How to Make it in Fashion: What You Need to Know Before Launching Your Fashion Label According to Jason Calderon

Known for his high-quality sustainable designs and collaborations with brands like the Coalition Brewing Company and Hollywood Theater Portland, Jason Calderon, Designer/Creator of West Daily has not only built a thriving business but he also makes a point to share the knowledge he's learned over the years with others. 

In celebration of his upcoming class, "How to Start a Clothing Brand" we caught up with Jason to talk Portland fashion and to hear his advice to emerging and independent designers on what they need to know before launching a label.

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LAPTOPS & SMALLTALK: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DESIGNING?
JASON CALDERON: I've been designing for 10 years professionally. My work has been a combination of work for other companies while also designing my own line. 

L&S: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A DESIGNER? 
CALDERON: I always enjoyed creating things. When I was in elementary school, I would draw my own comics, as well as ideas for video games and board games. When I got into high school and joined the cross country team, my creative focus shifted to design of athletic shoes and clothing. Something about having a blank canvas that you can transform into anything is exciting. 

L&S: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING AT THE ART INSTITUTE?
CALDERON: I haven't been teaching there long. I started maybe 7 months ago with an advanced pattern making class.  

L&S: WHAT'S THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON YOU'VE LEARNED AS A DESIGNER?
CALDERON: I've learned that designers have a huge impact on the world in almost every way possible. What designers create and how they create it can affect the environment, politics, economy, human rights, culture, and much more. 

L&S: WHAT'S THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON YOU'VE LEARNED AS AN INSTRUCTOR?
CALDERON: The most valuable lesson I've learned as an instructor is that putting in an honest effort to help others and understand their challenges can make a meaningful impact. It so rewarding to have students tell me something I said inspired them or helped them with a problem they were facing. 

L&S: HAS TEACHING GIVEN YOU A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON THE INDUSTRY? HAS IT AFFECTED THE WAY YOU APPROACH YOUR BUSINESS? IF SO, IN WHAT WAY?
CALDERON: It hasn't really given me a new perspective on the industry. In fact, one of the reasons I began teaching is because I wanted to share my industry experience and give certain information I didn't receive when I was a student. Many of the design schools prepare you for work in a corporate atmosphere, but they do not always cover the entrepreneurial side of the equation. 

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L&SL WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES YOU'VE FACED AS A DESIGNER IN PORTLAND AND HOW HAVE YOU OVER COME THEM/HOW ARE YOU WORKING TO OVERCOME THEM?
CALDERON: One of the biggest challenges I face as a designer is the fact that most people don't understand the process involved with creating clothing and why independent designers charge the prices they do. Prices aside, I find many people are not aware of the many benefits that come from buying clothing from an independent designer. 

L&S: WHERE DO YOU SEE THE PORTLAND FASHION INDUSTRY GOING IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS?
CALDERON: We're seeing a good number of businesses pop up in Portland that support local designers and build community - businesses like Portland Sewing/Portland Fashion Institute, ADX, Arreis, just to name a few. If we can continue to build a community and network among the designers, stylists, models, pattern makers, sample sewers, production sewers, etc, I am hopeful we can create an industry that rivals the success of Portland's brew scene. I also see more collaborations between design brands and unexpected yet exciting partners. 

L&S: WHAT DO YOU WISH MORE ASPIRING DESIGNERS KNEW ABOUT THE BUSINESS BEFORE JUMPING IN?
CALDERON: I wish more designers realized that this is a business, and it needs to be approached as so. You can't spend 6 months and all of your saving to show a 15-look collection at a fashion show, and then expect the orders to come rolling in. It's smart to have a long-term goal and vision for your brand, but it is also important to take it slow. Many new designers want to have a whole line as soon as they launch and it's very unsustainable. Most successful brands launch with a narrow focus on one type of item, and then build once they have some momentum. 

L&S: AN EXTREMELY HIGH NUMBER OF DESIGNERS FAIL. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS AND WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ON HOW TO BEAT THE ODDS?
CALDERON: This goes back to my previous answer. Many independent designers want to take on too much and get caught up in the routine of showing a collection at a fashion show. They create collections of 10 or 20 looks, show them in an expensive event, and then they don't have the finances to repeat that process. You don't have to create a large assortment of items when you are small business, just focus on the things that make your brand unique and exciting.


Monday, April 24 from 6-8pm Jason is teaching a free class on how to start a clothing line at The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel. The topics covered will include: developing a unique concept, story telling through product, working with show producers & models, and more.  Seating is limited so be sure to grab a ticket.  This is a free workshop however donations are welcome with all proceeds go to support ACLU.