Nothing is more exciting than stumbling upon amazing hidden talent. The name ‘Soka’ comes from the monogram “So-Karen” and a passion for Soca music. At 22, Karen’s work has been recognized in publications like SHE Caribbean, Posh Caribbean, Caribbean Styling and Panache JA magazine . With designs as colorful as the flowers on the beaches of her St. Vincent homeland, Karen De Freitas Fraser really has a talent for apparel design and a new hobby of jewelry construction. She believes in being aware and proud of your body and having fun when dressing. Welcome to the youthful world of Soka.
I’m still figuring out my identity as a designer so I’ll answer with, she’s definitely aware and proud of her body. This is something natural being from the Caribbean. She is fun in her dressing, and mixes high and low pieces. The Soka woman is not afraid. I love cut outs and showing the body and most importantly so she can not be afraid of color or prints. A hidden quality of mine is being a textile designer. Most importantly the Soka woman is free-spirited and identifies with a mixed heritage or subculture. I’m unaware of many brands that can identify with contemporary but not trendy styles. Finally, the Soka woman loves to try new things like taking road trips, trying new food, or going from business meetings to happy hour. She is someone who loves to have fun.
How did you discover your passion for design? Are there any designers you look up to?
I aspire to be like, the Late Yves St. Laurent, who endlessly experimented and defied the conventional rules of fashion and society. He made it acceptable for women to wear pants. I think that defines my character. I constantly question authority. The late Alexander McQueen had impeccable construction, tailoring, and detail in his garments. He pushed boundaries like an older designer from the 1930s, Madame Vionnet. I love her attention to the female body. New designers Mary Katrantzou and Prabal Gurung are brilliant. They both create unbelievable prints.
Growing up in the Caribbean, you are told to live in a box. Being a teacher, doctor, or lawyer were the only things my classmates aspired to be. From a young age I wanted something different, and fashion was my way. As a young child I had low self-esteem and clothes were my way of feeling better in my skin. Since 11, I have known I would be a designer. I’ve nearly been suspended from school for doodling in my English class. Nothing has stopped me from wanting to design apparel and jewelry. My passion grew when I graduated high school and formed bonds with other aspiring designers at community college .Regardless of their concentrations, fashion ,architecture, or fine arts, their passion inspired me. We had our own secret society, a circle full of love and love of what we do.
Which pieces are your personal favorites?
I love all my pieces like children but the pink tiered skirt from my 2008 collection is a classic piece. The labor alone is so intense and it was the first time I saw my vision come to life. I also created a red jacket during a time where I couldn’t find anyone to sew for me. It pushed me to drape and construct myself; there were some faults, but I love it. It’s my reminder of what persistence will result in. I also love my swimsuits because I get to experiment more while designing.
What inspires your photo shoot venues?
Honestly, I daydream random images for shoots or imaginary models at an imaginary location in my mind and then try my best to find it. Sometimes the venues are spontaneous, while other locations, especially in New York, are chosen by photographers.
You have an amazing talent for material and color infusion, exhibited in your jewelry. What stands out to your fashion eye when designing?
Jewelry design is just an experiment for me. I had never really planed to design. I think my formal training as a fine artist shapes my treatment of colors. Paul Corio, a former tutor from Parsons, was a strong influence because of his use of color. One can’t leave his class without a strong appreciation for color. I also enjoy the technique of contrasting my designs, both shape and texture. Jewelry is still a hobby at the moment. This summer I’m collaborating with a close friend, Anishka Robinson, on a new jewelry line called 11207.
Absolutely! When I first started I only saw the romantic version of design. I’m now mindful of customers and merchandising. I still have a lot more to learn about business, but I’m taking this time in school to experiment and really explore my niche as a designer. I’ve downsized my collections, and will only be releasing 32 piece collections. This way I am able to figure out my brand while studying at Parsons. I’m not as into fashion shows at the moment. I feel it is more beneficial that I get to know my clients more, as well as the use of social networks.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey as a designer?
The people I have met backstage and at photo shoots are now my closet friends. This journey has allowed me to get to know myself. Fashion isn’t as glamorous as people believe. The amount of time and work invested into one garment is crazy! Knowing you can complete something under so much pressure is the best feeling, and makes you a stronger person. I’ve dealt with so much criticism when presenting my ideas to an audience. I had to become brave and grow a thick skin to cope with the feedback. With that being said, I always say make sure your design is true to you and of a very high quality so you will have no regrets. This journey is so humbling; my friends are really pulling for me. The prayers they put out there and things they do to make sure I’m surviving are amazing. They are my unpaid assistants and the family I have gained through this experience, blood or not, these people are making sure I become a success no matter the sacrifice. This is especially true in regards to my mother, and I’m eternally grateful.
What do you want people to know about your brand?
My brand is contemporary not trendy. It is a statement of confidence. The women who wear these pieces feel beautiful and strong. I always focus on the female body form, no matter what body type.
Your collections play with color in unforgettable ways. What is your personal style philosophy and what role does color play in your personal wardrobe?
My personal style is never be afraid. I know people who dress one way. Their things have to match and it drives me absolutely crazy. Just have fun! You never know if you will like something until you try!
Where do you see Soka in the next few years?
I want to keep Soka as a small brand for the next 4 years. While I’m in school I want to work with some established fashion companies so I am able to learn. Experience is the best teacher. Also, I hope to keep Soka an intimate brand so I’ll be able to identify with customers, in mostly boutiques and e-commerce settings. My website will hopefully be up and running this summer, after I finish working on a very relaxed SS 2012 collection called Olive by Soka. I will also be working on the 11207 jewelry line, ready to wear staple pieces for every wardrobe. Readers can find my designs on www.madebysoka.com !