Social media “it girls” like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid can sometimes leave us feeling like fashion is targeted to one type of woman. But Salwa Owens—5280‘s 2016 Top of the Town winner for local fashion designer—prefers to see fashion as an inclusive, empowering experience for any woman, whether she’s 25 or 65. Traveling between L.A. and Denver throughout the year to produce her lines, Owens caters her fashion to career-driven women who want to feel stylish and sophisticated.
Owens will release a new line of evening wear and her fall/winter ready-to-wear collection at Fierce in the City 2, the second iteration of her successful 2014 fashion show, on October 2 at ViewHouse Centennial. The event will also feature Boulder-based jewelry designer Andrea Li, Zofia Wosinska of ÉSTAINE, leather and fur designer Andreas Tsagas, as well as live performances from American Idol finalists Vincent Powell and Devan Blake Jones, Denver violinist Mia Herlinger, pop artist Dorian Phaero, and dancer Karen Carlson. A portion of the event’s proceeds will benefit Girls Inc.
In advance of the show, Owens talked to 5280 about her design philosophy, her new online blog and boutique, The SO Edit (also set to launch on October 2), and how she sees fashion changing in the Mile High City:
5280: What inspired your new evening wear collection, The Gold Label?
Salwa Owens: I feel like the fashion industry is so fast paced. The more I worked to develop my ready-to-wear line, the more it made me want to take my time with my evening wear collection and be all about the intricate, luxurious details. The inspiration behind it was the Glory Window in the Thanks-Giving Square Chapel in Dallas. I stumbled upon a picture of it online and was blown away by the beauty. I absolutely love the different colors—from shades of blue, pink, and red—and how they all come together harmoniously. I also love the small, detailed patterns of the stained glass. The significance behind the Glory Window, which is all about prayer, moving forward, and focusing on the present and future, is also something that resonates with me and inspires me every day with my business.
Tell us about your design process.
I’m always designing in my head. I always have ideas. I’m all about who’s going to buy it and how it’s going to go with the rest of the line. I’m kind of backwards in my process. I start with the things I want to incorporate into a design and then I sketch it. After that, I communicate with the production team or whoever the point of contact is that’s going to be working on it, and I tell them about it. Then I scan the design and we look at it together [before production].
Do you have a Salwa signature that you put on all your pieces?
Lately it’s becoming pockets. I love pockets and I put them on everything. Also, lining for summer stuff is so important to me. All my stuff is lined, just to make sure nothing is showing. Those are two things that I really am very adamant about: lining clothes and pockets.
It sounds like you look a lot at practicality. Do you look to street style as well?
Yeah, I have three children so I have to look at practicality. I’m inspired by street style mostly when I travel. I like magazines. I’m inspired by good editorials. I like to see something really artistic and then translate it into wearable pieces. I’m also inspired by going to stores, like Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue, where I can look at and touch everything. I’m more inspired by seeing how the garments hang in person, as well as the construction.
How do you cater specifically to Denver?
I’m very big on the idea that every designer has his or her own unique point of view. So I feel like if by moving here I was trying to conform to Denver, I would lose what I bring to the city. Denver is growing, and the way to break that stereotype of like, oh, it’s so granola, is by [designers] bringing their own unique points of view. I meet all these people who are moving from places like New York, California, even Houston, and I think there needs to be a designer for everybody here. My way of catering to Denver is by not trying to cater to Denver, but by just being me. The people who are looking for that different style will find me.
Who is the Salwa Owens woman?
She’s practical, but she’s fashionable and sophisticated. I love that I have customers who buy something that they’ll wear for spring or winter, or they’ll share it with their daughter—it brings that timeless element. For me, timeless is not just that you could wear a piece in 50 years. It just means you can wear it and translate it into different seasons, and you can share it with different age groups. It’s how you style the piece. I have some customers in their 50s and others in their 20s, and I like that. I want to have something for everybody.
Tell us more about the SO Woman Campaign and the SO Edit, which launches later this summer.
My current campaign features real women instead of models. They’re all tied to a cause. For example, one of them works with Susan G. Komen. I’m featuring their stories, and a percentage of the proceeds of my sales are going back to support their causes. That’s the SO Woman Campaign. As for the SO Edit, I shut down my old blog because I wanted to rebrand it. I don’t want to write about just fashion. I found that anytime I wrote a piece that was more than just fashion or styling how-to’s, people responded really well to it. So I was like OK, I’m going to shut this blog down, redo it, and touch on different areas in addition to fashion, like fitness, beauty, and faith. My subjects are all intended to inspire and uplift. It’s about giving a positive, inspiring twist on all the areas that women benefit from and want to know more about.
Get the Clothes: Fierce In the City attendees will get the first opportunity to purchase clothes from Owens’ latest ready-to-wear line, under the SO Edit Label, at the event’s pop-up shop. The clothes will be available for purchase online at the end of October.