Natasha Duran-Lynch: Fashion Designer and Founder of Hues of Ego

Natasha Duran-Lynch, fashion designer and founder of Hues of Ego, photographed at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Natasha Duran-Lynch, fashion designer and founder of Hues of Ego, photographed at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale wearing a coat she designed, by Nicki Escudero

Natasha Duran-Lynch
www.huesofego.com

In just a few years, Natasha Duran-Lynch has catapulted to the center of the Phoenix fashion scene, winning Phoenix Fashion Week‘s Couture Designer of the Year title this year, after only graduating from fashion design school in 2012. Duran-Lynch has her own line, Hues of Ego, which focuses on blending structure with femininity.

You can catch the 32-year-old Scottsdale resident on home shopping channel EVINE Live early next year, where she’ll be selling some designs inspired by her award-winning line. Keep reading to learn the inspiration behind Duran-Lynch’s designs, and you can hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

My mom. We moved here when I was in high school. I’m originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she just didn’t see us being there any more.

I graduated from Highland High School and went to ASU, where I was studying for my master’s in architecture and a minor in design before attending Collins College.

What was your career like before becoming a fashion designer?

I met my husband and started working for him in the mortgage business. At a certain point, I wasn’t feeling that drive and intensity anymore. I wanted more. I started painting, and I would fiddle with architecture models on the side. I knew I had the passion to create, and I wanted to tune into my creative side again but just didn’t know how, or how I could make this creative vision/dream a reality that could possibly be turn into a career.

Then my husband and I went to Scottsdale Fashion Week several years ago at Scottsdale Fashion Square, and I thought it was amazing. I had always loved fashion, and I decided to go to school at Collins College to study fashion design. I feel like I had only been going to school for a month, and I felt at home with what I was learning. It was one of the first times I felt like it came easier to me than I had felt when I went to school for architecture. It didn’t feel pushed or overworked, and that is was my aha moment. I started feeling that drive again and that urge to do something and to create something. I went from sewing pillows, to drafting my own patterns, then to the actual construction of a garment. I graduated in 2012 and have been focusing on my designs since.

What’s your earliest memory of being interested in design?

I’ve always been an artist at heart. Throughout school, I would submit for contests that involved art. I have won a few contests throughout my school years and now in my adult years. I always had the love of design.

With fashion, when I found out I was actually good at it, I was in school and was being recognized by other students and my instructors. It came a lot easier to me than architecture did. I never felt pushed – it just came to me with ease.

A lot of my designs now have a lot of influence from architecture. I base most of my design concepts and collections around a story. I like to create a mood of how I want someone to feel from my collection and story. I have a reason for everything I do. It’s form and function. I make sure everything has a purpose and a meaning. I guess the drill work my architecture professors did on me still influences me today.

How did Hues of Ego come about?

Through Collins College, I submitted to Phoenix Fashion Week a couple times. The first time was for their T-shirt contest, which I won in 2010 with a polo shirt. To get that feeling of accomplishment was so cool. In 2011, my school had a couple booths where they showcased a few of my designs at Phoenix Fashion Week, too.

In 2013, I submitted to the Little Black Dress Challenge at Phoenix Fashion Week and got in the top four. I got out-hustled that time and really learned a lot while I was there. The winner had cards and was hustling to get people to vote since it was a live vote. I decided I was going to sharpen my business skills and learned a lot from that experience no one likes to lose and get out-hustled. I knew from that moment I wanted to show I had a voice, and I wanted to show that.

In 2014, I applied for the Phoenix Fashion Week Emerging Designer competition with a strong collection, that wasn’t only fashion-forward, but that also had a strong story and voice behind it. I did not win at the end, but I knew I wanted to continue, so I was happy when Brian Hill, the founder of Phoenix Fashion Week, invited me to apply again this year and return to the competition. I had already been working on a new collection concept, so as soon as I applied and got accepted, I hit the ground running and put everything into full force. I knew I had to come back into the competition as if I was newcomer. I knew that I had to redo everything again, and I knew I had to push myself in every way even more than I did in 2014.

