THE BLOG

Rozae Nichols Discusses the Road to Discovery

06/03/2015 09:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2016

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of men and women from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight real-life insight on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. Each interview is the naked truth about breakdowns that inspired breakthroughs. These men and women have experienced internal changes, which make them quintessential Paradigm Shifters.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction, and makes it a tool of empowerment.

I hope after reading these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens and, at the very least, be better equipped to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day, we are our own Alchemists turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

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Rozae Nichols - American Fashion Designer

After designing for other companies for 25 years, how did you decide to
embark on your own journey?

I studied industrial and graphic design Art Center. During that time, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work for a fashion company that specialized in denim. I was hired to create all things with print and graphic design; everything from packaging, surface design, and eventually developing innovative textiles and finally, designing the collections for the next few years. While it was a wonderful opportunity, I soon became very aware and shocked by the means of garment production in Hong Kong and China. It was really apparent to me then that I would one day create a business where design and production would be integrated by a holistic philosophy of local manufacturing and fair labor practice.

I could not appreciate the duality of clothing being made at the expense of human dignity and human rights. Those early years were the beginning of formulating an ideology about how I could participate in the design community on terms that I felt inspired, comfortable, and proud of. It would be about 10 to 12 years later that I would actually venture out to start my own company under my own label. Then another 14 years later, I partnered with John Parros, and together, we started Clover Canyon with a shared aesthetic and philosophy.

How have you infiltrated sustainability into your current line?
At Clover Canyon, everything is designed, sampled and created in-house. We're a very integrated company. We create the artful prints, design, garment patterns, and cut and sew all of our sample collections here in our premises. Our production is also very unique because our engineered precision cutting and a good portion of production sewing are in-house. All our contract sewing is within walking distance to our factory office in downtown Los Angeles. We have developed most of our base fabrics with the last remaining local circular knitting mills, printing them with a local digital printer. We even design and make our shoes in Los Angeles. We have a very local production footprint and we are very conscientious about preventing waste. Our efficiency keeps us very lean; there is practically no waste in the entire cycle. Unless design is devoted to the wonderful and increasing trend of "up- cycling", making clothing, or just about any product, isn't necessarily sustainable. However, there are many measures we take to be more mindful of our finite natural resources. One of our commitments is to using non-animal material and alternatively, using synthetic leather and Ultra-suede, one of my favorite creations of all time. Being an independent company very concerned with the environment, we're able to utilize nearly every inch of our materials. Because of our in-house techniques, speed, efficiency, throughout and after our production cycle, very little, if any at all, remains as overstock. This is a result of the holistic cycle we have created from design through production, to shipping and represents our goal of efficiency, and respect of sustainability, economy, and resources. We are very particular in that regard.

What had the biggest impression on you in the beginning?
One of the most creatively impactful moments I'd ever experienced was around 1980. This would be my first of what would be many museum visits. It was a LACMA exhibit of the Russian Avant-garde, Russian constructivist modernists and just before I was accepted to Art Center. It's something that has influenced me in so many ways. What really inspires me was this early 20th century modernist movement, which informed my unwavering interest in the Bauhaus as well. I'm so fond of the democratic ideas of art and design ranging from the Russian Avant-garde movement, the Bauhaus industrial design ethos and its design sympathy to the recent past decorative arts-crafts. I am always attracted to those sorts of cross-pollination moments of utilizing both craft and technology when one informs and supports the other. The Thonet Brothers invented the steam bent wood process, creating the cafe chair ubiquity and which informed the process of bent steel tubing for the modern "streamline" era. I feel that this thinking is once again on the rise with groundbreaking technologies, increasing DYI design and the sustainable movement of today.

Your prints are very unique; where do you draw inspiration to get to this style?
Clover Canyon is constantly inspired by the journey, the traveler, people who seek unique treasures in antique textiles, the history of places, and the modernity of our own city. Between our design team are our stories of our combined travel and with some of my recollecting my years working Asia and Europe. And visiting Africa, observing and appreciating a sort of subversive, confluence in how its people would mix the disparate elements of French, Dutch, Victorian colonial with the indigenous abstracted art forms. African women creating ironic prints on a Dutch wax cloth, the images in the prints would often reflect various modern moments, such as the beginning of television, you can see an animated TV rendering mixed in with African geometric motifs or tiny footballs or telephones intermixed with "tribal" markings. So I always admire that ingenuity of mixing as well as making poetic products from humble materials such as baskets and sculptures from telephone wire and found materials. It is the ironic use of iconic images and familiar tile mosaics, paisleys, and other universal imagery that we combine in a collection to express that geographic place in the world.

