Clothing Designer Kari Schoeneck. Photo by NBD Photography

Fashion Designer Kari Schoeneck

Designer Dreams: The Style of Kari Schoeneck

Written by Kelli Gillespie

From the Midwest to New York City Kari Schoeneck lived out every aspiring designer’s dream. Sewing all her life, she adapted well to the Big Apple, but her talents soon brought her to call San Diego home. Risen caught up with this creative girl to learn more about style, fashion and pursuing passions.

Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California

Risen Magazine: Tell me about your passion for art and how your fashion/creative side developed?
Kari Schoeneck: I have been sewing and doing anything that I can get my hands on creatively since around five years old. My mother sews and taught me, and pretty much every female in my family sews as well, so it was around me all the time. Since I’m from Wisconsin, and from the Midwest, I was involved in 4H. I had the opportunity to do a lot of projects and once a year, go show them at the fair. I would get judged on what I made. From the very beginning, I’ve been pretty comfortable with having other people tell me what they thought about my work. I also did something through 4H where you had to make an outfit, model it, and then be judged on how you picked your fabrics and the silhouette and everything like that. After doing that a few times, I realized that I had a knack for it even more so than the other people around me did. I had it in the back of my head that maybe this would be fun to do someday. In school, I was also academically strong so I wasn’t sure if I should pursue that more, or go for the more artsy thing. When it came time to decide, I went more for the more creative field.

Clothing Designer Kari Schoeneck design. Photo by Stay True Photography

Clothing Designer Kari Schoeneck design. Photo by Stay True Photography

Risen Magazine: Sometimes, especially in runway modeling, the fashions get pretty eccentric. How do you keep yourself free enough to dream and imagine what you want to do creatively, but then grounded enough in reality that people would want to wear it?
Kari Schoeneck: That’s hard because initially when I was going to school I thought I was going to be so commercial and design for the masses, and that everything I made was going to be really wearable. But there is something about the corporate way when you get into that, that you don’t have much say in the final product because everyone along the way has their very specific steps that they are working on. You don’t get to always do it yourself and have your own concept to finish. I realized then that I wanted more control in the whole process and the reason why I got into design was because I loved making things – that is what really gets me excited. To take that part away from me just wasn’t going to happen. I think now I’m moving more into the artistic side of things where I have a client and meet one-on-one with them; I’m learning about their personality, learning about the whole package and then translating that to clothes.

Risen Magazine: Where does your inspiration come?
Kari Schoeneck: Oh Gosh, all over the place. I think textiles especially inspire me. My major at University of Wisconsin was Textile and Apparel Design so I had a lot of classes that were very textile focused with embellishments and printing. I’ve always been such a tactile person and whenever I’m in a store I always touch everything. So I think that definitely inspires me. Sometimes when I see different details in clothes in a store, that will inspire me. Or if I see something on a shirt [I like] I will translate that into a dress or something else. Sometimes I pull from artwork, but I think that can be so reminiscent from the classroom setting that I don’t necessarily go that way. If I do have a client that comes to me and says, “I want this,” I am definitely familiar with doing what they ask.

Risen Magazine: How would you describe your personal style?
Kari Schoeneck: Pretty classic, however I do like to keep it girly but with kind of a hard edge with some accessories or something like that. It’s kind of mixed, I like to change it up.

Risen Magazine: Where do you see style and fashion going from here?
Kari Schoeneck: I guess the 90’s should come back if we are following suit. But I don’t know, the 90’s were pretty rough and I don’t know if the grunge should really come back…but it might.

Kari Schoeneck clothing design. Photo by Stay True Photography

Kari Schoeneck clothing design. Photo by Stay True Photography

Risen Magazine: What aspect of the whole process from meeting with someone, to sketches, to actually making the finished product do you enjoy the most?
Kari Schoeneck: When it’s finally done and on a body is the most rewarding. When I’m in [the process] and making it, that can be the most stressful and not always the most fun at moments. But when the piece is on someone and they are walking and moving – you forget, and all that stress melts away.

