Why Hello, Sailor! Sailor?!
Have you ever purchased a designer garment that was bursting with originality and creativity, only to find a much cheaper “knock off” online? That darling little swimsuit above is one of the most stolen designs in the swimwear industry this season. In fact, you can get something like it almost anywhere, especially online from overseas distributors. It IS cute, right? And why not get it for cheap? Well.... there are several reasons I don't buy knockoffs. First, there's the obvious quality issue. Any knockoffs that I've seen are a far cry from the quality and workmanship found in the original.
Perhaps most importantly (and my biggest problem with this) is the issue of design theft. In my opinion, fashion designers are artists in the truest form. They pursue their passion to clothe us, the general public, and to make us feel like a million bucks. Much like aspiring musicians or painters, many of them never "make it big" and risk everything in the process. But let's take a second to think about the other side of the coin, so to speak. Is it a compliment for an artist to have his or her idea stolen? Is it flattering to know that you are so successful that EVERYONE wants to copy your work?
If the old adage is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Barrie Kaufman’s company “Fables By Barrie” has been flattered over and over (and over) again by cheap reproductions of her incredible designs. As a fan of Barrie’s designs, I’ve always wanted to know what inspires her and how her creative process takes shape. I’ve always wondered about the hard work and love that goes into each design and how many steps it must go through before arriving into the excited hands of a happy (and perhaps unassuming) customer.
Having noticed a lot of knockoffs in the retro scene, especially of Barrie’s beautiful sailor inspired designs – I decided that now is a great time to talk to this retro fashion icon and not only get the scoop on her genius, but also to let her sound off about being one of the most targeted designers by knockoff companies.
I was not surprised by Barrie’s lovely personality. In fact, I had spoken with her on the phone last summer before a photo shoot. She sent me the best pair of houndstooth pants for a magazine feature in Vintage Life (I included a picture, because they are still available on her website and I love them!) I remember thinking "wow, a top fashion designer is taking the time to talk to ME about what pants to wear for a photograph?! I was so taken aback by her genuineness and passion. But, that's the type of interaction you get when you buy Barrie's pieces that you can never get with purchasing knockoffs: Lots of customer LOVE!
This time around, I got to know Barrie a bit more than I did in that initial phone call. Just by visiting her Fables By Barrie website and seeing her designs, it is easy to gather that she is a colorful and genuine personality who wants to share her art with the world. I threw some questions her way, and she was graceful enough to answer them AND she also included a discount for my readers! So read away, buy away – but please, please, don’t steal away with the knockoffs :)
Interview with Barrie Kaufman:
Q. What is a typical day in the life of designer Barrie Kaufman?
A. A typical work day for me is usually getting up about 6 AM and reading the first round of emails in bed. I then walk my pup and get ready for the gym. I come home, get cleaned up and head to work. No two days are alike, I’m often running between our sewing facilities or on any given errand or meeting around San Diego, and about once a week in LA. There’s lots and lots of paperwork, emails, and spreadsheets, its very rare I have a whole day to design.
Q. Where do you find your inspiration?
A. I find a lot of my inspiration in old photos, mostly. Either photos I find online or on blogs or books. I have inspiration photo folders that I often reference, and my mind kind of wanders with new ideas to develop.
Q. Tell us a bit about your life and how you came into being the person you are today.
A. I think I’ve been about 7 different people from the time I was born until now at 32. I never really fit in anywhere, and when I did seem to fit it, it was just “kinda”. I suppose I used that to my advantage once I came out of my shell moving to the west coast. I’ve always believed in working hard and being proud of my work, and I think that is a quality that many people see in me. Or at least, I hope they do. I try to live rather simply and under the radar for the most part. We’re not trying to be famous or make millions of dollars. We are about providing a safe and fun workplace for ourselves and a few friends, keep Californians working, all the while making beautiful things that ladies love and feel good in.
Q. Tell us some fun facts about you.
A. I went to film school at a state school. I wanted to operate the camera and eventually direct documentary films. I moved out to Los Angeles after graduation and eventually go an in with the wardrobe department in a movie, from there it snowballed into a career in the costume departments for TV, film, commercials, stage, etc.
Q. How was the idea for Fables by Barrie born?
A. We started under a different name. It was 2007 and I had moved to San Diego for work doing costumes for a TV show, and the show ended. I didn’t have a good reason for staying in town after the work dried up, but I had been messing around with design and recently a lot of gals went from asking “did you make that??” to “where did you get that?!” and I decided to do a few pieces and try and sell them at independent pop up shop events, and they did really well. From there my styles kept increasing and more people wanted my items, until I decided to make a collection to show stores and take it to market.
