, and what was it like for you breaking into the local art scene at the time?
Emily: I was fortunate enough to have a few artists help me out along the way; they were able to help me refine my drawing techniques and simplify my painting process, so my work had more color and impact. Utah is a beautiful place to live, so I’m inspired by my surroundings and the culture. When I first started showing my work, I was nervous that it wouldn’t sell or that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, but I sold quite a few pieces and my confidence grew and people were very supportive.
Gavin: In 2005, you launched Emily Sanders Fine Art. What was it like for you taking that leap and putting your artwork out there on a bigger scale than just occasional gallery showings?
Emily: I started forming a company for my art rather than just producing a few pieces; it was a time when I started to learn more about possibilities in what I could do creatively and with marketing my abilities. It’s exciting to put something out into the world and have it make someone happy or feel good. It boosted my confidence and solidified my vision by being featured in a national art magazine. By launching the fine art business, it gave me my first taste of creating a business and a product.
Gavin: During this time, what drew your interest toward creating your own wears, specifically swimwear?
Emily: I find it exciting to solve problems in new creative ways, so at the time I was creating art, I was also searching for suit that exuded my personality but one I felt comfortable in, so I decided to merge the two worlds of art and fashion. I wanted to solve the problem of finding a suit that fit but needed to have individuality and playfulness, so I used my artistic abilities to solve the swimwear problem in an unexpected visual and functional way. With swimwear, you can explore more with style than with any other fashion; I can create something whimsical and loud, or elegant and muted. I wanted to take my artistic eye and help not only myself feel better and look better in a swimsuit, but to help other women be comfortable and happy about putting on a suit.
Gavin: Did you take any kind of classes or specific training to learn how to make those kinds of wears, or was it more trial-and-error learning on your part?
Emily: It’s quite a bit of visualizing and sketching to begin. You have to think of things three dimensionally -- how is this going to work on the figure? How will this be sewn? Then it’s trial and error during the actual designs into the initial prototypes, and then you really see how it’s working on a woman’s body. It’s about practicing solving problems. It’s also the exciting part to take the risk and just jump and figure things out along the way; the uncertainty is amusing.
Gavin: What were some of your earlier designs like, and and how was it for you creating works while learning your craft?
Emily: Most of my earlier designs are usually not practical, but I like to first explore without any boundaries, then I hone in on the production and how it will actually function in real-life situations. But in all my designs, I use an element of texture or a dimensional piece, as the bows are rosettes in this season.
Gavin: You started Persona Swimwear in early 2010. What was it like for you initially starting up the company and releasing your first line? And where did you get the name?
Emily: Starting a company involves many different aspects and pieces coming together; it takes learning and thinking on various levels. One day you are working on the website or business plan, and the next you are working on the creative side, such as branding. It’s a daunting task to start, but if you break it down into a smaller, more feasible picture, it comes together, which is very exciting. The name Persona comes from the influence of the very purpose of clothing. Yes, we wear it as protection from the elements, but as humans we have transformed it into a statement of who we are as a person. It’s like a little piece of theater -- what we wear says to the world what character we play; in other words, we put on a persona.
Gavin: Rather than just focusing on a pattern, you create swimwear with its own sense of style and add-ons, like you would for dresses or formal wear. What inspired these additions?
Emily: Give people something unexpected. Texture, add dimension to the suits. I wanted to take a classic, vintage design and with a modern sleek feel through the cut of the suit and materials. I like to take an evening gown and make it into a swimsuit, the red-carpet feel but with less fabric.
Gavin: While these designs are form-fitting, they're also more on the modest side than a lot of other lines. Was this something you consciously decided to do, or was that an effect from having put on the aforementioned additions?
Emily: My designs are inspired by the customer and listening to the needs of women. I found that many wanted some coverage and to enhance certain parts of their bodies. Some women did not want too much exposure, so I based some of my designs around those needs. I also found it was important to bridge the gap between skimpy sexy and matronly modest -- many women want to still exude sexiness but in a more modest tone.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new design, from initial sketch to final product?
