October 23rd, 2011 | Published in Business
By Aimee M. Khanchareun
34 year old Banchong Douangphrachanh is a Lao-American fashion designer and my very own cousin. Her parents are from southern Laos, in the area between Pakse and the Four Thousand Islands. She was born in Vientiane, Laos, and at the age of seven moved to Seattle, Washington. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Washington, specializing in Science Writing. She went on to receive an MFA in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. She is intelligent, creative, very active and a fun person to be around. When she is not busy working with famous individuals or constructing pieces for fashion shows, she enjoys kayaking, climbing and skiing.
Who are some famous or well known individuals that you have worked with or that have tried on your clothing?
I’ve been blessed to work alongside many talented designers from the famous fashion houses of Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Hermes, etc. As for a famous individual, I guess you might know Lady Gaga. My work was featured in her music video “Pokerface.” It appeared during the poker game and lounge segment of the video. It was a simple acrylic plastic top I made while in grad school, with screws and metal rivet parts. I didn’t think it would go as far as it has. My mother doesn’t even know who Lady Gaga is, let alone how to pronounce her name correctly! I think she pronounces it “Babee Gaaga.”
What do you consider to be some of your greatest accomplishments so far as a designer?
My parents had hoped that I would become a doctor or someone of political importance as they valued those professions back in Laos. After all, who doesn’t? They do make a lot of money and the whole village can get free healthcare! I started out as a pre-med student and still feel that helping people gives me purpose in life. I think the greatest accomplishment fashion has given me is its ability to bring clarity into my life. Designing fashion brings me peace and quiet, a sense of awareness of the world, and is great meditation.
How long have you been designing clothes? How did you get started? How would you define your personal style?
I graduated with an MFA in Fashion Design, with a specialty in Menswear, from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I started my label a year later, and am now learning the process and diversity of the apparel industry. Many people who meet me are surprised that I dress normal — T-shirt, jeans and a raincoat. It does tend to rain a lot in Seattle! The fashion industry is not as glamorous as it seems. It takes a lot of hard work and sucks a lot of time and effort out of you. Believe me when I tell you there are days when I have forgotten to take a shower! My personal style: whatever is warm and comfortable!
Do you design clothing for a specific age or gender? How long does it usually take you to construct a piece? How do you prepare for a fashion shoot or show?
Presently, I am launching my Fall/Winter Menswear line for the well dressed active man. To produce a 24-piece collection such as this took about six months of preparation, which included a series of fitting sessions, pattern making revisions, construction, sample sewing and research on sourcing. A jacket can take two weeks of prototype preparation before it is ready for the final fabric.
Being a one woman team I have to be creative with my time management skills. A normal week prior to a fashion show would consist of attending a model audition, conducting a casting fitting, meeting up with hair and make-up, and pressing and prepping the garments. On the day of the show I transport/haul my collection to the space, set up in my assigned area, check that all the models are present and ready, take time out to meet with the press and show committee, get models dressed, do the show, thank the models, do more press and interviews, then pack up and go home. I maybe get to bed by 3am. Oh, my stomach would grumble in the night, as I probably forgot to eat.
Where are you currently located? How would you define your city’s fashion?
My menswear line is based in Seattle. I have found my home city to be quite supportive of the local designers and fashion industry. Seattle style encompasses a big range: from Gore-Tex wearing bikers and runners, to high end brand wearing moms trotting their kids to events, to fun and offbeat artists. Seattle is the kind of city that encourages individuality and uniqueness.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
I love the stuff that Swedish designer Sandra Backlund is creating. If I can bring the flair that she pioneers in women’s knitwear to my men’s knitwear, it would be an amazing time!
What matters to you most as a fashion designer? For how long do you plan to continue designing clothes?
I don’t know if I will succeed in the fashion industry or if fashion design will have longevity in my future. Someone told me it can take eleven years to succeed in the fashion industry. What I do know is that fashion design gives me a form of artistic expression which has made me patient, have an appreciation for culture and reduces stress.
What do you enjoy doing besides being a fashion designer?
Being from the Pacific Northwest, I embody all that is to do here in Seattle. Seattle is naturally blessed, surrounded by mountains, ocean, forests, glaciers and islands. In the evening I hit up Stone Garden’s climbing gym for exercise and discover new techniques to add to my climbing skills. Afterwards, I get some calories back from Vivace Pizzeria. When I get the chance, and when it is sunny, I like going kayaking around the many islands in the area. Even better, a camping island-hopping kayak trip. When winter snow hits ski, ski, ski is where it’s at. I am not a good skier, but oh man I can kill it on the bunny slope! It may rain a lot here, but I am not complaining, because it’s great Chanterelle mushroom picking here. When I bring home a huge bag of fresh picked mushrooms, I’ll help clean them with my mom. She makes a huge pot of mushroom stew, Lao style, invites my aunt and relatives, and we pig out! Bon appétit!
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
Surround yourself with great people, be great at what you do and trust your instincts.