At the age of nine, Laurie Underwood began designing and creating her own clothing. Focusing on grace and feminine appeal, she birthed the fashion forward, swanky yet trendy line Wanda Grace in 2008, after completing her degree at the Illinois Institute of Art. After revamping multiple times and drawing inspiration from fashion influencers such as Tracee Ellis Ross, Jackie Kennedy, and countless others, Wanda Grace evolved into a full line of chic, fun, flirty ready-to-wear pieces. Underwood discusses what it takes to start a fashion line, inspiration, and what sets her apart from other designers and fashion lines.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Wanda Grace.
I am originally from Detroit, but moved to Chicago about 10 years ago. I always dreamed of being a fashion designer and relocated to Chicago for fashion school. I never really wanted to work for anyone else—it just wasn’t something I was interested in. I wanted to follow my dream. After design school, I stepped out there to see what I could possibly achieve. I became an independent fashion designer all on my own. I created my fashion line, Wanda Grace. Wanda comes from my middle name. Wanda Grace is a fashion brand that speaks ladylike. It’s for those who want to stand out while fitting in at the same time.”
What does it take to start your own clothing line?
“There are times when it is glamorous, and times when it’s not so glamorous. You have to put in a great deal of hard work to be a fashion designer. In the startup phase, you may have to sew pieces yourself, or be up at 4 am producing fashion shows, and also put together your own PR campaigns because you can’t afford a PR firm. In the beginning, you have to wear many hats including that of design director, event planner, social media expert, etc., in order to get your brand out there and get people interested in what you have to offer.”
Do you have to know how to sew to be a fashion designer?
“You don’t have to know, but you should know. If you don’t know how to sew and you can produce a line, that is awesome. But if you want this to be your passion, you should know your craft. You should know how things are supposed to be sewn. If you can’t sew and you send something out for production and you see a hem that’s sewn a certain way, and that is not the way it should be, then that’s your product out there. If I send something to production and I don’t like how it’s stitched together, then I can fix my product. You should know the basics of sewing, and if you are not able to go to fashion school, there are classes at fabric stores. You can also go to YouTube. You basically can teach yourself. The things that I wasn’t taught in design school, I had to teach myself.”
Do you make the clothing yourself, or do you outsource production?
“Initially, I was making the pieces myself on a “made to order” basis. After some time, I eventually outgrew that business model. I decided that if I wanted my business to grow, I had to invest more into my fashion line. I began to outsource my product so that I could have quality pieces for my customers and meet the growing demand. Even though my pieces are sent out for production, I still design each piece.”
What sets you apart from other fashion designers and fashion lines?
“My brand is more personable—it connects with a lot of different women. With my brand, I am able to set an example of how a woman should dress, mainly an African American woman. We see so many negative images of how to dress on television, mainly on reality TV. There are so many designers that are mimicking that style. They think that’s what women want. I wanted to create a line that shows you how to dress all over again. I wanted to be the brand that offers you a bad shoe or power skirt, so that when you walk into a room people are like, who are you and what do you do. That is what makes my brand stand out. I wanted to get the consumers minds off of wearing bodycon dresses, cutout dresses and tops, and denim shorts that look like underwear. I want to encourage women to get back to dressing with respect, because we have gotten away from teaching our young women how to dress. I want to do that with Wanda Grace.
The Autumn/Winter Collection of Wanda Grace was released in November. Bold colors, sleek lines, and tailored looks can be found in this collection. Wanda Grace is currently working on her Spring/Summer Collection. You can shop the collection and learn more at WandaGrace.com.