Tell me about your first big break?
There were two great people who recognized my passions. One was Serge Bensimon, who became my employer in Paris in the mid 80's after he heard about my obsessive research and work with the denim collections. I was already very immersed in international military surplus and work wear, which at that time, was a huge foundation to my utilitarian aesthetic and informed my denim design. I had (still today) a huge collection of American work wear, military clothing and textiles from around the world. I was introduced to Serge as he was embarking on his company "Bensimon and Autour du Monde". Our design concept was to all about repurposing and reconstructing authentic military surplus and work wear and re-issuing authentically designed collections from this base point. I got to do a lot a lot of everything, from research to pattern making, to design, textile-print to assisting Serge in designing his store, which was the first in the Marais and which remains an iconic shop today. We were really pioneering the whole surplus, work wear aesthetic. The opportunity to live and work in Paris was so special and Serge remains one of my dearest friends. I guess you could call it a break, but really it was sharing mutual ideas and aesthetics and working together was a revelation in creative friendship. The other most impactful opportunity was working for an amazing woman named Harriet Selwyn whose clothing was sublimely simple and timeless. It was a great pleasure and honor to design for her for many years and hone my skills to create clothing for her sophisticated, mature clientele. Harriet believed in my ability to meld my style tendencies with her design philosophy where I explored the possibilities of her minimalist elegance motto. My industrial design approach was a perfect fit to her elegant label. From her, I learned the importance of timeless style and efficiency that is inherent to how I approach life and style today.

Do you have a moment where a breakdown led to a breakthrough in your life?
I had my namesake label for 15 years. With the turn in the economy, I eventually understood that it would be important to create something that would address the challenges of the moment. The experience of the past was leading up to reinventing something fresh and also, economically accessible for a new customer. I am creatively motivated by pursuing technical innovation, and I love the design and process. I realize I'm building upon years of ideas, techniques, new technologies and hold to a very consistent philosophy. It's important to seize the moment and understand that it's only lost if you choose to lose it. I had to be open and poised for receiving new information, advise and finally exploring new concepts and techniques in order to over come the adversity we were facing as a company with a large staff of devoted employees of many years. So creating Clover Canyon was an idea born out of a derailment of sorts. But blessed with a new business partner, fantastic design team, and factory infrastructure, we all faced the future with total confidence in one another.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Earlier in my career, I wish I had realized the importance of seeking quality press and marketing relationships. That was difficult for me then. I still can't comprehend how fashion design and celebrity are so intertwined. I prefer the old school of design houses where hard work, design vision, quality, and privacy were a reward in itself, and celebrity was left to entertainers.
With social media, it's crucial for young people to take charge of their public image. But it's too much for someone to have to live a lifetime of self -conscious behavior with their life always on digital automatic.
Most importantly though, I wish I had better business leadership around me midway through, but thankfully, that came a little later in my career and there is no regret.

What legacy do you wish to leave behind?
I would like to leave behind the legacy of having been part of the pioneering group of Los Angeles designers who stand for representing a unique point of view. Of having set a high standard for design and manufacturing and helping to forge a Los Angeles creative community, not only our collaborative achievement of Clover Canyon, but also my namesake label, which throughout many years sold to some of the best stores internationally and was built on innovative textiles, finessed drape & tailoring and sophisticated local handcraft and was the expression of my hands on design ethos. For me, it feels more like a larger Zeitgeist; it's not just about fashion design, but also generosity, health, compassion, the democratic process of design, and the pleasure to contribute my voice and support to the creative community as a whole.

When you sit down with Rozae, you instantly know that you are connecting with one of the originals. Her dedication to her work is unparalleled. You just know that expression of transformative creativity is what she was made for. Her fabric runs deep; her tone is subtle, but her color is electric. If Marlyin Monroe were alive today this is what she would be rockin' with the utmost swagger. The thought and passion that is put into her work makes Rozae an artist of fabric. Lucky are those who get to connect with her roots. I have been shifted.