Burning Questions for Fashion Designer Cameron Levin How she weaves business savvy and fashion sense, and serves her community to boot

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Cameron Levin, one of the busiest women in Seattle, runs her own fashion line, works as a photo stylist and keeps busy with social justice and women’s rights projects.

She took some time recently to let Pyragraph in on some of her work secrets in the fashion industry.

Eva Avenue: When did you begin designing clothes?

Cameron Levin: I started taking some design classes around 2008. I’ve been designing ever since. I launched my business about three years or so ago.

Is it necessary to know how to sew to design clothes?

Some people argue that if you can sketch, you are essentially designing clothes. You just have to pay someone to put them into a sewable pattern, and to produce it. Celebrities who have clothing lines (likely) don’t know how to pattern-draft or sew, but they hire teams of talented brand developers to launch their collections for them. So no, you don’t need to know how to sew to “design.”

I’d also say that patternmaking is really the heart of designing—not so much sewing. Patternmaking is the architecture of fashion design. Really great designers are great pattern makers. To create a concept, you have to know how to draft its blueprint.

As far as best practices, nothing is more important than building personal, meaningful and sincere relationships with people in the industry.

How have your designs evolved over time?

Drastically. When I first started, I don’t know what I was thinking—I wasn’t! I was making pieces that were unique and not like things you could find in stores—in other words, not producible. I think the first few years after fashion school you kind of have an adjustment period from the fantasy environment you’re in to what the market actually needs and wants, and how you can problem-solve and provide a sellable product for the right market.

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What works best for you when it comes to publicizing your line?

Managing the business’s marketing comes fairly easy to me. I find the roll-out of the seasonal collection one of the most exciting parts of the business cycle. It’s fun to watch it catch on and grow—social media makes that process especially visible where it wasn’t really before.

As far as best practices, nothing is more important than building personal, meaningful and sincere relationships with people in the industry. It really takes a village to make a designer successful; you cannot do it on your own. I think that those who are “successful” are standing on the shoulders of generous giants (mentors, fashion editors, photographers, models, etc.).

How difficult is the fashion design business and why?

Very, very difficult. You have to have a lot of initial capital to get started and to maintain. It’s an expensive business, and when you get to the point of having a good amount of accounts, you find yourself doing less and less and paying more contractors (pattern makers, sample makers, graders, production factories, etc.). It’s also extraordinarily difficult to make a livable profit unless you’re producing very cheaply with inexpensive materials in mass quantities.

In other businesses, you have a singular product that you bring to the market; in fashion you’re producing, for example, a 10- to 15-piece collection in various colors, multiple sizes, at absolute minimum four times a year. By the time you get traction, it’s on to the next season and you’re starting all over again.

Do you have fashion shows for your designs? 

I don’t tend to participate in fashion shows very much unless they’re part of a charitable organization that I want to support. Fashion shows are fun but they also demand investing time, energy, and resources into them, which very rarely sees a return on investment.

What have you learned about the clothing design business that you didn’t know when you first started?

I never really understood what “sells.” I thought whatever I liked, or what was most creative and artistic was worthy of doing and producing. I think the most successful designers are able to think outside of themselves, while managing a signature look or unique perspective. It’s a tough balance.

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How do your designs minimally impact the environment?

There are a lot of ideas about what quantifies “sustainable.” For me, my collections are all produced locally. So, no shipping or, more importantly, partnering with factories in countries with questionable labor or environmental practices. Secondly, I use some fabrics that are organic or non-synthetic.

Is Seattle a good place to be a clothing designer?

Yes and no. There aren’t really enough factories here or resources.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m most pleased with the community-building programs I’ve created and been a part of via serving on the board of Fashion Group International, such as the Mentorship Program, upcoming Fashion Camp for at-risk youth this summer, and the Pink Carpet Project, benefiting Planned Parenthood.

Photos by Shena Lee Photography and Will Miller Photography.

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