Need a blueprint for achieving liftoff as an emerging designer? Let Kelsey Fairhurst be your guide. After spending the past three-plus years working as a graphic designer for the CFDA, the Ohio native recently launched her own namesake line of cool headpieces that can be worn endless different ways thanks to a simple, built-in wire that gives them shape. Opening Ceremony exclusively picked up her debut collection of black, metallic, and denim styles—and Beyonce quickly became one of her first customers (the distressed jean one Bey picked up quickly sold out and has since been restocked). We chatted with the up-and-comer about starting a buzzworthy brand on her own terms and a shoestring budget.
"I just keep thinking, Hey, I have a voice and something to say. So I was brainstorming what I could do that would set me apart, and kept coming back to the idea of headpieces, which I had originally made for my senior thesis in fashion design at the University of Cincinnati. I just think headpieces can complete an outfit. They take that drama factor from zero to sixty, even if you're just in jeans, a blazer, and Doc Martens. After working on the headpieces for about a month, I started adding some wire into them—using the seam channels from underwire bras— so you could literally shape or style them a hundred different ways. Once I got to that point, a lightbulb went off and the sky's the limit. Not to mention starting a line of head pieces was also a project I could completely fund myself, do while maintaining a full time job, go as slow as I needed, and work on it in my shoebox of a Brooklyn apartment."
"I have a traditional fashion design degree, but I was always super interested in graphic design, which is what my boyfriend studied in school, so I basically learned graphic design through him, and that's ultimately how I got my job doing graphic design for the CFDA. Just being able to communicate your aesthetic on a completely different platform has gotten me as far as I've come. This one project has allowed me to package myself as a designer start to finish—from sketching the designs to physically making the product to art directing my look book, producing the packaging, and creating a social media presence."
"I actually made this product for Opening Ceremony. It was exactly who I wanted my customer to be, and I was so excited to launch my collection with them. I had originally emailed the head buyer Carol, and didn't hear back from her. Then about two weeks later I emailed her to follow up and she got back to me within six seconds and was like, "Where is your showroom." I said I'm more than happy to come to you day, night—you pick the place and I'll be there. So I sewed brand new samples that weekend, got a mannequin head, printed out my look books, and just went for it. Carol tried all of my styles on in the meeting and was taking selfies. I love that Opening Ceremony doesn't care if you've sold anywhere else before. They just respect the art, respect the craft."
"One of the buyers at Opening Ceremony sent me an email with the subject line 'Beyonce.' She said their Los Angeles store called to say Beyoncé and Jay Z bought two of my head pieces while shopping after-hours on their anniversary. That news was my be-all-end-all, mission accomplished. But then I thought: Cool, so I just peaked within six months of launching. Where do I go from here? I'm actually trying to get a contact for Beyonce's assistant because I'm currently making smaller versions of the ones she bought so she can have a mommy-and-me photoshoot."
"The fashion industry just moves so fast. There are so many businesses that go under so quickly because they take on more than they can can handle. So I just want to stick with this for a minute, keep it simple, and keep doing what I know. Because if I was entering the women's ready-to-wear market, there's obviously way more competition. So being in a smaller pond has been beneficial to me as an emerging designer. I also think it's important to focus on a price point that's readily available to a wide market. I'm currently working on slightly more subtle versions of my original design, which would be priced under $100."
"A lot of my friends who also studied fashion design had their first jobs working as assistant designers or pattern makers. But I had this great offer to do graphic design for the CFDA, and felt in my gut I needed to see how it goes. Turns out my connections at the CFDA have been invaluable, and I've learned so much about how the industry works from this experience. At first I was nervous to tell them about launching my line, but they've been so supportive. My CFDA family is the reason this is all happening right now. So I think my advice to students would be: Don't be afraid to accept jobs that aren't traditionally what you think the right path should be."