Tell us about your early years. Did you always know that fashion was in your future?
I grew up in San Francisco and wasn't into fashion at all. Trends weren't my thing nor did I follow the big fashion houses. My decision to go to design school after my undergraduate studies was driven by my desire to become a painter. I was looking to find ways of expressing myself creatively.
I went to design school in France and one of the great things about the school was that every student had to take a course in each industry: fashion design, graphic design, fabrics, product design, etc. The fashion design course was a totally new experience for me: instead of making pretty clothes, I saw myself as a sculptor creating a malleable structure on a form that is constantly changing. Designing for the human body with its wide variety of shapes and sizes is a big and ongoing challenge. I loved it. Plus, fine arts doesn’t really pay as a career!
You interned for a Japanese designer very early on. Tell us how you got the job.
I went to a trade show as a fashion student, intent on finding an internship. I polished my resume, researched all the brands that were showing, and I went up to each and every one of them asking for an internship. There was a wonderful Japanese designer based in Paris, Yoshi Kondo, who was open to the idea and I pursued him relentlessly. I basically told him that he had to have me and he eventually took me on.
He had never had an intern before and as a result, he didn’t treat me like one. I got to get my hands dirty in almost everything and it was a very rich experience. He was a formative part of my early career and remains a mentor today.
You worked in a pretty wide range of companies after graduation.
After my studies, I found a job in Mexico City for a Mexican luxury brand as a production manager. They made high-end gowns that were very intricate using things like hand appliques which was really fun.
I eventually came back to the US to get a “real” job (plus I needed the money). I found a job at a design agency in product development and management doing UX/UI for a couple of years. During this time, I designed drag costumes for queens in the city which was a nice break from my day job. It kept my design and sewing skills fresh while allowing me to use things like rhinestones and feathers which I would never normally use.
When did you start incubating the concept for your own brand?
It was around this time that my boyfriend started suggesting the idea but I had zero confidence that I could pull it off. I didn't think I knew enough about the industry so I took a job managing a boutique in Berkeley for a couple of years where I learned everything retail: customer fit, inventory management, merchandising… It was a terrific way of getting my feet wet and understanding brick-and-mortar retail.
After I got the hang of it, I was ready. I moved back in with my parents who were very supportive of the idea and began the legwork in developing my first collection. I went to all the fabric shows and my mentor invited me to China to meet with manufacturers. During this trip, I saw what healthy and ethical manufacturing in China could look like. I started developing samples and would spend two weeks at a time.
There were also tough lessons and a lot of mistakes. Spending thousands of dollars on trade shows without knowing exactly what you want to get out of it was one! Also, COVID hit right when I was ready to launch. I decided to get a full-time job so that I could slowly take the time to develop my brand while enjoying the process without the pressure of having to make money immediately
Tell us about the design inspiration behind DGS.
I went in with the mindset of exploration. I was very prolific during the design phase and used fabrics that I ultimately didn’t use. Through lots of trial and error, I started seeing my style emerge. My first collection was definitely me but a little more formal than I would’ve liked. My vision is to create something that was very down to earth, wearable, and every day. I want my customers to treat the clothing like they would a friend. Something that inspires confidence while lasting a lifetime. I want my items to be special and appreciated. The opposite of disposable fashion.
You’re shifting your production from China to Los Angeles. Why?
It’s frustrating that consumers automatically assume “made in China” is equivalent to being unethical, sweatshop lady while “made in the USA” is associated with sustainable practices. You can certainly find amazing ethical factories with excellent quality control in China; similarly, sweatshop labor does exist in the US. It’s up the designer to carefully research and visit the factories to see for themselves. But from a customer messaging perspective, it was an uphill battle.
In addition, I found that while the factory was very resourceful about sustainable practices, ultimately you’re shipping items back and forth across the world which is a pretty big carbon footprint. Not to mention, I love the idea of being close to my production and hands-on with the entire process. From a financial standpoint, it makes things much easier as well since you’re no longer dealing with customs and taxes!