This year, I knew I needed to make this a business, and I knew I had to make it become realistic numbers-wise. So, I had to dissect the manufacturing process I had put together the prior year and reconstruct it this year, so we could actually make the numbers work — and, we did. My assistant and I went down to L.A. to hit the pavement and beat the streets, sweating and all, and knocked on doors for three days straight trying to meet with anyone who would meet with us to help us put this process back together. We did it, we cut our cost by 75 percent. It was an incredibly hard, stressful and emotional three days, but we did it. There is so much more to being a company and designer they don’t teach in school.

I was excited to win Couture Designer of the Year at Phoenix Fashion Week this year. tI was an amazing feat to win. I still choke up today thinking about it. Actually, I watch the videos from my shows almost every day. I listen to the music from my runway shows. It reminds me of how much work I put into to it, and the reason why I won is because I worked. It motivates me in everything I do on a daily basis. Sometimes when things are not going the right way, I just turn on the my music and videos and watch what I have accomplished so far, and it gets me through it all. It’s pretty amazing.

What inspired the line’s name Hues of Ego?

I really wanted it to be in tune with a woman’s alter ego. I feel like a lot of us women wear a lot of hats, masks or facades. Those masks are what we put on every day. We’re a different woman at the gym, with our girlfriends, with our kids, with our husbands or boyfriends. There are all these different titles you fit, and I feel like sometimes women lose themselves in all of these titles and what they’re expected to be like. I feel like Hues of Ego is in tune with the different hues or layers of a woman, and it allows them to bring out that bolder inner version of themselves.

What is your design process like?

This last collection was my spring/summer collection, where I was trying to say what reminds me of spring without going floral. I still wanted to have bold touches, clean lines and structure, with flowy fabrics. I was trying to figure out how to mix those two ideas.

I had an idea of what colors I want to use, and I think I want to have white in every collection because it’s something I really like — it’s pristine, clean and never goes out of style.

I write a list of words about what I’m feeling. I thought about a labyrinth garden, and then I saw a red balloon and thought about what the color red means to me, which can be your identity or DNA or soul. What else does a balloon mean? It’s weightless and free, but at times, it has a string on it and is held down. I thought about the journey in a labyrinth garden, and how that relates to the twists and turns in a woman’s life. Either the string on the balloon can hold her down, or she can fly. The idea was this woman reborn. She’s trying to figure out her journey, whether that’s toward a job or a significant other.

Then, I’ll look up pictures that relate to the words I collected. I like to use Pinterest or Polyvore to organize my ideas and do fashion boards there. Sometimes the idea grows from there. This collection also had ideas related to ballerinas, of hard work and slippers on her feet that maybe aren’t so beautiful. I love the idea of the juxtaposition of mixing hard and soft.

I feel like I’m really good at structure because I can bring my love of architecture and detail into my designs. Flowy fits into the feeling of spring. With a ballerina, she feels poise, but she can feel weightless at times. Those all influence my design.

Who is your target customer?

My demographic is women ages 25 to 50. I have introductory pieces that start at $100, and pieces go up to be investment or statement pieces you’ll have for awhile. I think everyone these days likes to mix designers and price ranges with what they are wearing.

What are some of your favorite brands?

I really love Stéphane Rolland, who uses a lot of structure and architectural influences. I love Zac Posen and Marchesa. I like Balenciaga and, of course, Chanel.

What are your goals?

We’re trying to get into boutiques. Our main focus right now is sales, sales and more sales, and trying to build brand recognition and customers. We’re finding when people are able to come up close and see and touch the pieces, they’re more likely to buy.

We want to improve our ecommerce sales, which comes with brand recognition and getting in front of people in boutiques, too.

I’m not trying to get in front of a million people right now, though. I’d rather grow at a steady pace with my company and not have it out-grow me.

What’s your perception of the Phoenix fashion design community?

I think Phoenix has a really good chance at being bigger in the fashion scene. We’re one of the largest cities in the United States. It’s all about culture. Other cities have brand awareness. Phoenix has to build it. We have the talent here. We have the space for a garment district. We have the people, from all around the world, since we’re a big melting pot.

The only thing about here is that we don’t have seasons, so it’s hard to make clothes for all seasons for people to buy. I like making jackets, but a lot of people in Arizona won’t buy a jacket because they won’t wear it.