Risen Magazine: Was there a defining moment from where you thought, “Oh this is good. I can sew and make unique outfits for myself and others“? When did that transition happen that you knew this could be your full time career?
Kari Schoeneck: When I decided to go to school for fashion in college. I went to University of Wisconsin, which is has a four-year bachelor program, so my mom said, “That’s four years, you better start there and if you change your mind that is fine but start there and see.” Immediately, and interestingly enough, the program was very focused from the start and you got a lot of exposure to the kind of classes that you were going to be taking. From professors and other people around me, I saw that I actually did have a good eye for design and talent. I realized that pretty early on, stuck with the program, and here I am now.

Risen Magazine: How supportive were your parents when you told them that this was what you wanted to do? Did they see your talent as well or did they want you to pursue a more “safe” occupation?
Kari Schoeneck: I’ve been sewing my whole life and I’ve always been looking to see what the next project is that I can do. So I don’t think that it was really a surprise to them. I involved them through the whole process so I was always showing them what I was working on. But also as a smart kid, I had people tell me I should go do something else because I was smart. I just went for design. I think picking design, verses an art field, is a lot more focused – it’s applied art, you have a goal and a path, more so than an artist which can be all over the place at times.

Risen Magazine: What encouragement would you give to high school, and college-age kids about the importance of pursuing their passions?
Kari Schoeneck: Well, it’s tough out there now; it’s hard. But I feel like if you have the drive to do it, you can do it. Don’t let ego get involved because you see that so much in fashion – especially people that go to school for fashion. They don’t really have a desire to learn about the basics behind making clothing and learning how to sew. They just think that someday when they are a big designer they will hire someone to sew for them. But people that don’t know how to sew don’t make great designers because people actually have to get in and out of your clothes and they have to be able to wear them, not just look at them on the hanger. I think that just really being open to learn and to take from people that have experience in it and learn from their mistakes [is important] so you don’t have to make them.

Risen Magazine: How does your faith play into you as a designer, or does it? Do you compartmentalize the two?
Kari Schoeneck: It absolutely plays a part. My faith has definitely changed my goals and my future as a designer. Back when I was really looking to design for the masses I wasn’t really thinking about what God’s plan was for me and my career. I was just thinking about what my teachers were telling me and what other people around me were telling me about what path I should be on.
Risen Magazine: Styles can say so much about a person. Do you feel like when you see somebody based on how they dress, act or behave you can say, “Ok this person is in this category?” Or is that just judgmental and stereotyping?
Kari Schoeneck: That is something that kind of frustrated me. I saw it especially when I lived in New York because judgment is everywhere – fashion is just so relevant to everything and everyone around them. In school I was learning how to make clothes, but I also felt like you were constantly taught to judge everyone around you whether it was their body type, or what they were wearing, and being taught to think that way for awhile doesn’t have a very positive effect on you. I felt like it really changed me and of course that was another point in time where I was taking other peoples’ advice rather than actually thinking about how God wanted me to act towards everyone.

Risen Magazine: Where do you see yourself next? What will your design future ideally look like?
Kari Schoeneck: People always ask me if I’ll have a line of my own, and I don’t know. I’ve worked with a lot of people that are starting up their own lines and I see what it does to people when they don’t have a balance in their life and I don’t know that I’d be strong enough to keep that balance. I would like to think I would but I’m perfectly fine doing custom pieces for people. If someone did approach me and want to help me do a line then maybe I’d consider it… but it’s a lot of work to take it on individually. I’ve seen that, and I’ve been the right hand to a lot of people, so I’d have to have a good team of people that would share my values, morals and faith too. Right now, I’m perfectly happy doing one-on-one custom pieces. Weddings are fun. I’ve done wedding dresses and I think there really aren’t many opportunities to do a scenario where you sit down with someone and you really learn what they want, and the things that reflect their personality.

Learn more about Kari and her designs at:

Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Summer 2012

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