Interview in WIID Chicago
It's been 3 months since my interview with Women in Industrial Design Chicago was posted. It's also been 3 months since we launched! I wanted to share it here. It is so nice to look back on the interview now that several months have passed.
Original article here.
River Left Sleepwear: An Industrial Designer’s Journey into Fashion Design
Alessandra Corona, Industrial Designer and friend of WIID Chi, started River Left sleepwear as a side project in 2018. Now, her collection is set to presale to the public on November 17th. We had the pleasure of interviewing her to learn more about what inspired her to start River Left.
River Left is a reference to the Rive Gauche, the left bank of the Seine in Paris. Why was this chosen as the main inspiration for the brand?
For me, Rive Gauche is not just a place but a reference to an earlier time when this area was filled with artists, philosophers, and writers. Today, the Rive Gauche is a place of refined elegance and culture. I wanted to channel that.
What pushed you to take the leap into developing a soft goods brand, and how have your previous design experiences helped with this transition?
It was an idea I had in 2018, when I was preparing for my first migraine surgery. I went on a search for something to lounge around the house in while I recovered. I wanted something I would feel beautiful in, as my surgery would leave me with a pretty rough recovery.
I discovered there weren’t enough options for nightgowns. Most of the dresses were too frumpy to feel glamorous in. The other dresses were sex costumes, too sexy to walk around my parents’ house in, where I’d be recovering.
That’s where the idea came from. It snowballed from there. I had experience working with manufacturers. I implemented the ID process I’m used to -- things like research, sketching, prototyping, problem solving, and technical specs. I also credit my experience in cosmetics design as being a bit of a gateway into fashion.
How do you feel like the current sleepwear market is designing for women? How does River Left stand out in this market?
I feel as if the current sleepwear market designs items to be either for sex or for comfort. There is a way to have a balance. I want women to feel like their most confident and beautiful selves. I think many brands try to design for women and sort of miss the mark. They say “We’re designing for women, not to impress a man”. They sway too far away from the hyper sexualized and end up with a boxy sheath dress. When I am alone in my apartment and no one is seeing me, I still want to feel chic and beautiful. That doesn’t mean I will be all dolled up, but I would like my nightgown to give me a shape and feel luxurious. It is a way of treating yourself and lifting your spirits. Like when you are sad and you brush your hair and wash your face. Taking care of yourself and looking nice just feels better.
Your website mentions River Left has a focus on Inclusion for all women. How does this focus translate into your final designs?
I want all women to feel like this brand is for them. As I said above, putting on one of our pieces is a way of treating yourself and lifting your spirits. Everyone deserves that little pick me up. To ensure the designs would flatter everyone, through our development phase, we tried the garments on many body types and shades, from athletic, to hourglass, plus size, black, Middle Eastern, Asian, and white. The cross straps in the designs are meant to pull the waist in at the sides to give a flattering silhouette to an array of body shapes. The adjustable straps help with that also. The shorts have a cross over design so there is room if you have more or less in the rear. The colors were tested on many skin tones. Since we only have 3 colors right now, we wanted them to be complimentary to everyone. As we grow and have more of a budget for modeling and marketing samples, our goal is to represent all shapes, colors, and sizes in our product photography.
With sustainability and ethical manufacturing as a main part of your mission, how has this influenced some of your decisions?
I have seen a lot of waste in my product design career. Many of my products will outlast me although their use is only a fraction of their lifespan. Prioritizing ethics and sustainability made the process longer and more difficult, but completely worth it. I had to say no to many easier and less expensive options. I had to search deeper for the right suppliers.
It also affected my decision on pricing. In order to produce something sustainably and ethically, it costs more. To ensure that the products have a long lifespan, we use quality fabric and quality craftmanship, which also costs more. I hope my customers will see a River Left item as an investment. Since you don’t wear it out of the house, you can wear it over and over again. It becomes something you cherish for many years.
What guidance/mentorship, if any, did you have throughout the development of River Left?
I have a mentor, Karen Smith, who works in the chef uniform world. She has been an imperative resource. She guided me through many obstacles and never wavered in her belief in me. I would not have been able to do it without her.
A number of people have helped me along the way. My father checks my spreadsheets for errors and guided me through how to start a business. My boyfriend, Tom, is my creative director. I have friends who check my grammar and spelling – I’m horrible at that. A few of my previous bosses have been mentors as well.
What has been the biggest struggle/setback you have had so far in this process?
I had a lot of fear I needed to get over. As I figured out how to do things I didn’t know how to do over and over, my confidence grew. It became less stressful and easier to make decisions. Then it was less challenging to tackle obstacles as they came, like a global pandemic and switching manufacturers a week before production was supposed to begin.
As a female entrepreneur, what advice do you have for women wanting to start their own brand?
Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you make any decisions about leaving a more stable position. You need funding, a business plan, and research to know that your idea is feasible.
Something that really helped me was a routine. I have a standing project management meeting every Monday and Friday. I go over my timeline and to-do list and organize what every day of my week will look like in Trello. The project management meeting consists of just me sometimes my cat. She is a pretty lazy employee. But seriously, look into Trello. It kept my head on my shoulders.