STUDIO: Caroline Borucki - Apparel Designer, Artist and Educator
Caroline Borucki is one talented and inspiring lady! I'm so excited to share this interview and give you a peek into her studio. It was wonderful to visit with her and see how much care she puts into every piece she creates.
Ana: Tell me a bit about your background.
Caroline: I got my training at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. In 2009, I received a BA in apparel design, photography and studio art. I studied abroad in London in autumn 2007; traveled around the UK, while doing an independent study with a tutor at the London College of Fashion. The study focused on the history of costume and how the female silhouette changed over time. In July 2008 I studied at the Paris American Academy in France, doing an intensive millinery and couture studies program. It was there that my design process fell into place, and my deep rooted inspiration from mushrooms took hold. While in my last year of college, I developed a small thesis on the topic "Is Fashion Art?" focusing on the comparisons between fashion and sculpture.
To this day I still create collections in both art and fashion, most of which are inspired by biological taxonomy, specifically a subdued analysis of a fungi. My inspiration from the natural world has gotten more and more specific as the years have gone by, along with my attention to detail.
A: Interesting! Do you think there are any specific ways your time abroad influenced your current practice?
C: While studying in London, I didn't have access to a sewing machine, so the main thing I realized was how much I missed creating. When I returned to the states I was excited to sew again, but my trip to Paris during that summer is what really got me motivated. While in Paris, I lived and dreamt fashion; spending countless hours doing hand sewn couture work, forming sculptural hats and drawing an illustrated collection. Once I returned from Paris, I remained fairly isolated from the social world and committed all of my time to creating women's and children's apparel, woodworking sculpture and shooting/styling film photography. I still obsess over projects, I try to make more of an effort to sleep when there are deadlines, but sometimes there just isn't enough time in the day. Once I have an inspiration it's hard to ignore it, it will just sit in the back of my mind and periodically say "HEY, create me!" until the last possible moment. The majority of the time when I work an event, I'm still creating at my vendor setup, because there are just too many ideas racing though my mind.
My focus after college was solely apparel design. I deviated away from my couture-driven projects and created casual women's clothing for everyday wear. My material choices have always been an important component; I make sure to use re-purposed materials along with organic-colored woven textiles. Using re-purposed fabrics adds the special kick to my company by insuring some items are completely one-of-a-kind, just like each person who feels a connection to a piece. I developed a particular standard for my apparel's workmanship so that it could remain consistent throughout each collection. After getting my apparel to a point where product inventory fit demand, I began to drift into craft. At a festival in 2011, guests expressed positive feedback about my small collection of sewn cards. I decided to embark on a journey into expanding my card making abilities and created a collection of options in the summer of 2013. Shortly after participating in the Renegade Craft Fair in Sept 2013, I felt like I was missing something in my understanding of fashion. That something was weaving. After years of using every bit of a woven fabric to make products, I had the strong desire to learn how to create a woven textile. I've been weaving for about a year now, both on a loom for fabric creation and tapestry style as fine art.
A: I love that you're so invested in the materials you use in your process. Are you hoping to get to a point where you make some pieces completely from scratch? Weaving the fabrics you use for the clothing pieces?
C: I am in the process of creating a spring/summer collection for 2015, combining the use of re-purposed fabrics and some of my hand woven textiles. I might decide to do a small collection of fully woven pieces, but creating with re-purposed textiles will always be my niche. My favorite part of creating is choosing textiles to combine and sharing their background story.
A: Wonderful. So, have you always been interested in the arts?
C: I wasn't particularly artistic until my college years, but I was involved in Home Economics classes in middle school & high school. I always had interest in coordinating colors, and when it came to deciding on a topic of study it was between interior design and apparel design. Apparel stuck closer to me simply because I liked the connection to what I wore and how my classmates reacted to it. I was unusually shy and my choices for apparel were the only way I could express individuality and be noticed. It was more than just a neat article of clothing to wear, it was me trying to mirror the personality which I was too shy to share with others. In high school I began collecting vintage apparel, hats, decor and second hand fabrics, which to this day I use for guidance & as material for product inventory.
A: I love that. How about in the present? What are you currently inspired by?
