Style

Sarah Nelsen’s Local Designs

Designer Sarah Nelsen tells us about her process, KC’s evolving fashion scene and her latest purchases.

Story by Amelia Arvesen |  Portrait by Steve Puppe

An olive green wool hat is one of multidiscipline designer Sarah Nelsen’s most recent purchases. The locally crafted piece is one Nelsen can add to a collection of figurative hats she wears in any given week: womenswear designer; head of her own boutique branding and design studio, Interwoven Creative; kimono cutter at Westwood boutique Asiatica; and advisor for Rightfully Sewn, a charitable organization empowering at-risk women through fashion. We caught up with Nelsen to hear about her immersion in Kansas City’s fashion scene and what’s coming next.

Q: How did you get started in the fashion industry?

A: I found a creative outlet in clothing design and making. I wasn’t setting out to do that necessarily. I kind of found myself wanting to be more hands-on after I’d been in this other world of advertising and digital media. I started taking sewing classes, and I learned from my mom when I was young. She’s in the industry, but I wanted to make my own mark on the world. I started sewing and just loved feeling like I was in the moment making something. It wasn’t to please a client, it wasn’t to sell anything; it was just to be creative.

Q: What have you been working on lately?

A: I’m trying to get back to what I want to do. It means getting in the studio and starting to experiment with some things. My goal right now is to make some pieces that are wearable enough for an everyday look, but have an element of artistry. A lot of the things I’ve done in the past were showpieces or costumes for performances. While that’s really exciting and artistic, I want to marry that with function. I don’t want things to never be worn.

Q: Speaking of recent endeavors, what is it about Rightfully Sewn that makes you want to be involved?

A: Projects like that are wonderful because they hit on several areas I’m interested in—community involvement and nurturing our city as well as the design and fashion side. Hopefully it takes off and our city can see the value of having local production again as well as entitle women on many fronts, whether it’s giving them opportunities to become seamstresses or developing local designers so they can actually sell pieces and enter into the economy of our city.

Q: You mentioned the value of local production. In what direction do you see Kansas City’s fashion industry heading?

A: Our community has become pretty tight knit. People are very supportive of shopping local. That wasn’t really a big thing 10 years or even five years ago, so it’s exciting to see. If someone reaches out to me and I can’t work with a client, or if it’s a project I’m not capable of doing, I recommend other designers. We take care of each other. Especially with Jennifer Pfeifer’s project, Rightfully Sewn, I can see the future being bright. I really hope we can figure out manufacturing here and production facilities because then we can really become the strong epicenter for fashion that Kansas City once was.

Q: Asiatica is one KC company still locally producing garments today. Since you started there in August, what have you been working on?

A: I’m learning a lot from [owner] Elizabeth Wilson and [production manager/designer] Kate McConnell, who have been doing these techniques for years. Since it’s a small company, everyone has various roles and many hats to wear. I’m a cutter there. It’s a design role, but it’s also a production role, which is fascinating because I can see the stages of a garment. We do a lot of work with vintage fabrics from Japan, so those have their own characteristics. We have kimonos that we take apart and transform into a new garment, so we’re really dealing with very sustainable practices and we’ve been doing that for years before the terms like “green fashion” and things like that were in vogue. I just love going there every day.

A dress from Nelsen’s Gilded Cage Collection. Photo by Samantha Levi Photography

Q: In your many disciplines, have you found a common creative process?

A: It’s hard to know because I’m so close to what I do. I’ve heard other people say I have a minimalistic aesthetic, a lot of clean lines, but then there’s attention to details. If I’m making a garment, I think the fit is the most important. When I’m working on a collection, I limit myself to working with similar materials or a theme, that way I’m not just thinking of any possibility. When I’m working with clients, it’s hearing what their goals are and then bringing myself into the equation by giving them some options.

Q: What pieces have you added to your closet recently?

A: The last few things I purchased have all been from friends and local designers, like a hat from Amina Marie Millinery and earrings from Cheryl Eve Acosta. My next purchase will probably be a bag from Ami Beck’s line, Dolyn. I love to just thrift around or make my own things. I try to invest in pieces that will last a while or pieces made locally.