The new 2017 Fusion and L.A.-Based designer Karla Deras are both about style and innovation. Here, Deras explains how she broke all the rules—and came out on top.
By Tiffany Tse
Photographs by Dave Lauridsen
“Excuse me—Karla, right? I’ve followed your blog since day one, and I had to say hi.” A well-dressed young woman beams at blogger-turned-designer Karla Deras, who smiles graciously. Twenty-six-year-old Deras is a new breed of designer, the type helping to raise L.A.’s profile as a new fashion capital. Her form-fitting clothes and figure-celebrating ethos have attracted the attention of celebrities, body-empowerment activists and everyday fashionistas alike. Today she’s taking me around Los Angeles in the new, equally design-forward 2017 Ford Fusion and teaching me how she achieved success in this town—while breaking all the rules. First stop: Here in the gritty-cool Arts District, where Deras is shooting photos for her Instagram account, which—with 132,000 followers—serves not only as her digital mood board but as a direct connection to fans like this one. Deras lowers her camera and shakes the woman’s hand.
Ax Your Management
As Deras returns to snapping photos, she fills me in on her unconventional path to the launch of her label, The Line by K, without any outside funding last July. As a teenager, Deras had a stint as a singer with the Slumber Party Girls. But in 2008 she suffered a knee injury and could no longer dance, so she quit the music business, got an apparel manufacturing degree and started the blog Karla’s Closet (karlascloset.com). She posted photos of her outfits, accompanied by musings on fashion. “There weren’t a lot of style blogs,” she says. “I was able to connect with girls who are just like me: We’re into the same things, we are proud of who we are, and we all have flavor.” Before long Karla’s Closet had thousands of readers.
When a management company came calling, Deras signed up. But she quickly realized she couldn’t stomach the expectations—like attending fashion shows every season or posting on social media a dozen times daily. “I don’t see the point of attending fashion week unless it’s going to be useful and serve a purpose,” she says. “As a blogger, having a manager requires you to fit a certain mold. I didn’t fit that mold, but I was okay with that because it’s more important to me to stay authentic.” She dropped the company.
In 2014 the concept for The Line by K began to simmer. “I was creating designs for myself with a tailor and decided I wanted to share them with others,” says Deras. Instead of an official business plan, she typed ideas into her smartphone: “comfortable clothes to wear to the grocery store, but also on a date” and “basics that make you feel sexy.”
“The purpose of The Line by K is to celebrate diversity in the female figure. I made these clothes for women to feel empowered, strong and sexy,” Deras explains as we head back to our purposefully designed 2017 Fusion, which affords self-expression through its available models. “It was an idea I pursued with passion.”
Embrace your own aesthetic
Guided by the Fusion and its seamless voice-activated SYNC® 3* with optional Navigation System, we cruise to Deras’ industrial-looking office near the Los Angeles Convention Center. Inside, surrounded by inspiration boards papered with ’90s magazine editorials and color chips, Deras tells me that when she’s not answering emails or approving samples, she is hard at work on design concepts: “I’m always on art blogs, looking at images.”
Launching The Line by K without investors gave her creative control but also required some serious effort. At first Deras had to hunt down people who were willing to work with her. “I wasn’t doing mass production so I had to learn to negotiate and push for fabrics they’d rather sell to larger retailers,” she says. Without a background in fashion design, Deras had to get creative: “I don’t sketch. I’ll share an idea with my patternmaker. We’ll play with fabric on a dress form, and he’ll translate my ideas into reality.”
She’s resourceful about marketing her products as well: “My dad shoots some of the images,” she says. “Sometimes I photograph the models or my brother will shoot me. I have a specific look I like: grainy and imperfect, instead of crispy, well-lit and highlighted.”
Deras’ dad is also involved in the business aspect of The Line by K. “When he came to the United States from El Salvador, he didn’t speak English, had no money, and started his own flooring company. He reminds me that this isn’t just about being creative and having fun but also about managing finances,” she says. Keeping an eye on the numbers has helped business thrive—since launching, she’s moved more than 7,000 units—and Deras’ team has grown to include an office assistant and marketing manager.
Let the Celebs Come to You
Our next stop is at Shareen Downtown, an enormous vintage clothing warehouse where Deras often finds inspiration. “I used to wear vintage a lot and had everything altered to fit me,” she explains. With the Fusion’s stylish LED headlamps* illuminating the way, we park, then approach the door, where a “no boys allowed” sign hangs. Inside, Deras scores a scarf she’ll use to adorn one of The Line by K’s new releases for the online store, which she links to from her blog.
Karla’s Closet allowed Deras to leverage the power of celebrity without courting stylists or hiring PR agencies. Two major stars have been photographed wearing The Line by K—a colossal boon to the brand and an indirect result of a celebrity stylist who, years ago, read Deras’ blog and reached out to her. Blogging also helped Deras amass a loyal fan base that became her initial customers. “When people first discovered The Line by K, they were buying because they knew Karla’s Closet,” she says. “Now we’re growing and acquiring new customers who simply like the clothes.”
Deras has already made her mark on the Los Angeles fashion scene, but the young entrepreneur admits she’s still learning as she goes along. “I don’t know if I have all the correct ingredients or abilities for this—I just know that if I can make women feel empowered and beautiful in my clothes, then it’s all worth it,” she says as we slide back into the new 2017 Fusion, which fits Deras like one of her chic, stylized dresses. “When your passion and drive are bigger than your fears, that’s when you dive in and overcome all of the obstacles…. The reward of people saying they feel confident in my clothes is worth it.” If nothing else, Deras herself is enough to inspire legions of would-be designers and entrepreneurs to believe that anything is possible.