Kara Laricks: Clothes Make the Woman

By Boo Jarchow

Originally published on Advocate.com July 13 2012 3:00 AM ET

NBC’s spring reality competition Fashion Star gave 14 designers a chance to win a multimillion-dollar prize to launch their brand with some of America’s largest retailers. Three buyers, Caprice Willard from Macy’s, Terron E. Schaefer from Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nicole Christie from H&M, vied each week for the right to buy and exclusively carry the designers’ work. Unlike any other reality show, Fashion Star pulled viewers into the business aspect of the contest, as the purchased designs were immediately available both online and in stores after episodes aired.

Winner Kara Laricks, a former fourth-grade teacher and out lesbian, triumphed with her androgynous styles. She successfully combined fashion and business expertise to land $6 million in orders for her designs, which will be sold at Macy’s, H&M, and Saks.

Fashion Star’s fresh approach to a fashion design competition, with the addition of buyers purchasing designs off the runway each week, presented the contestants with challenges and opportunities. That aspect of the show helped Laricks develop her practical business side, she says.

“You have to admit, no matter how much of an artist you may be, you have to have the business side in order to support your art as a fashion designer,” Laricks says.

Still, the business savvy is useless without a strong brand to support. Going into the show, Laricks told herself, “Take it one step at a time. Keep your head down, focus on what you need to do, focus on your design and building your brand.”

Designing for Macy’s, H&M, and Saks — stores with their own distinct consumer markets and assorted price points — is no simple task, even for the Fashion Star champ.

“It was a double challenge for me to think, OK, the things I design are kind of androgynous,” she says of adjusting her styles to appeal to a broader consumer base. “They’re a little bit more avant-garde. They’re not necessarily what I would consider mass-market. It was really interesting to try to think a little bit more mass-market and try to really think and consider the customers for each one of those retailers to try to ensure my success on the show. I really did stretch as a designer to try and meet those demands.”