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Ready for the world: Kathleen Tesnakis of Ekologic.

Think Globally, Make Locally

Cutting-edge Capital Region fashion designers find a little success here—and a lot all over the world

By Heather Lumb

Photos by Shannon Decelle

If you venture out for 1st Friday, Troy Night Out or Art Night Schenectady, you can find local fashion designers mingling with the artists and artsy types, taking a break from their daily grind like many a state worker. From Ekologic in Troy to Thimk. in Niskayuna, Capitol Region designers have their own way of providing some cutting-edge fashions to the masses. The only catch to these hometown haute heroes is that while their designs are making bank, only a few of the sales are in the 518 area code. So why stay settled here, when it’s the Bostonians, the Californians, the New Yorkers who can’t get enough of their stuff?

Designer Staci Snider of Saratoga Springs laughs at the restrictions that the fashion industry often tries to put on designers: “New York City has too many rules, and it’s very regulated, and you see a lot of copying.”

After graduating from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, MFA in hand, Snider launched her career in Paris and Milan, which ultimately led her to Spain and finally to New York City. “I just could not breathe in the city, and I kept taking trips back to Saratoga just to get some clarity.”

It made perfect sense to set up a workshop in the area she grew up in: Snider has clients for whom she constructs custom dresses for the racetrack and black tie-event season. Working with an avant-garde but realistic sense of style, her ensembles are usually created once, for one wearer, and each season her designs focus very strictly on one inspiration, and often with local themes. “A while back I did a collection on Marylou Whitney, in which I hand-drew her image on the clothing, and that sold fast and really well,” she says. The pieces honoring the socialite sold in June 2006 at quite a price—a dress for $2,500 and a skirt for $1,650.

Snider’s European education is a large part of her “design what you love, not what you’re expected [to love]” ethic, and her clientele have proven receptive; her silk charmeuse jumpsuit (one of the few items she will duplicate) has been flying through her fingers at $395 a pop. Snider receives a hefty number of orders through her Web site, from women from all over the country. “I’ve been told I have a very South Beach look, and I’m doing well in Los Angeles,” says Snider.

Gina Mauro, a Niskayuna native, also agrees that working outside the major metropolitan centers can be beneficial. This distance allows her to ship genuine non-New York City looks to city dwellers constantly on the hunt for what everyone else isn’t wearing.

“As soon as I make something, I ship it off to a store,” Mauro says. Her work is popular in San Francisco boutiques, and New York City hot spots like the Hillary Flowers Designer Collective and AuH20 on the Lower East Side; the latter stocks only “recycled” garments. She silk-screens, reconstructs and restructures vintage wear into original wear, working within an aesthetic that values minimum waste. Mauro has a line called Thimk., in which she weaves suggestions of nature into boutique-ready fashion. Mauro recruited some friends and family to help with screen printing; her work space is phenomenally large and scenic. Nature is her inspiration—her popular “The Adirondacks are Gneiss” T-shirt was her own quirky nod to the “Ithaca is Gorges” slogan.

It’s ekological: Tesnakis with her dog, Zoe.

Mauro may even try selling her work around here: “I would really like to start selling clothes at some boutiques upstate, just so that I can be more in touch with the independent designers up here,” she adds. “I know there are loads of creative people and I just can’t wait to meet them and be inspired and work together.”

Kathleen Tesnakis spends her average day at the office speed-walking through her Troy warehouse-studio flipping tube dresses inside out, rearranging color samples, brushing the hair out of her eyes and choosing which T-shirt-turned-play-skirt she will ship to Japan. Ekologic, the go-green fashion company she started with her husband Charlie, sells Goodwill-gone glamour items around the world. The brand sells to more than 80 stores nationwide and beyond, from Fred Segal in California to Dusk in Troy, to her favorite customers—in Tokyo.

Excelling in both menswear and women’s fashions, Ekologic dismantles reclaimed 100-percent cashmere and cotton garments, and transfigures them into art-deco dresses, Buddy Holly “hipster” sweaters; six different types of hats (that you have to see to really believe), and other multi-season accessories.

“It was in Portland [Ore.] that I found style that reflected the organic, and maintained quality,” Tesnakis says. “And I found my own way, putting new products into the world that reflected the end-users’ personality.” A glimpse at the portfolio will show that Tesnakis and her team of seven (if you include the her dog, Zoe) construct body-conscious pieces with a sexy silhouette and modern-without-being-trendy design. Though her customer base is mainly outside of the area, Tesnakis has a deep love for her current surroundings. One of her pieces is an ode to Troy: the Cuff and Collar. “It’s my little reinvention of the detachable collar the Industrial Revolution brought about here; the city has a deep history of innovation, hard work and tight community, which I find amazing.”

With its budding independent art scene, Troy provides a sturdy connection for networking. Artist-designer Wendy Costa adores the city’s architecture and arts community, and her company thrives in a carriage house nestled behind her brick mansion of a home. Everything about Costa seems eccentric except her voice: She nods to her whimsical works, and in a soothing librarian tone, explains, “I’m seduced by the history of the area, and although I don’t . . . have a store, I’ve done graphics for shows, for Flavour Café, and will eventually try opening my own boutique when the time is right.”

Visit her Web site, and your senses are immediately on high alert; the punchy colors, drifting swirls and a big assortment of products can keep you hypnotized for hours. That well-stocked online catalogue is the key to her success. “It’s unbelievably successful, and that’s due to its perfect presence and representation,” she says.

So agrees Sugar Mafia designer Angelique, whose “eclectic mix of vintage findings and mirrored acrylic pieces” caters to—and is inspired by—the punk-glam young folk that hang around tattoo parlors. In fact, her designs are available in Lark Vegas Piercing Boutique on Lark Street in Albany. Angelique’s product is publicized and talked about on social networking sites like MySpace, Style Hive, Etsy and other online boutiques and blogs. Angelique insists that her designs, which commonly feature ironic powder-pink expletives or edgy black and pastel cameos, are making their mark. “The online store is constantly growing, and new boutiques contact me everyday; I sell a bit better abroad rather than local,” says the designer. However, she adds, “I strive to find a local art scene.” Angelique is a huge fan of—and participant in—the River Street Festival in Troy; she’s also involved with Albany’s Upstate Magazine in Albany.

“When the community invests in independent designers, I can have the best of both worlds,” she says.

The work of all these designers can be viewed at their Web sites: stacisnider.com; ginamauroart.com; ekologic.com; wendycosta.com; angelovepink.com.


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