Q&A with Emily Carlson; Founder and Creative Director of Peplum and Paisley

Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m 31, Iowan, born and raised. I grew up in Waterloo and at a very young age was involved in the arts. I used to spend my summers attending art and music camps, and that is where my creative side and passion began to blossom. Somewhere in between my love for art and music, came fashion. My strong will and determination comes from growing up as a tomboy and loving to defy the odds. I love overcoming any challenge and right now that challenge is breaking into the fashion world as an emerging designer. Other tidbits (fun facts) if you care to know, I love dogs, they are the most loyal and loving creatures on the planet! I spent a summer in China while studying Mandarin Chinese at the University of Iowa. Fantasy Football draft day is one of my favorite days of the year. I have learned how to play 9 different musical instruments in my life. If I could go back in time to any other era of fashion, it would be the 1800’s, western days.

What made you decide to start a clothing line?

Like I mentioned earlier, I began designing clothing more so for fun. I would find really cool vintage pieces at shops or see something and think “that would be so much cooler if it only had…” It was by using these ideas to create a few custom pieces for myself that I began to think; there is nothing I would rather do. Don’t get me wrong, my original idea to start a clothing line and the reality of it that I know now are soooo different. There has definitely been some trial and error involved, but I have learned to use my resources, network, read, and learn as much as possible from every experience. It isn’t like New York where you have an entire basis for the fashion industry right outside your door…I’ve truly had to navigate and decipher much of this process on my own, but I wouldn’t have it any other way and I enjoy knowing that I am doing something to show other Iowan designers, it absolutely can be done!

Describe your design aesthetic.

My design aesthetic is simplicity paired with the unexpected. I like the classic silhouettes and find them to be the most elegant on women. Trends are fun and sure they play into the design process, but the classic are “classics” for a reason. The unexpected is that element of surprise, the factor that makes me as a designer say, “this is uniquely Peplum & Paisley”, and that makes the Peplum & Paisley woman say, “I have to have that”. None of us need new clothes right, but it’s that unexpected twist to a garment that makes us say, “I don’t want anyone else to have it, I want to wear it”.

Lastly, you want to bring more fashion to Iowa, what is your plan? 

I want to change the perception of Iowa fashion in two ways.

1) I want to show emerging designers that you don’t have to move to Los Angeles, or New York to “make it” in the fashion industry, or even be involved. Through my journey of creating this debut collection I have learned the extent of how great this industry is and there are plenty of resources available to develop and launch a clothing label right here in Iowa. One of the benefits of being in Iowa is its location in the Midwest. It is accessible to so many markets. Why move to NYC or LA where every other person you meet is literally trying to do the exact same thing you are, further why struggle to pay several grand in rent every month when you can live in a reasonable market and use all of that money you’d be spending for a roof over your head and put it into your business? Starting a clothing line can be very heavy in upfront costs, take it from me, every penny counts! If you were born to design clothing, then design clothing…if you have the will, it will happen no matter where you’re at! There will still be plenty of opportunities to travel to and visit the larger cities…if you’re in the fashion industry. It comes with the territory.

2) I also want to change the perception that people in Iowa are not fashionable and only wear flannels and overalls. If anyone has ever read the article written by The Onion on “Iowa Fashion Week”, you know what I’m talking about. Fashion does not have to mean runways, oversized shades, and scantily clad models. It really just means, a way you do something. I want to raise eyebrows by designing and offering the Peplum & Paisley collection, how cool would it be to wear something that you know was designed by another Iowan and looks freaking awesome? I want editors in the largest fashion markets to say, “what the heck is going on in Iowa?” Something that your friends in New York or London are saying, “I love that piece, where’d you get it?” Many of the women who will shop Peplum & Paisley travel all over the country and the world, it is just part of their lifestyle, but rather than them waiting to visit those destinations to shop for clothing and bring it back to Iowa, I want them to shop the Iowa brand, Peplum & Paisley and wear it while visiting those destinations.

Lastly, a couple other like-minded individuals and I have begun a movement behind The Iowa Fashion Project. This was something Simeon Talley and I had brainstormed about and are currently working on with many other designers, bloggers, retailers, etc. to create a fashion ecosystem in Iowa. More to come on this, but the idea is coming together as a community, creating a movement, and the result will be a self-sustaining fashion ecosystem right here in Iowa!

How did you get into fashion?

Despite my tomboy years, I always loved fashion! I was always playing dress-up and drawing and playing with paper dolls. The way I dressed was always very important to me. In high school I used to write articles for the school newspaper on the latest styles and trends. I got into modeling in my teens and that is where I got my first taste of the industry. The fast pace and always changing aspect of it, hooked me! After attending college for a few degrees that ultimately bored the crap out of me, I realized I needed to do something in my creative wheelhouse. Naturally, it had to be something in the fashion industry. I got my degree in Apparel Merchandising and Design and worked a stint in management for a large lifestyle brand. Ultimately I decided I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder in hopes of one day designing for someone else’s brand, but rather wanted to create and design for my own label. I started designing a few pieces here and there, directed and produced a few local runway shows, and based off of the feedback I got, I knew I wanted to make a career out of it.

Tell us about your collections.

Right now I am currently working on my debut collection for my label Peplum & Paisley. P & P is a high quality, contemporary women’s label, primarily designed around classic silhouettes and artistic textiles. “Interesting clothing, for the Interesting woman”.  Clothing is such a form of expression that every piece I design I make sure vocalizes strength, originality, confidence, and beauty. This collection is not for the masses, I’ll be honest, it’s not something you will find on a clearance rack at Target (no offense to anyone) or at any Fast Fashion clothing retailer. I will be selling it through my own e-commerce site peplumandpaisley.com and at independent boutiques. It is for the woman who likes to be unique, who doesn’t want to wear the same thing everyone else is wearing, she wants to make a statement when she walks in a room and what’s more, is not afraid to. Collections will be offered initially for Spring and Fall seasons, with potential to grow and scale to Resort and Holiday collections in the future.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I’m inspired every day by something, my mind is constantly turning. The fabrics play a huge part in my ideas for the clothing I want to create with them. I get inspired from music because it often evokes a particular mood, clothing can do the same. One of the biggest inspirations that I draw from, as an Iowan native, is nature. We are lucky in Iowa to be surrounded by sites and sounds that are unique to the heartland. Subconsciously even, I am inspired by these such natural surroundings. For instance, right now I am using a lot of floral prints and iridescent sequins, which remind me of lightning bugs or lily pads for the Spring ’16 collection.

Be sure to follow Peplum and Paisley to see the upcoming Spring line.


And be sure to keep your eye on the Iowa Fashion Project for big things!


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