The Business of Fashion

by Reema Abi-Akar

Fashion designer Lindsey Ntouvas creates one-of-a-kind clothing, made in Peoria.

Look at your shirt. Chances are, it was made in a factory by a machine or a worker in an enormous warehouse thousands of miles away. But one budding fashion designer is seeking to change that norm by creating her own line of clothing right here in Peoria.

All her life, Lindsey Ntouvas (pronounced Do-Vahs) has had a passion for fashion. Influenced by the music she listened to growing up, she remembers reconstructing her wardrobe and creating her own unique, edgy outfits as a teenager. “[We] were really into punk music,” she says. “We started ripping clothes and safety-pinning them back, and so I… started making my own things.”

In high school, she joined 4-H and began entering sewing competitions—gaining more enthusiasm for her calling with each award. In college, she studied apparel design and production while earning a degree in human environmental sciences from Oklahoma State University. Prior to moving to central Illinois, she designed clothing for a small fashion company out of Denver, Colorado.

Upon relocating to the area when her husband accepted a job in Peoria, she was hopeful to find employment in her field. “One of the first places I went to was S’More Couture [in Alta],” she remembers. “I walked in, and [the owner] instantly said, ‘Yes, I’d love to carry your pieces.’” And just like that, Ntouvas was designing one-of-a-kind garments for the boutique.

Although it has since closed its doors, Ntouvas says that finding the boutique was “a blessing” because it helped kickstart her own business venture. “I decided this was my way to continue following my passion—to start a business.” In 2012, she did exactly that as she completed her first clothing line.

Working out of her apartment-based studio, Ntouvas recently produced a second line, her Fall 2013 collection, which highlights stark colors, bold prints and comfortable fabrics. This involves numerous steps: two-dimensional planning on paper, three-dimensional drafting with muslin, selecting and purchasing the fabric, and finally, creating the garment in three different sizes. The drafting and planning process can take up to a week, while the sewing and production can take from two to four hours per garment, she says. All of her pieces retail for under $160.

Creating a piece of clothing is like creating a building, she suggests. There must be key structural pieces, basic patterning and drafting elements, and days of meticulous, hands-on work. She begins by looking for ideas wherever she can find them. “I keep an inspiration journal, and I’ve been keeping them since 2002,” she says. “Anything that I see—garments or interior design or gardening… I just journal my ideas.” Currently, her favorite style icon is Gwen Stefani, and she looks to brands like Maaji, Kenzo, Anthropologie and Alexander McQueen for inspiration as well.

But design and creation are just the beginning: she must also market her brand to sell the product. “The way I’m marketing now is door-to-door, cold calling,” she says. “I would say that maybe… five percent of the people I contact are interested.” Though this process is labor-intensive, Ntouvas says it’s worth it for her one-woman business.

Currently, she takes orders on her website and sells her designs at two regional boutiques: Shoe Shoe Baby in Bloomington, Illinois, and Green Apple Active Lifestyle Boutique in Carmel, Indiana. Wearing multiple hats, Ntouvas is eager to create the 50 pieces on her list for the Fall 2013 line. “At this point, I’m all parts of the small business: I’m the technical designer, I’m the artistic designer, I’m the production, I’m the factory, I’m marketing, I’m sales,” she explains. In the future, she hopes to expand and hire employees to help with her creations.

Though she entered the industry with little knowledge of running a business, Ntouvas’ passion is helping her make a career out of doing what she loves. “I’ve always been an artist,” she says, “and [fashion design] seems like a natural way to continue being an artist.” iBi

Check out Lindsey Ntouvas’ Fall 2013 line of clothing at lindseyntouvas.com.

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