Like most creatives, young designer/stylist Karen De Freitas Fraser never saw herself working a nine-to-five desk job and so, from the early age of 11, she focused her attentions on achieving success in creativity. A native of St. Vincent, Karen found ways to develop her skills on an island with limited artistic/fashion resources by taking art classes in school, as well as working in mas camps during the Carnival season and shadowing whichever seamstresses and designers she could. Magazines and other media also helped her expand her fashion knowledge.
And so the SoKa brand was born.
‘It’s not by accident that I named my brand SoKa, which is synonymous with soca music. I love Carnival and everything about it: the costumes, the music, the ability to be carefree and express yourself… The name also stands for “so Karen”; simply put, I wanted a name that stood for me and where I came from.’
Currently pursuing her studies at the prestigious Parsons The New School For Design in New York – thanks to the support of her single mother – Karen is working on building her portfolio as a stylist. This involves a great deal of networking on her part which she finds thoroughly enjoyable in a city that allows her creativity to flourish and is accepting of her mixed heritage and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.
‘I love finally working in the industry! Even though I’m not fully there yet, it’s way better than being a French teacher at a primary school back home!’ she says.
Now focused on building her name as both a designer and a stylist, Karen draws her inspiration from a plethora of resources, historical, cultural and even anatomical. She is working on a collection inspired by the human anatomy, cell structure, the nervous system and the gastric system – all inspired by a body exhibition she attended in New York.
Previously, like many Caribbean designers, Karen used the region as her source of inspiration, especially with its rich mélange of cultures.
‘I played with a concept “l’Afrique métropole”, which is using African motifs in a very contemporary way. Also I did [a collection] which was a mixture of the French Rococo or the Versailles and African heritage, which was the offspring idea of having lived in Martinique. Even though I don’t necessarily design the “conventional” Caribbean way using tie dye and white cotton, I took my diverse mixed background and translated it into a mood board that told stories of my history and heritage.’
Now that she has gone from the islands to the city, Karen fully intends to merge the differences within her work in ways that complement one another, such as the shapes of the Big Apple with the sunsets she knows from back home. The formal training at Parsons will only further her skills technically as well.
As for her brand SoKa, which she considers to be an alter ego of sorts, the designer has put the designing on hold for the moment as she concentrates on the business aspect of the industry and gaining as much experience and exposure through networking as possible.
‘I won’t be completely absent as I have put together a mini collection of swimsuits which are scheduled to be previewed in July. I’m also doing some smaller shows here in Brooklyn.’
We can expect a new collection from a more mature SoKa in about two years’ time, when Karen has had the opportunity to grow creatively, technically and of course, financially.
These images showcase Karen as both a designer and a stylist, taken in Grand Central station with the concept being dark romance.
‘I was thinking along the lines of a Russian princess prior to the Revolution,’ she explains. ‘Some images were about a standstill in the midst of chaos, some were simply fashion in motion, and others were about the devil versus the angel.’
And what was it like working with a creative team in such a busy location?
‘It was all positive energy at the shoot; the makeup artist, the hair stylist, the photographer and the models gave so much creativity, we all fed off one another throughout the shoot. It was weird at first with everybody looking to me to give direction, but everyone contributed their ideas at different stages and that’s how the story grew. This is the best team I’ve worked with thus far; we already have some future collaborations in the making.’
Being a designer in the Caribbean is no doubt a difficult task, not without its challenges. For Karen, finding support has been one of the toughest obstacles, as people within the region are yet to recognize the creative industry as a lucrative business.
‘We’re still stuck in a box thinking that the “best” jobs are doctors and lawyers, and not realizing that those same doctors and lawyers need clothes too!’
She hopes that in the future, investors will take notice of designers like herself despite the current economy and says that it can be very disheartening when people don’t appreciate the time and effort that goes into creating an item of clothing.
Very much sharing the opinion of the CFstyle team, Karen believes that while the Caribbean is making strides in the industry in its own way, there is still along way to go.
‘With the CFA and the fashion shows being produced like CFW and IWFW, the efforts still need to be unified. We need to start investing in ourselves because we have a niche that is innate to us that other international designers often copy, be it through our use of colour or our materials. We should start supporting our own – there needs to be fashion managers, marketers, trained designers, stylists and writers; the possibilities in this industry are endless. We are more creative than we allow ourselves to be.’
Visit the SoKa brand Facebook fan page at:
Wardrobe & Styling: SoKa
Models: Lorianna Swain & Shellie [AgencyModel Management]
MUA: Amanda Rae Negro
Hair: Chantel George