Katelyn Zagara, a 21-year-old Aurora resident, was searching for a Cleveland pride t-shirt online and was disappointed with the limited choices. “While talking with a friend, I was discussing a t-shirt I had thought about – just a simple ‘Cleveland’ shirt with a crown. After hearing such a positive response, I thought to myself, ‘I would be crazy not to run with this idea.’ I never in a million years would have thought I’d find myself in fashion, but I can honestly say this is the happiest I have ever been.”
And it shows – before she knew it, Katelyn had 5 design ideas for her shirts and knew it was an idea she had to run with. That’s where La Femme de Cleveland was born! Read on as I chat with her about her beloved city, why life’s curveballs are sometimes a blessing in disguise (her business venture might have to thank a spring break at home for its taking off!), who she couldn’t have done it all without, her hopes for her company’s future – and, of course – her chic line of clothes just for Cleveland.
Are you a lifelong resident of Cleveland? What are some of your favorite memories and places in Cleveland?
I was born in Seoul, South Korea and was adopted at five months old. I then continued my education at Aurora schools until I graduated in 2008.
As far back as I can remember, my childhood memories existed around the city of Cleveland. Every summer my parents would take me to watch the Indians play. The three of us would sit right behind first base, and to this day I still love going to the games. Its hard to pinpoint some of my favorite parts of Cleveland. I love how many different areas of Cleveland there are, and how they all have something to offer. I love Shooters on the Water in the Flats. I was recently there for dinner and there was such a different group of people. I loved it; there was live music and boats in the background on the water. Another place that I love to go to is the West Side Market. I love supporting local vendors, so the West Side Market is perfect for that! It’s such an amazing place with an incredible amount of history.
Do you have a background in business or fashion?
Surprisingly, neither! I started off at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, and my second year, I transferred to Bowling Green State University. I stayed there until my junior year, studying psychology at both schools. Spring of my junior year while visiting at home, I began to think about my future and what I wanted to do. Not confident that psychology was the direction that I wanted to go, I decided to take my spring semester off and take the summer to seriously consider my options.
This was the point where you were researching for Cleveland pride t-shirts and started to brainstorm. Having no experience in starting your own business, was it difficult to begin it on your own? What are some of the tough obstacles you encountered?
I will admit, when starting the company; it was anything but easy. I would Google “how to start a t-shirt business” and sit there and read articles and watch videos off of YouTube to find some sort of guidance. Many times I felt completely lost. I had an idea, but had no clue how to go about making it into a reality. I kept reminding myself, that nothing worthwhile comes easy. I was unsure of where to even start, “How do i legally make this company mine?” and “Who will do the printing?”, along with other issues ran through my head. I still face a lot of problems, but I know that with the support of my great family and friends that I will be able to get through them.
I love the name of your brand! How did you come up with it? What kind of women do you represent?
I knew that I wanted it to be feminine, but still have a strong message behind it. I was bouncing between a couple of names and “la femme” popped up into my head. I did some research and knew that I wanted it to be “The Women of Cleveland” so I decided to go with ‘La Femme de Cleveland, which is the French version. I like the name, its soft but has such a strong meaning behind it.
La femme de Cleveland represents the strong, independent and beautiful. Growing up I heard many stories from the influential women in my life about struggles that they have overcome; whether it be at home or in the work place. Everyone has been there, whether it be a bad break up, losing a job or the loss of a family member, women are faced with daily struggles – some worse th an others – but they overcome them. Strong, Independent and beautiful is what I strive to be, and hope that with this brand that other women will too.
Who would you like to thank for their help with your getting started?
My Mother. Growing up my Mom was a perfect role model for me, and to this day I turn to her for advice constantly. She is exactly what I want the brand to represent: strong, independent and beautiful. No amount of thanks would ever be enough; she is full of life and just an inspiration. She has been an incredible support system for me from day one to when I told her my plan, reminding me that I can do whatever I set my mind to. Also, my best friend Carly, who is constantly a great supporter of the company. She is always there telling me to just take one thing at a time, she is an amazing friend and I owe her so much for all her support.
What’s been the greatest part for you about starting your company? (Feedback from customers, people you have met, skills you have learned, etc.)
This has been an incredible experience so far, but I think the greatest part is the positive feedback from customers. Women love to represent where they are from, no matter where their current location is. My friends laugh at me because i’ll sign on Facebook and will see that the company’s page has two new likes, and I tell my friends, with a huge smile on my face, “I just want to message them and tell them thank you!!” It really is crazy. At first it was just my friends, but as of recently it’s started to take off. I have people that I don’t know commenting on the page and asking where they can get theirs! It’s so rewarding to see all the time and hard work that I have put into this really start to pay off.
Now for the fun stuff – the clothes! What styles/colors are you currently offering?
As of now the company offers tank tops, tees, and long sleeved shirts.
Current colors being offered: periwinkle, brown, white, grey, black, hot pink, light pink, navy blue, and more being ordered as we speak!
Sayings available: “Young, Pretty & from Cleveland” “Brains, Beauty & From Cleveland”, “Cleveland” and “La Femme de Cleveland”
Where are the shirts available? Will they become available at other shops in the future?
The shirts are available at Tre Sorelle Boutique in Little Italy. La Femme will be doing a trunk show at Sanity in Chagrin Falls sometime in October as well, but they will mostly be sold online.
If someone would like to place an order, how can they do so online?
I am in the works of having a website made (www.lafemmedecleveland.com), so anyone who would like to place an order will be able to on that site!
What are your future plans for La Femme de Cleveland? Will you be offering more clothing (other styles, colors, sayings, etc.)?
We are in the process of making sweatshirts and sweatpants (since Cleveland is usually cold!). We just made a brown and orange colored long sleeve for the upcoming football season. As the sports change, so will the colors. Along with the Cleveland sports team related colors, new sayings are in the works as well. Once the basics are established I would love to expand the line even further.
I have the full intention of expanding the company to other cities! I’m so excited too. I already find myself thinking of what city I want to do next! I love feedback from customers. I would never want to put something out that no one wants to wear, so I appreciate it when people tell me what styles/colors they want to see out. I am constantly putting up pictures of the shirts or asking questions about what they would to see on Facebook.
To check out Katelyn’s line, La Femme de Cleveland, and to grab a tee or tank for yourself, head to Tre Sorelle Boutique in Little Italy:
Tre Sorelle Boutique
12403 Mayfield Road, Little Italy, OH 44106
La Femme de Cleveland online:
www.LaFemmedeCleveland.com (coming soon!)
La Femme de Cleveland’s Facebook Page
Do you have a fashion event or local boutique that needs exposure? Contact Chrissy to be featured in an upcoming Cleveland Women’s Fashion Examiner article.
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