C: The natural world is forever inspiring to me. I've done mini collections on slugs, sea creatures, birds... but mycology always rings in with hierarchy. I've recently joined the Illinois Mycological Association and I'm excited to have that information influence my work.
A: Was there anything specific that lead you to your love of mushrooms? Or did you just notice you kept gravitating toward that as an interest in general?
C: Honestly, I just have some random fascination with mushrooms. I've deviated my focus into other taxonomies, but I find research in mycology constantly engages me scientifically and aesthetically.
A: Sweet! What are your goals/next steps for your business?
C: Many goals in the works right now! It's definitely an exciting time. I'm in the process of sourcing USA-made environmentally friendly textiles, for apparel goods. Integrating my hand woven pieces into apparel, along with learning spinning of fibers so I can truly understand the whole process. Getting my tapestry weaving pieces into art exhibitions, while also experimenting to create larger works for installations. Developing a faster method for my sewn cards to be created, and making sure products can fill the demand. Getting a business model in place for expansion, so I can hopefully add on some team members! Endless goals really, but the end all is a brick & mortar, and I'm just beginning to make monthly road adventures for that search for the perfect city.
A: Are you feeling drawn to anywhere in particular?
C: Warmer weather would be wonderful, and perhaps more of a small town vibe. So possibly somewhere in the southern direction!
A: What has the Chicago fashion scene been like for you and your craft?
C: I've been participating in Chicago fashion events since I was in college, in 2007. From 2009- 2012 I made sure to be part of fashion shows regularly, which helped immensely in networking and seeing what other fashion designers had out there. From 2012- 2015, I have focused more on craft fairs, artisan markets and pop-up shops. Even though I consider my product focus to be apparel, the craft scene has resonated more with me compared to the fashion industry. A lot of apparel gets outsourced once a company gets larger, or a production team creates the owner's designs. I am very stubborn about the maker being acknowledged for their work, instead of just having the owner have their name on the label. Artisan Makers have an understanding of perfection of their product specialty. I prefer doing fairs/markets compared to fashion shows, because it allows consumers to really see the product and hear the maker's story.
A: Yeah, that is definitely a distinguishing factor between those types of events. I think that hearing the maker's story is so important as well.
Now having a few years of experience under your belt, is there any advice you wish you could give yourself when you were just starting out?
C: Find a mentor. I had a jewelry internship right after college, but I wasn't ready to process the business side of things. Five years later, I'm still working on feeling comfortable with business specifics on my own. I am constantly searching for more guidance, so don't be afraid to seek it, and don't be deterred by setbacks.
Don't rush yourself. I don't regret taking my time to be creative, after experimenting in fashion, art & craft the past 5 years. I have a better idea about what I want for my company's future. Seeing my colleagues make their dream business a storefront reality is great and it has inspired me to reach my goals. If I opened a store two years ago, my whole mission would have been different than it is now, so I'm glad I've taken my time developing more skills.
A: What are you up to when you're not in the studio?
C: I like going to the forest, taking a bicycle ride, or just walking off a trail to say hi to the deer. I enjoy traveling and exploring; especially when it involves water and boats. I like woodworking, making small gourmet treats and writing playful illustrated zines. I'm a volunteer at a few places; caregiver at a ferret shelter, lead teacher for a middle school arts program & also at an urban farm where I'm hoping to help in their mushroom farm. I'm in the midst of RYT certification, so I enjoy a bit of yoga, along with trying to pretend I know modern interpretive dance...
A: Haha. What music are you listening to lately?
C: Recently, I've been on a Future Islands kick, some Moby too. Usually I listen to jazz - Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, 1920s/Charleston tunes. If it's rainy I listen to Morphine, if it's sunny outside I play Parov Stelar. Here and there some Leonard Cohen, Andrew Bird and George Crumb.
Thank you so much for your time, Caroline! I can't wait to see the Spring collection you're working on!
- Caroline Borucki website
- Shop Caroline Borucki on Etsy!
- Caroline's Instagram
- Caroline Borucki on Facebook
If you're in Chicago, head out to Revolution Brewery (the one on Kedzie) this Thursday, the 26th for the ART GIVES ME HOPE - a pop up art show for suicide prevention & awareness event. Caroline donated one of her tapestries to the raffle, so you have a chance of bringing it home and supporting a great cause at the same time!