When you think of Kréyol, envision warriors in a-line dresses and combat boots. At Kréyol, designer Joelle Jean-Fontaine and her team are inspired by humble beginnings and revolution through its rich re-imagining of bohemian silhouettes drawn from the designers experiences as a child in Haiti. Many of the designs play off of old Haitian school uniforms and vintage dresses with victorian bustles and bouffant sleeves that the designers’ mother made for her as a child.Whether it’s bold patterns or vintage design elements, Kréyol aims to impact the world one garment at a time, making it about more than just fashion but a movement to enlighten, educate and empower – most recently launching their line to promote philanthropic efforts in Haiti. Today we catch up with Joelle to learn about her NYFW beginning and what it takes to grow an army.
How and why did you start designing?
I was actually on my way to becoming an architect when I got married and had a child at a very young age. I’ve always loved style and fashion, but it definitely was never an option for me. I’m Haitian and in our culture you can either be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer :). When I had my son, I stayed home with him for three years, and being a very active person by nature, it was driving me insane. So I started to sew. I would take clothes apart and use them as patterns and re-sew and teach myself some basics. One of my husband friend’s who was just starting out in fashion invited me to a conference for New York Fashion Week because she knew that I was a creator. I went on the website and saw that they had a show planned for Fashion Week, so I contacted them and said that I was a designer from Boston and I wanted to debut my line with them. Did I mention that I had only created about four pieces at this point? I never thought they would actually go for it. I sent them pictures of my work and their response was “we’d be honored to feature you at our Fashion Week event.” Needless to say, I did not sleep for a week in a half. I presented a collection of 12-15 looks in my first show at NY Fashion Week, and the rest was history. I got a great response.
What is your biggest hurdle building a brand today?
Currently my biggest hurdle is balancing my time. As a small business, I am still building and working to be financially stable. I work a regular “9-5.” My hardest challenge has been to manage a full-time job with a full-time family and a full-time business. But, I’ve found that discipline is the key and the more I can devote to my business the faster it will grow.
What do you think about fashion today?
I think fashion is really exciting right now. There’s such a variety of product and styles available. People have more options to really carve out their aesthetic and dress their personalities. They don’t necessarily have to fit within the box anymore or follow the trends. That’s really appealing to me because I am not a person who adheres to the norm. I believe that we all have the ability to create our own trends.
What is your fashion philosophy?
Wear what makes you feel confident. I can’t stand when I see women who look completely uncomfortable in their clothes and/or their shoes. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the garment is. Ultimately, it’s your personality, your confidence that’s at the forefront. Make sure your fashion choices reflect your personality.
What inspired this line?
Karabela is inspired by the traditional bespoke quadrille dress that is utilized in folk dance in Haitian and other countries such as Jamaica, Cuba, Spain, St Lucia and Dominica. The dress features a variety of ruffled details as well as a full a-line skirt. The Haitian version is usually designed in denim with embroidery. We took bits and pieces from this iconic design to create a line that is modern and fresh with some historical elements and context.
Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?
I am inspired by everything around me; from other designers like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood to photography, art, culture, architecture, music – random things like birds, ruins, rusted copper pennies, caterpillars, the sun…The world is a beautiful place. I try to keep my eyes open and to be inspired everyday.
Any tips and tricks of the trade?
I believe in “faking it til’ you make it”. I was not a designer when I showed for NY Fashion Week, but I looked like one. I just knew what I loved. I was an artist/ a creator that just needed to share my art as a form of personal expression, but mainly I wasn’t afraid to hear “no”. You never know how far you can go until you just give it a shot. I became a designer completely by accident.
Be consistent. You can be as talented as you want and know all of the right people, but if you don’t have discipline and are not consistent with your business growth- you cannot build a brand. Consistency is key.
Let Kréyol win the battle for you fashion heart. Join the army and follow today for the big launch.