THE BLOG

Trina Turk: On Trusting Instinct

06/01/2015 03:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight real life insight on how women have been able to turn weakness into strength. Each interview is the naked truth about breakdowns that inspired breakthroughs. These 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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Trina Turk - American Fashion Designer

I see that it's coming up on your 20-year anniversary!
Yeah, this is it. I started my company in May of 1995 and we're in May now. It's definitely something that wakes you up to the passage of time.

You've expanded your line outside of apparel in that time span. What has that been like?
First and foremost my love is textiles. I love fabric and I learned how to sew when I was quite young. My mom taught me, so knowing how to put clothing together and the construction of clothing is something that I consider myself very well versed in. I'm most in my element designing things where textiles are the main component. Jewelry is not one of those things -- it's more like mini-sculpture. So we are fortunate to be working with a great partner in that category. In a way, I see everything as this one big design project. Whether it's my house or my environment or a piece of jewelry, it's all about design, color, and proportion. I do not consider myself an expert in jewelry, handbag, or shoe design, but I'm working with great people who are better versed in those particular categories. My area of expertise is textiles and apparel.

What are some of the influences to your design, especially in terms of your pattern use?
Everything goes back to LA. I moved there in 1985 and went to work for O.P. as a designer. I became very immersed in Southern California surf culture, which at the time was heavily influenced by vintage Hawaiiana. I don't think I realized how much of an impression this whole world of print was having on me. At the same time Jonathon, my husband, and I loved the flea markets in Southern California. We started going and collecting vintage prints. We had a sales rep that was going out and selling the prints to the apparel industry while I was working as a designer for other companies. What was going on at O.P. with learning how to create prints and how textile printing worked combined with collecting vintage print on the weekends created this whole print world that ended up coming to surface when I started my own collection. Another part of it is that my mom is Japanese. She is a very aesthetically oriented person and was very much into making things when I was growing up. She always had some crafty thing going on.

What's a paradigm shift you've experienced?
There was a period recently when we brought in very well educated, higher level people with really impressive backgrounds in the fashion business. The whole idea was we were going to bring these people into our business to take it to the next level. In a certain sense, it didn't work out because they were from such a corporate atmosphere that they didn't understand the grassroots, entrepreneurial way that we worked. So, we had very high expectations and it just didn't work.

What about a breakdown to breakthrough moment?
About 7 or 8 years ago, my husband and I parted ways with an original partner who we started the business with. Our visions went in different directions; we were glass half full kind of people and she was a glass half empty kind of person. As the business was growing, we saw things in such a different way that it became clear that we had to get a divorce. We found an investment-banking firm to help us find a partner to buy out her ownership of the company, so now we have a different partner. This was such a foray into the world of finance and investing that I really knew nothing about. I learned a lot about the process and about my company.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To trust my instincts. There was a time when I had gone along with what somebody else wanted when I didn't feel in my heart that it was something I wanted to do. Nine times out of ten it was after the fact where I thought, I shouldn't have done that. I should've said something. I was kicking myself for not doing what I thought was the right thing to do. That comes with maturity; I'm 20 years older with 20 more years of experience than when I started. But things like that have happened throughout the time that I've had my company. And I think that unfortunately that maybe part of that comes with the fact that I'm a woman. Women who are very forthright about what they want are labeled all kind of things. If a man acts in a particular way he would be called strong, and if a woman behaves in that way she would be called aggressive. So I know now in retrospect that I didn't want to be perceived as a bitch. Now I'm old enough to say, if they perceive me as a bitch, so be it.

What legacy do you wish to leave behind?
From a personal standpoint, I don't go to work everyday thinking about the legacy I'm going to leave. It's not something that motivates me. For the business, I want our brand name to be associated with all of the positive aspects of California living -- optimism, color, print. If people thought of our brand in those terms, I would be happy.

It's a powerful thing to let the fear of outside perception go in order to achieve your goals. Trina shows us that not only is this possible, but it's incredibly rewarding. With California-cool and a creative outlook on life, she continues to be a refreshing presence wherever she is.