Emily: I start collecting ideas from everyday life, from people I see on the street, and their style leaves an impression on my mind. I start looking at celebrities; I start playing with colors and fabrics. Then I turn on some music, set a creative atmosphere and sit down and start sketching ideas, letting my mind wander to shapes and lines. I have to go with what excites me and inspires, for what I like, before approaching the customer. Then I come back to the sketches with a practical mindset with how it’s going to be sewn and how it’s going to work on the body, and I make notes, and then sketch it down again. After deciding on a few revised designs, I talk with women and see what they are talking about, their needs, and their wants. Prototyping, sampling, and production is a long process with many trial and errors in order to keep with the highest quality for the product and for what the customer expects from the brand. The final product has been tried on numerous different body types and is finished when it retains it’s shape, quality, and personality on many various women.
Gavin: How much do you play with your works before you're finished with them? Do you tend to change things, or do you try to stick to the initial concept?
Emily: I generally go with intuition. If I like the sketch and then see it on the figure and how the fabric lies, and if I’m not satisfied, I change the design, keeping with the cohesive feel of it but changing the shape of a strap or cup to help enhance a woman’s body. The design has to relate to how it looks on the figure. It may look good on paper, but it has to flow with the figure.
Gavin: Asidefrom being online through your website, you're currently selling the suits at Cotton Blossom and Called To Surf. What made you decide to work with these specific businesses, and what's the reaction been like from the public in general?
Emily: Persona Swimwear is sold through retailers such as Cotton Blossom, Called to Surf, and online through Persona’s site and through Farasha Boutique, which also has an actual store in Sun Valley, Idaho. The reaction from the public has been strong, and the brand is gaining trust through exposure, trying on the product, and through time. Women want the shopping experience and they want to connect with the brand, so it has been important to provide opportunities for them to interact with the swimwear through retailers and traveling trunk shows.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand the line or branch into new areas, or are you happy with where you're at with Persona now?
Emily: I am working to gain more exposure for the brand. In order to stay in the business, sales are an important aspect to be able to keep producing new designs, so I’m interested in expanding into other markets nationally. It’s my goal to remain small and high scale, while having a wider market.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on the Utah fashion scene, both good and bad?
Emily: I’ve admired the individuals who are willing to come out and have their voice heard through their expressions in various creative outlets, whether it is in fashion, art, music, or writing. We have a culture that is on the cusp of exploding with the desire for individuality and expression. I think with both the art and the fashion scene in Utah, it’s important to support each other and help gain more exposure to the current scene; by this support, the community will be able to acquire a more national audience and therefore increase small-business opportunities. The amazing encounters with other creative individuals, and their willingness to lend support through the utilization of their talents to help bring the branding and awareness of the swimwear line, have been inspiring --small businesses supporting each other.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Emily: Small businesses need to support other small businesses, whether it be joining forces for promotion or helping with connecting with valuable contacts.
Gavin: What are your thoughts about local retailers and how they deal with local products?
Emily: Local retailers are finding that their clientele want a different product, one that everyone isn’t wearing out in the world, so they are searching for quality products to fulfill their clients needs. Many people still shop at the big box stores, but some are venturing out to find they can find a different product that is unique for a slightly higher price, but will last longer due to the quality of being a smaller, possibly local, brand.
Gavin: Do you have any favorite shops you like to work with or shop from?
Emily: I generally shop at stores where I can find something unique, where I can find an item that makes me excited to wake up and want to put it on in the morning. Shopping at local boutiques not only supports local businesses but also gives you the opportunity to find your voice in fashion through acquiring timeless pieces and spicing your wardrobe up with individuality. Some of my boutiques are people who have supported the brand: Misc, Cotton Blossom, Called to Surf, Farasha -- online -- and any consignment-type stores.
Gavin: What's your take on Fashion Stroll and the part it plays in supporting local fashion?
Emily: Fashion Stroll gives the public the opportunity to see the talent out there and the opportunity for local designers to have their designs seen and appreciated. It also draws the community together to show support as a community.
Gavin: What can we expect from yourself and Persona over the rest of the year?
Emily: The 2013 designs will be coming out later in the summer, stay tuned for a preview. Persona will also be doing a few promotions for the line, so keep watching the Facebook fan page for special prizes and traveling shows.
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