Q. What makes you the happiest about your job?
A. Definitely the most rewarding part of my job is hearing from customers how much they love our designs. We do a lot of swimwear, from sizes XS-2X, so it can be a sensitive subject for fit. We often get what we call “love letters” from women, often saying that they hadn’t purchased a swimsuit in 10 or so years and that our suits made them feel comfortable, confident, and beautiful. It really makes me feel like the fashion industry isn’t all shallow and there is something rewarding other than vanity in the swimwear industry. Also, I get to work with a bunch of my ladyfriends, so work days are pretty fun.
Q. What is it about the retro look that made you choose that design forum?
A. I like the retro look because I think its fancy. I do like some contemporary labels, but I adore the femininity of vintage clothes and would always spend my baby sitting money at the Salvation Army when in junior high, when the pickens weren’t so slim and those thrift stores were a goldmine of vintage treasures.
Q. Your swimsuits are full of vivid detail. Do you have a “trademark” or a special design signature that you use?
A. We are known for our nautical looks and also our high waisted separates. We have used 10’s of thousand’s of white buttons with a red anchor for years now, so think that is definitely a tell tale sign that it is our suit.
Q. You have achieved a great deal of success in the bathing suit industry, with fans all around the world. To what do you attribute that success?
A. I think success is most definitely born from being kind to your customers and having an honest product that you absolutely believe in. If you can do both plus work hard, there’s no excuse to fail.
Q. Your designs have been featured in the media over and over. In your mind, which of these features was your favorite?
A. Our recent favorite feature was the most wonderful country singer Kacey Musgraves wearing our Riley Dress on stage for the finale of one of her concerts, then posting on the social medias about it. She’s a true example of pure talent and we loved seeing her look so flawless in our designs.
Q. Many artists say that the creative process often feels like giving life. Do you agree with this? Can you walk us through your creative process of designing and what steps you must go through from start (as an idea in your mind) to finish (as a beautiful garment in the hands of a customer)?
A. Its really changed over the years how we design and give life to new designs. When it was just me working by myself, designing could be as simple as writing notes in my cellphone about styles that I had produced and changed a few things here and there. Now, I like to have my inspiration photos and sketches. We have a TON of sketches we have never produced. I also find that when I sketch and have a good idea for the direction of the collection, I often throw all or most of it out when it comes down to the wire and just do something completely different. Now that I have assistance with my pattern making and design, it’s easier to have conversations about what we think would work and how we will approach the design. There are sketches, notes, disagreements, and fabric selecting that is involved. We will make the style with a few changes along the way, where stylistic or for fit, and then take the final sample to market for retailers to place orders on for the next season.
Q. One quality that fans of your designs (and of you) find so endearing is the genuineness that comes through in every piece you do. How did you find your signature style?
A. I think I found my signature look from making what I wasn’t seeing. I love vintage swimwear, I love vintage western wear. Vintage is getting harder and harder to find, so I think drawing inspiration from great old pieces helps preserve the look, with the benefit of having a size run for a variety of bodyshapes.
Q. What is the most difficult aspect about being a successful business woman in the fashion industry?
A. Its hard sometimes to remain a “lady” and deal with a lot of the business practices that come along with it. It takes a rather strong personality to handle the millions of things on your plate running your company, all the while keeping your cool and not being hard headed or unwilling to compromise.
Q. Can we have a sneak peek at what is on your design table right now?
A. A whole new look to the swimwear for 2015, as well as revamping of new styles. And so much more Pony Tales!!! xo
Q. Your great success has inspired many others in the fashion industry. As a result, I’ve noticed a lot of Barrie Kaufman “knockoffs.” This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the retro scene. Can you sound off about this for a bit? How does it make you feel to see that someone liked your design so much that they stole it and are profiting from it? What do your customers get by buying your designs that they will never get from a knockoff?
A. Knock offs are the biggest bummer of the industry. On one hand, I feel flattered that someone would find inspiration in my styles enough that they would want to imitate, though it makes me sad to think of the terrible working conditions of the stitchers at these makeshift facilities that are basically slave driving hard workers for pennies a day in order to turn out a cheap product. That not why I design. I design for my customers, knowing that they recognize our style and quality and have come to expect that from us. And buying our brand customers know that it is made in America with fair wages and safe working conditions, we have great contractors. Its always fun to see a “great minds think alike” situation with the other brands when both have a similar new style. Its another thing when a larger company preys on independent designers, steals designs, and has the capital to market it huge and take all the credit. Or worse, say the little guy ripped them off. It happens a lot. I think at the end of the day, knowing you produce a good garment made with the intention of providing the best possible version of your design lets you sleep at night after working your tail off to make it so. People who snatch from others and pass stolen work as their own tend to have a slow rolling karma that snowballs to a big downfall. And also, that creates a “has been” situation, consumers want to see something new!!
Q. Do you have any great things on your horizon that you’d like to share with the readers?
A. Secret project coming up soon!!!! Can’t wait!!!!