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Meet Wanda, intimate apparel designer and Araks patternmaker.

 

Woman standing at table making bra patterns.

 


We are very excited to begin a new series that introduces you to the people involved in creating Araks pieces.  To launch the series, meet Wanda, our patternmaker. Wanda holds the very key role of bringing our sketches to life each season.

How would you describe what you do?

I have spent thirty plus years in the intimate apparel industry. I do a lot of patternmaking now but technically I am an intimate apparel designer. I have corporate clients and clients like Araks where I take on more of a technical design role. Then I have my smaller clients that I design products for, directly from their ideas.

My last corporate job was Maidenform, where I was the Design Director. I have also worked as a designer for Lilyette, Vanity Fair, and Playtex. I started freelancing about 7 years ago. If you need patterns, I make patterns. If you need designs, I design.

I started in the garment industry as a sample maker, way back as a young girl. I sewed and came all the way up through the ranks from sewing to patternmaking to designing. Now I call on all those skills to get the job done and survive.


 

How did you become interested in fashion?


I got into fashion because the women on my mother’s side of the family- my mom, my aunts, my grandmother, were all sewers. As a young girl, I wanted to sew too, so I learned.  Then I went to a vocational high school that followed the FIT curriculum and I chose dressmaking as my focus, much to the chagrin of my dad. There I met a designer who had designed in the Lena Horne era, for singers and entertainers. I apprenticed under her for a while before I made the daring move to go and find a New York job.

Bra pattern tools on table




I was thinking about the last bra that you made for us, the Willow. It has been a huge success, customers love it. It was a very hard style though. It took about a year to develop and several times we almost gave up on it. Can you talk about the challenges of working on this style?


That bra was hard for three particular reasons. One, it’s a wire-free frame. It’s hard enough to make a bra supportive even with a wire frame but much harder to do it with no wire to control what the fabric is doing. Two, the bra is made of silk and cotton fabric. The silk alone is enough to make you want to cut your head off. When you add the silk to the wire-free frame, it’s like wow, now how do I make this work? Third, you always have to add in the brand image. The Araks brand is sort of almost minimalist in its construction detail. The styles take a lot of work, but they don’t look like a lot of work. 

Bra on table with ruler

 

The Willow Bra in Dusk



You also work on swimwear. Is that a new category for you?


No, our motto was always if you could make lingerie, you could make a swimsuit. Araks styles do seem to challenge that. They are very unique and look minimal, but there’s a lot of work in them. The difficult things are the styles with crisscrossing straps, asymmetrical silhouettes, and cut-outs. Those things are fantastic looking in the end but are a patternmaking nightmare. I can imagine that they are very hard to sew as well.

 

"Lots and lots of thought and work go into them and the result is what you see, something that looks effortless on the body."


 

What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your work?


The part I like best is when I have individual women come to me because they can’t find a bra that works for them. The look and joy on their face when they get a bra that fits is just the best. I am able to experience that a bit when we do fit events in stores where you work with individual women. It’s very satisfying when they tell you “this is wonderful, I’ve never had anything that fit me so well.” I can’t get that all the time, but that is the best part.




Woman standing at table making bra patterns I also found training the junior designers at my previous jobs very rewarding.  The woman who took me under her wing when I started out told me that I had to teach others.  She said that the more you teach, the better you get at what you do.  There’s room in this industry for all of us.  The generation above me was very protective of their skill set, they would never teach.  You got along any way you could.  A lot of people have shared with me along the way, and now I share as I go.





What do you love outside of this work?


My other love is music. I studied music early on in grammar school. I played clarinet and looked forward to being in high school and playing in the marching band. When I went to the vocational school they didn’t have music, so I had to choose, and I chose fashion and sewing. I continued to play music at my local high school on the weekends, but I never got to actually march in the band.


Five years ago I picked up piano lessons and now I have a baby grand in my living room and I sit there and I play. One day I will be retired and I will play the piano and it will sound beautiful. And it only needs to sound beautiful to me.


I also knit and crochet while I’m watching television. I do a lot of different crafts. I embroider and I’ve made some jewelry. I was kind of an introvert as a young girl, so anything I could do inside the house and be safe, I did it. I was told that I wasn’t outgoing enough to be in the fashion industry and I wasn’t accepted at FIT the first time I applied because I was really too shy to talk to the people in the interviews. I had to force myself to talk and carry myself as if I was not afraid.


We’ve learned so much from you and feel incredibly lucky to have found someone who is such an expert. What is the next generation going to do?


I don’t know - I’m trying to find someone now to pass the buck to. I don’t have one family member that is interested in learning this craft.


We want everyone that we partner with to enjoy the process because we feel that it comes through in the product. So, thank you!


Yes, it does.

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