For our latest interview in our continuing series with tastemakers, thought leaders and conscious culture innovators, we sat down with Carrie Hammer, designer of her namesake women's fashion brand. With a message of role models and not runway models, Carrie is taking the fashion world by storm, challenging the perception of beauty and empowering women of all shapes and sizes with her inspiring message: "It is the woman that makes the dress, not the dress that makes the woman."
In an industry dominated by outer beauty, we were curious to see how Carrie's daring message of empowerment has been received by an often harsh and cutthroat industry. Thankfully so far the response to Carrie's critically important and needed message has been overwhelmingly positive.
1. You didn't start off in fashion? What made you start your own dress line?
I started my own dress line because I was really frustrated with the options for professional women. There were only a couple of companies that catered to professional women and they didn't feel fun, or feminine or flattering, so I started getting things made for myself. People would always stop me on the street and say "Oh my God, where did you get that dress?" so I decided to leave my job and go to Parsons Paris School of Art & Design. When I finished Parsons, I came back and started CARRIE HAMMER. That was three years ago.
2. Without a background in design, what was the initial process of coming up with your dresses?
That's a funny question because people always ask me, "What's your inspiration?" and I think they are always waiting for an answer like "Moroccan chic meets When Harry Met Sally." That's usually what people come up with. But my inspiration comes from my women, and what these women want. Women want pockets, women want to feel comfortable, women want clothes that don't wrinkle. That's our inspiration. It's the woman that wants to feel powerful, professional and beautiful, but also needs functionality.
3. You were recently awarded Forbes 30 under 30. What was winning that honor like? And where does that rank on coolest awards?
Definitely number one for me. It felt like such an honor to even be thought of as someone who could be recognized by such a prestigious publication like Forbes. It felt like a huge stamp of approval from my industry, and it made me feel like I was doing something right. I've always gotten a lot of positive feedback from so many wonderful customers and peers, but that made me feel like we were doing something right globally, and that was really exciting.
4. Besides flattering work dresses, the hallmark of your line is women's empowerment which was exemplified through your "Role Models Not Runway Models" fashion show where you asked women you looked up to to walk on the runway instead of traditional models. What was the inspiration behind the idea and were you afraid it wouldn't be perceived well?
When we were first asked to show at Fashion Week in February 2014, we were going through the checklist of things you need for Fashion Week, and we got down to models. We were just kind of thinking, "Should we do a model casting?" and that immediately didn't ring true to us. Most of our women are incredible CEOs and executives, so putting underage models in our dresses didn't make sense. We literally said, "All of our clients are such role models." That was the breakthrough moment for me. From then on we knew that our theme was going to be 'Role Models Not Runway Models.' Never for a minute did I care about what anyone thought. I knew that it was what I believe in and luckily it was extremely well received and continues to be well received, which makes me so happy.
5. The show was obviously a huge success. You were the first designer to have a model in a wheelchair, the first to use 'normal' women in a show and the first to include a Modavanti Muse (Liz Plank!) on the runway. What's next for you and the brand?
It was an incredible first step. And to clarify, we don't use 'normal' women, we use extraordinary women on the runway (and Liz Plank of course is a huge standout - we adore her). What's next? We are expanding Role Models Not Runway Models globally. Our first international show is in Shanghai on Oct 17. We hope to expand this definition of beauty globally and shift this definition of beauty beyond skin deep to women's passion, purpose and accomplishments. That's why the women on our runway exude so much beauty. It is because they don't have to fake it, they are the real deal.
6. You had such an incredible response to your show? Do you worry that with all the attention that your theme got, that people forgot about the clothing?
It's definitely something that happens at our shows, the women often outshine the clothing. But isn't that the point? Isn't that the reason we make clothes? So that the women can shine? I always say I succeed when someone compliments my clients and say "You look amazing" not "I love that dress."
7. Speaking of your clothing. Your dresses are great. BUT, they aren't sustainable! What's up with that?!? So when are we going to see your Organic Made in America collection?
We do have factories based in Brooklyn. We have factories all over the world. Sustainability is becoming a big priority for us and we are working on it.
8. You've inspired so many people with your mission of empowerment. There are a lot of other incredible brands, especially women owned artisan brands, in developing countries that are focused on similar missions of helping use fashion for change. Do you see any collaborations with artisans or other designers down the road?
Absolutely. We have some role models who own artisanal brands walking in future shows and we are going to incorporate some of their pieces from their various countries to collaborate on a few outfits. So that's definitely in the near future for us.
9. So right now everyone reading this is heading to your site (carriehammer.com) to buy a beautiful dress. What pieces from our partner site Modavanti should they style it with?
I am currently crushing on the Slab and Tablet Necklace by Natalie Frigo and the Wrist Cuff by UNA. A statement necklace or a big bracelet are both great ways to style Modavanti with a CARRIE HAMMER dress!
10. We know you are all about role models, but who is the runway/super model you turn to for fashion inspiration?
I find inspiration from so many different women. I don't think I can find any one person. I find inspiration from the street, from art. I think it's really important to not be so trend based. I think it's important to have a very personal style, which I do, and stay true to that.
11. Last question, when you come out with a men's line (hint, hint), what will it take to make the cut for the runway?
To be a positive person who leads by example, soulfully, and who accomplishes big things in the world while still looking out for others.