Wednesday, Oct. 03 2012 11:19AM
LS-based clothing designer takes eco-friendly approach to fashion
By Toriano Porter
Katie Swanson was doing her usual when the idea hit her.
Swanson, a Lee’s Summit-based fashion designer and owner of Karma Clothing Designs and KMS Couture, was busy at her craft, listening to music, when thoughts of creating an eco-friendly line to augment her initial line popped into her head.
Rocking out – and Swanson has all the traits of a rock star: colorful hair, multiple tattoos and piercings, a vibrant personality, and rare talent for design – to Innerpartysystem’s single “American Trash,” the 24-year-old entrepreneur made a decision that is now turning heads in the fashion design world.
American Trash – the clothing line, not the song – is offering Swanson a chance to expand her portfolio and live out a dream she’s had in her head since she was a pre-teenage girl living in Lee’s Summit.
The line, Swanson’s concoction of re-brought clothing tore into pieces and re-created, is making noise not only in the Kansas City metro area but in other fashion hot beds across the country.
“Really, I’ll pretty much go to thrift stores and look for materials,” Swanson, whose industry moniker is Karma Jade, said of the concept of her latest line. “It’s not like I’m going and buying a bulk of fabric and using that. For me, it’s a fun challenge to figure out what I can make out of (re-brought fabric), what can I pair it with because when you break it down to the bare minimum materials you have to say ‘what can I actually make that are going to cover things and actually be practical?’
“It’s more of a challenge to me, and it’s more fun to me to find things that have been gently used and recycled out, so they are not being thrown into a landfill.”
Swanson attended the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago after graduating from Lee’s Summit High School a few years ago. While in Chicago she made a slight dent in the fashion world there, honing skills and connections she’d bring back with her to the Show-Me State. Upon her return in 2010, she discovered something about the Kansas City fashion scene that she never knew existed before.
“I had no idea until I moved back from Chicago,” Swanson said of the fashion design talent in the metro area. “It’s huge. I had no idea how big the fashion community was here. You really don’t know. It’s really blowing me away the diverse talent we have here.”
Fashion model April Dion strutted her stuff at Kansas City’s Fashion Week in September in downtown Kansas City. Dion hit the catwalk draped in American Trash apparel, custom-made garb from Swanson made with broken down clothing materials brought intact from area re-sale shops.
“I love American Trash,” Dion said. “It represents the fashionable, trendy and edgy woman who is concerned about the environment around her. When I rock it on the runway it makes me feel so confident because it’s original and it fits my curves so elegantly.”
Dion has been all over the country as a model, so her endorsement is a testament to Swanson’s skills.
“I love April,” Swanson said. “She’s so versatile. I mean, I see her working with so many different people and she carries herself so well in whatever I put her in. It doesn’t matter what you put her in…she wears anything on the runway well. She’ll show off your pieces in the way that you want. I love working with her.”
Versatility is what attracted marketing consultant Johnathan Harper to Swanson’s talent. Harper is trying to help Swanson streamline her businesses and zero in on what her strengths are. Karma Clothing Designs, KMS Couture and American Trash represent those talents.
“We’re just trying to work on how to re-market her,” Harper said. “We want it out there, more focused and easier to find. I’m not a big fashion guy, I’m more T-shirts and jeans, but dealing with her, it’s kind of cool to see what she makes out of scraps.
“We had an argument the other day in my office about her focusing and doing one thing instead of three. I told her ‘you’re on your street; you just have to find your lane. Once you find your lane, you can change lanes whenever you want to. But at the same time you have to find one thing that works and hit the gas pedal.’”
Swanson, who will continue to rock out for inspiration while she designs clothes, said: “I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I have accomplished a decent amount for only being 24, but to me, there is always so much room for improvement. Until I can pretty much pay my bills and have a steady income, I will not be happy. But at the end of the day…that will come in time. I love doing with I do. It’s the struggle that pushes you that much farther to get you where you want to be.”
For more information on Swanson or her clothing designs, visit the website www.karmaclothingdesigns.com.