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American Made Series: Mandy Kordal

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At NYC Fashion Week this fall, I fell in love with 25-year-old designer Mandy Kordal’s sophisticated knitwear. Her new line, Kordal, officially debuts this spring and features a gorgeous collection of fresh and intricately designed pieces for women.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and how you came to do it?
I went to design school at the University of Cincinnati DAAP where I participated in the coop program, which essentially means that you went to school for six months of the year, and then interned the other six months. When I graduated in 2009 I moved to NYC and worked as a design assistant for Betsey Johnson. Around a year later I switched gears and took another design position at Doo.Ri, where I really developed my passion for knitwear.

Have you always dreamed of designing clothing?
It’s funny, I actually just found some pretty hilarious fashion sketches from when I was around 12 (below). I was apparently very inspired by the movie Clueless and designed my entire dream fall wardrobe based off of the movie! But I have always been drawn to making things.

Mandy Kordal Sketch

Your line officially launches in Spring 2013 — not a season we typically think of knitwear. How come?
It gave me the opportunity to really push the styles and find some interesting yarn qualities. Most of the time knitwear is thought of as as heavy, cozy, or wooly. I think there is an opportunity to create some really beautiful lightweight knits and focus on more intricate stitch detailing or silhouettes.

You use knitting machines in your factory — how do you customize the pieces? 
The machines are really pretty incredible. There are many different stitch techniques and patterns that you can develop such as lace, fair isles, tuck stitches, plaiting, cables, etc. There are some external pieces to the machine that I have been slowly acquiring to give more options as well. For example there is a piece you can get called a garter bar, and this allows you to flip what you have knitted around. (So you can stripe with knit and purl!)

What’s an average day for you like?
It’s a bit hard to say since things are still very much in the beginning stages, but so far it seems like it’s a lot of juggling and time management. I will have some days when I am working in the studio experimenting and making swatches, or trying to finalize the patterns, yarn qualities, color ways, etc. Or I may be taking a trip up to the factory to check all of the garments before we ship out to stores. Oh, and every day involves lots of coffee!

You were a  hit on Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative startups. How did that happen?
Luckily my boyfriend is a film major and between him and another friend of ours they filmed and edited the entire video. It took us two weekends to shoot (everyone in the video is a friend of mine who I coerced into modeling for me!) and then another two weeks for editing. I also had an intern come and work with me for three months to help me make all of the incentive items.

I love that you oversee everything out of your little factory in Queens. Has this been a challenge?
It has in some ways. It can be very difficult to explain why a sweater costs $300. With so many designers producing their knitwear overseas you have lot of competition with a lower price. But I think a lot of us are trying to be more conscious consumers and purchase one really nice item made locally every couple of months instead of shopping at more fast fashion retailers.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own clothing label?
Be prepared to work super hard! Also make sure to really evaluate what you spend your money on; there are a lot of ways to cut corners and keep your costs down if you’re smart about it. I would also say that it makes sense to write a business plan at the very beginning, it really helps you focus on what your goals are and the reality as well. I would also say don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have been so lucky to have some pretty amazing friends helping me through this whole process and there is no way you can do everything yourself.

Maeve Nicholson is a contributing editor at Martha Stewart Living and a fellow fiber artist. Follow her on Instagram.com @maeverz.

(photo: Deidre Schoo/The New York Times/Redux)

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