Also, a lot of people here dress very casually, but there are still a lot of fashionable people. We just need a garment district that can provide all the manufacturing services for sewers, pattern makers, fabric stores and so on. We have the potential to have that community, but no one is doing it.

What are the biggest benefits and challenges to being an entrepreneur?

The biggest benefit of being self-employed and having your own business is that as a stay-at-home mom, you can make your own hours and spend time with your child and family.

The challenge is that I am at home, so all my home stuff, or my daughter, is in front of me all the time, and it can be very distracting, which makes it hard to stay focused and work.

Another challenge is being a new brand and designer. Everyone likes to say they want to be different than others and that they don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing, and I have found this is misconstrued. It’s not like that as a new brand and designer. You have to develop a community, a following of possible consumers, who like what you do. Then, you have develop that demand and make those consumers want what you are making, and that is no easy task.

You have to figure out how to make people feel like they have to have it. As an artistic person, I’m not the most business-minded, but I have had to become a lot more business-minded especially after going through the Phoenix Fashion Week Emerging Designer boot camp. Brian drills you on knowing your numbers inside and out on everything you do. It’s your business, it’s your designs, and you have to know what you are doing. Last year, I thought of getting someone to help me take over the business part, but now I just do it all myself with the assistance of my team.

I strive to design beautiful, quality, fashion-forward yet classic pieces for a good value, which is really tough. Being a small company, you don’t get all the perks and discounts on the fabric and production process like those big companies and designers do. You pay a lot more for everything you do, because you are only order a few pieces at a time, and that costs way more. A lot of us don’t have huge budgets. We are just trying to make our vision and our passion come to light and make it a career where we can actually make a business.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

I love making jackets and love using a wool blend. I really love using crepe. I also love the delicacy and femininity lace shows. Tulle is always fun, too. There are so many fabrics now these days to choose from, and I cannot wait to get more experience with using other fabrics.

What will your work with EVINE Live be like?

Phoenix Fashion Week has a partnership with EVINE Live, where they’ve combed through our collections and selected certain pieces they’d like to make in different fabrications more towards their demographic, since they make from an extra-small to a 3X size. The fabrics are a little stretchier, and the pieces that are chosen work for a wide variety of sizes.

They picked a few pieces, we gave them patterns, and they took nine of mine and are going to do five to six pieces. At the end of February or the beginning of March, we’ll fly out to Minnesota for a short TV segment where we’ll have 15 minutes each of the hour-long TV segment to sell as many pieces as we can.

In the coming months, I will be working on many different things to help promote for sales, by having kickoff parties each month at different locations, and lots of social media posts and updates about my journey. I have been watching lots of EVINE Live TV segments to get an idea of how to sell on their show, and we will be ending it all with a final kickoff party here in Scottsdale the night I will be on TV.

What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?

If you’re an artist, you’re an artist. I wouldn’t say you necessarily have to go to design school, because it’s in your blood, but you can learn more about the business side. I think you do need to go to school for business, to learn how to run a business and manage people. There are a lot of moving parts in the fashion industry. You have to talk to your pattern maker, the people who are cutting your fabrics, the people who are sewing your pieces. You have your web people.

Never get too caught up in your own head. Be kind to whomever you come into contact with because you never know when you may come in contact with that person again. Burning bridges never gets you across when you need to get across — you will be stuck. Never get too comfortable, because as soon as you get comfortable with something, that leads to complacency, and that is when you stop trying to better yourself or your skill. I see it like this: there is always someone who is going to be better than you, and there is someone who wants to be better than you, and you need to ride that train and continue to want to do better or be better. You have to stay ahead of those who are right behind you. There is always someone there who will work harder than you and will pass you if you stop wanting it.

There is a bad perception of some designers, that they’re moody or hard to work with or are divas. You never know who you’re talking to who might be an assistant for someone at one time and then get this amazing job that could help you later.

Help others. Never be stingy with any information you have. If I have information someone else needs, I have no problem sharing. That info can only help me out to a certain point, and then it just becomes information. Give to others, and share. I believe giving back to others is so important for good karma. Share information, because you grow as a person, and they’re going to share with you. I like to live my life knowing I may have had a positive impact in someone’s life by just sharing a little info I had. It makes me feel at peace.

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