RACHEL KONTE

TWO DECADES IN DENIM

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Profession / Business / Title: FOUNDER @ O.N.W. by OwlNWood + CHIEF OF DESIGN @ Red Bay Coffee (IG@owlnwood)

How long have you been in your profession? 25 YEARS

Brands worked for: LEVI STRAUSS & CO, TOMMY HILFIGER AMSTERDAM, FOUNDER  OF O.N.W. BY OWLNWOOD , CHIEF OF DESIGN RED BAY COFFEE ROASTERS

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Real talk- Pros and Cons of your design profession:

PROS: I had  the amazing opportunity to work and travel the world with my work at Levis  and it has taken me from Copenhagen, Denmark to San Francisco, Ca in the early 90’s. Being in my mid 20’s and ready to dive in and give my all was an experience I will never trade for anything. I have met my best and long lasting friends in the industry and I have learned a trade and valuable skills that I could not have gotten anywhere else. I am using everything I learned in the Apparel industry every day. Specializing in Denim and Indigo takes you into a unique world where old and new are constantly influencing each other. It gave me the love for vintage and established my respect for simple design, functional style and quality over fashion..

CONS: Politics and career hype. The reality that you give your best years and your creative soul to big companies, that really only value you as long as they need you. It took me many years to realize that they are not my family and that they have their own interest first. When you work so many years for the same company, it becomes part of your DNA and the friendships, the connections and the prestigious jobs, makes you believe that you are part of something special.

But reality is you have to take control of your own destiny and career. For a lot of us it is hard to make that choice before you are burned out from giving your best ideas and talent away. There is a price to pay for the big job and it is important to understand that you will not get a Thank You at the end of the day for all your hard work. It's a business deal, that's all.

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Best moment in your career? I really think it was my first week at Levis Europe/Nordic Region. I was right out of Design School and had worked 1 year at a small denim company in Copenhagen. When I got the call that I got the job at Levi’s and that my first day on the job was to meet the Design team in the Airport to go to Tokyo on an inspiration trip. I don't think I could have felt more happy and accomplished. It was my dream job. I was 28.

Most challenging moment in your career? To find my groove after Levi’s. Transitioning from a big job with a big title and the money was really difficult. It took me 3 years, lots of stress, sleepless nights, insecurity about my worth as a designer (without a corporate title) and lots of running exercise to get myself back into balance. I really had to find my own creative spirit. I had never developed my own style as a designer, because I had spent more than a decade becoming a specialist in designing for big brands and their needs. I had to detox from thinking like a cooperate designer and learn to embrace my own style and literally start from scratch finding my own creative  voice with O.N.W. By OwlNWood

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What advice can you offer potential designers? Take charge of your own destiny early on. Look at your career and work as an investment for your future. Save up and get a 401K right away. And always keep your secret dream and plan alive. Stay connected to the relationships you create in the industry and know that there are a world out there that you will join one day again, bringing as much talent and skills with you as you can gain.

Your thoughts on diversity and/or inclusivity in the design industry? As an Afro European designer from Denmark,  I was always surprised that I was imported from Europe to work for one of the biggest companies in the US, where there are so many people of color already. I was at that time the only black designer for the company. It seemed unbelievable to me that they would not have been able to find anyone of color for that position. But due to the fact that I already had experience from Levi’s Europe and the skill level to be competitive in the US market was to my benefit. I see a lot of  young black aspiring designers being directed into merchandising and production because there is a lack of knowledge among their teachers and parents that you can create a cariere and make great money in design. It is important for the industry to be aware of the lack of diversity and make an effort to channel the young people of color into the specialized fields of Design, it's like the chicken and the egg. There won’t be enough of us with experience if we don’t get the jobs and we can’t get the jobs if we don’t have the experience. Our voices, style and flavor is important for the future of fashion.

Favorite inspirational quote? Quality never goes out of style (Levi Strauss & Co)

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