Voyage Chicago Interview

Conversations with the Inspiring Andrea Reynders

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Reynders.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In a nutshell, I started designing while in college (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and selling to the best boutique on Oak Street –Ultimo. After graduation I designed for a junior line in Chicago, while also doing editorial garments for magazines and commercial ads. I was asked to teach in the Department of Fashion Design, a year later and that career would last almost 40 years. While teaching and chairing the department, I created endowments for scholarships, organized fashion study trips to Europe and Japan, and helped lay the foundation for many gifted students to have a successful career in the fashion industry in many parts of the world.

All the while, I continued to design my own line, wholesaled and opened two very unique boutiques. I started to do theater and dance costumes and develop interdisciplinary classes at school combining subjects like Fashion and Architecture and Fluid Interfaces where the strict lines of distinct areas are blended and blurred to find new meaning.

When I moved on from teaching, I became the Design Director of the Chicago Fashion Incubator, mentoring 6 emerging fashion designers within a 2 year program.

The core of my foundation though is making. I am a designer and a maker. Nothing is as sensual as working with tactile fabrics and textures. My philosophy is based on style and not trend. I work in beautiful materials, shaping Designs that have a timeless quality. Shape, volume, proportion are all important to my designs.

I have always loved what I do and have always managed to do it. It is never work, just a challenge to take to the next level. Two colleagues of mine and myself have just started a collective where we are going to be giving artist’s talks about materials and philosophies of why we do what we do– and discuss what we make our art with. Our group, called We Are Material, will meet people in private homes, galleries and unique sites to talk about our way of making design.

A selling opportunity will follow the talks and I look forward to this new way of direct to person interaction.

The garments I make will last in someone’s wardrobe for years to come. They become a blend of desire and lifestyle, of appreciation and comfort, beauty and value. Today I am comfortable in my skin as I want others to feel in my designs for them–whether dresses, coats, skirts or men’s shirts. Whether the fabrics are new and modern, traditional and natural, or re-purposed, these pieces all represent something of me as a designer.

I currently produce 2 collections a year that blend edge to edge. Being from the Mid-West I love the cold and icy winters where one can bundle up on thick wools and cashmeres. But I know that modern people travel light and live globally wearing hi tech fabrics that create an ease to their lives. I incorporate both to my designs and leave it up to the wearer to decide.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
No it has not been an easy ride. There are always roadblocks and challenges. But one must have such a strong desire of what you want to do and be and stay on track. Do not be swayed by trends that come and go. Look at the big picture. Make a 5 year plan—or a 3 year plan and stick to it. Let it be your guide to stay on track. Focus and don’t let others change your mind. If you cannot find a manufacturer, search until you do. Don’t give up.
At the same time, be very good at what you do as the competition is huge. Be the best you can be and be confident.

What should we know about Andrea Reynders? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
My life has always been divided into two parts: designing and teaching and mentoring. Somehow I cannot separate them! One feeds the other. I have been fortunate to teach many gifted designers and knowing them and following their careers have taught me how to be a better designer.

I am known mostly for modern, beautiful garments for women and very wonderful shirts for men. I’m proud that my brand has stood the test of time. I know people who have worn my clothes for years and years and still love the simplicity of the design, the wonderful texture of the materials, the ease in which one wears my garments.
I’m about beauty and function in a modern world.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
There have been some women who have made strides in the industry…but it still remains difficult. We need to remain strong. We need to remain excellent at whatever it is we do. We must never surrender our womanhood—it is our privilege and right to have children and families as well as a career.

It is interesting to me that there are so many woman in the fashion industry but most of the top positions are held by men. It’s changing ever so slowly as in other careers… and we must be smart and wise at the same time.

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