Student Clothing Line Amid Union Street High Fashion
student fashion designer puts theory to practice on union street
March 11, 2005 7:13 AM
Andrea Lamadora is standing outside the Mingle Boutique at 1815 Union St., her hands in the pockets of her tattered jeans. She talks with friends while enjoying the unusually warm weather. The breeze blows through her long hair and feather earrings.
Inside the boutique, well-dressed women sip on their drinks and munch on hors d’oeuvres while browsing through racks of clothes, all crafted by local Bay Area designers. Lamadora, an SF State design major, was among those displaying their wares.
At one of San Francisco’s fanciest shopping corridors, the brown sheer kimono blouse Lamadora paired with distressed jeans and slip-on Indian shoes stood out amid the high priced fashion seen on Union Street, and that is the point, said Lamadora.
She has big plans for her clothing line, House of Mamasan. Starting a clothing company from the ground up is empowering, said Lamadora.
“This is one small step for us,” Lamadora said, referring to the opening of Mingle. “We’re going worldwide (with House of Mamasan).”
The need to succeed as an independent designer stems from childhood, said Lamadora. Raised in the Hunter’s Point neighborhood by a single working mother, she started making clothes with her mother and sisters when she was eight years old. The need to create her own style was born early, and her clothes were a creative outlet for her. When friends and schoolmates liked her designs, she began making things for them, and she loved doing it, said Lamadora.
Lamadora, 24, applied for a business license in 2001 after an up-and-coming singer she had been dressing told her that her style was runway-worthy. She began working on the clothing line with her sister, SF State marketing major Kila Lamadora, who does the marketing for the clothing line.
Both Andrea and Kila are full-time students and work part-time as stylists and even as nannies.
“It can be difficult managing everything, but when something needs to be done, it gets done,” said Andrea.
Andrea designs all of her pieces herself and makes the clothes with the fabric she has collected from countries she has visited.
“I’ve been to Cuba, Thailand and Hawaii,” said Andrea. “My designs incorporate the beauty of all cultures and everything the Bay Area (has to offer) - politics, music, urban life,” said Andrea.
“I felt I would be a puppet,” said Andrea. “And I could never be happy doing that.”
The sisters had their first stroke of luck in 2002 when the once then-unknown Bay Area songstress Goapele’s record, “Closer,” climbed into the Top 100, reaching #63 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
“When we met Goapele, she hadn’t made a name for herself but I started dressing her,” said Andrea. "When her record made it to radio and she started attending red carpet events, everyone wanted to know who her stylist was."
“She helped to create a buzz around Mamasan,” said Kila.
Kila and Andrea said that the start of having a successful business begins with having faith in yourself.
Besides believing, Andrea said she would advise anyone trying to start their own business to get a business license. She added that their success can be attributed to old fashioned hard work and love for what you do.
“This is not a job," said Andrea. "I love what I do and it shows in the final product.”
The twosome hopes to one day open small boutiques worldwide that will feature only House of Mamasan designs and launch a new line for mass production for stores like Macy’s along with a clothing line for men.
Because of the expensive process of getting clothing into retail, they were blessed to have the chance to have their clothes in Mingle, said Kila, because the funds for Mamasan are very limited.
All of the money that goes into the clothing line comes out of the sisters’ own pockets.
“After paying the house rent and whatever else we need to survive, there is not that much money left for Mamasan,” said Kila.
Leslie Leonhardt, executive director of the Union Street Merchants Association, said new businesses are always opening and closing on Union Street.
“I’m surprised that any shops are doing well,”” Leonhardt said, adding that many new shops close because of the misconception shoppers have that all shops on Union Street are high-end.
Mimi Ting, the owner of Mingle, met the sisters in late January when they replied to an ad. “I was looking for (local) designers with unique backgrounds and styles,” said Ting. Ting added that the different styles will give the sisters an edge on the competition.
“I want my clothes to be bought and worn by everyday people,” said Andrea. “The store is the best way to make this happen.”
Jessica Spencer, designer for independent children’s clothing Jen Jen, said that at least half of all new clothing lines fail within the first three years, but the future for independent clothing lines is looking brighter.
“The fashion industry is saturated with clothing lines and people are looking to independent designers,” said Spencer. “The market is changing and clothing lines focusing on specialized clothing designs (like Jen Jen) are in demand.”
Kila and Andrea said they agree.
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