Lone Crow Couture
Laurie Lay characterizes Richmond style as safe. She cites a lack of distinction between day and night wear, with people donning the same clothes to Target that they’d wear to a show that night.
Working with denim, stretchy velvet, organic cotton and leather, she crafts a line of distinctive-looking clothing that doesn’t scream, “I’m from Richmond.”
“Making a shirt, for example, there are so many avenues you can take — fabric, the accessories on it, who’s wearing it,” she says. “Clothing gets a life of its own when someone puts it on. All those elements come into play when I’m making a piece.”
Like any applied art and design, fashion showcases the changing expression of trends in clothing, with good design taking into account both form and function. It’s also big business, with fashion accounting for more than $250 billion in sales in the United States.
Patricia Brown, chairwoman of Virginia Commonwealth University’s fashion design and merchandising department, says that people love what’s new and exciting — and for many, fashion’s appeal is that it can be part of their outward self-expression.
Growing up around sewing women propelled Lay into the world of fashion design, but it was a circuitous path. Detours to get a master’s degree in psychology, opening a restaurant and working for a friend making clothing for heavy metal bands prevented her from making it her life’s work until last June.
“It’s a chance to create every day,” she says of her new venture. “I wanted to have a tangible outlet for expression that creates a viable livelihood.”
She isn’t exactly looking to Richmond style for inspiration. Her line — jackets, pants, vests, shirts and jumpsuits — take its cues from the ’70s, with clean, relaxed silhouettes that can be dressed up or down.
“You’ve got to feel what you’re wearing,” Lay says. “Make your clothes an expression of yourself personally. If you’re having a blue day, wear it. Let your outside expression reflect what’s inside. It’s an attitude thing.”
For Virginia Commonwealth University graduate Sue Kallamadi, it was a quarter-life crisis that landed her in the fashion business. An analyst by day with a degree in applied physics, she sensed that something was lacking in life when a friend gave her the push to start her own business. Although she wasn’t a seamstress or designer, she always had a knack for helping friends choose clothing.
With financial backing from her parents, Kallamadi created Trunk Up online boutique, offering three lines: boho chic, preppy and glam for evenings. Working with vendors all over the world, she seeks out merchandise that customers aren’t likely to find locally and doesn’t hesitate to return garments when she’s dissatisfied with their quality.
Taking a cue from her mother’s saris, she seeks out Indian-inspired fabrics and colors in American styles: “You see a crop top and skirt, well that’s pretty much an Indian outfit.”
Her frustration lies in the abundance of fabulous Indian fabric that doesn’t make it to American clothing.
“Being Indian, fabric and color are everything,” she says of the ethnic prints and bright fabrics that dominate a collection, with prices from $30-$55. Affordability is key. “I want to provide unique clothes that aren’t easy to find but are easy to wear.” she says.
While a fan of Richmond’s eclectic clothing boutiques, her vision is strictly online.
It’s also decidedly philanthropic. Her father moved to Richmond from India in 1993 with $50 and a dream, and the rest of the family followed in 1994. “He worked really hard to get us where we are,” she says.
As part of her effort to give back, 10 percent of the company’s profits are donated to Global Hope Network International to sponsor a village in India. Those donations already have created a children’s computer center and supplied clean water for the village.
“Charity’s a big part of my family, so I wanted that angle for my business,” she says. “It’s hard, especially for a business that’s not yet profitable, but it’s so satisfying getting updates on the village. And I love getting customer emails thanking me for my affordable clothes.”