Q and A with Colabination designer- Rachael Levine, Creator of Arae.

Q: How did you get started with designing? What was the process to get to where you are now?
A: I started designing in high school while I was part of a hip-hop dance company. For some of the dance costumes we were given colors to abide by, but the freedom to create our own costumes. Since I danced from eighth grade and all throughout high school, I had a lot of practice designing dance wear and also sewing, which translated into altering my own everyday clothes. So, when deciding to choose a major to study in college, it was a clear decision to go into fashion design.

At Columbia College in Chicago, I learned all the fundamentals and design principles to better execute the designs in my head. I also studied textile design outside of Columbia College at Haystack Mountain School of Craft. For my senior year thesis project there, I designed a clothing collection that bridged my knowledge of textiles and fashion together. The collection was outdoor luxury featuring tie-dye wool sports vests and jackets, paired with specialty pants with edgy details such as zippers, angled seams, and combination fabric. Since no outfit is complete without accessories, I made sure to design armwarmer fingerless gloves and hats for every look. And that was the beginning of ARAE accessories line.

Q: How would you describe your brand?
A: ARAE is a contemporary lifestyle brand, focusing on unique patterns created by modern tie-dye techniques on boiled wool so you can be well accessorized and warm during the fall and winter season.

Q: What are your inspirations?
A: My inspirations come from traveling and nature. I almost never sit down with a direct inspiration to create a collection. I go about life being present and open to everything and I think through that I subconsciously draw inspiration from certain experience and places.

Q: What are some things that you do or that interest you, aside from designing?
A: Besides designing and running my company, I love spending time with family and friends and enjoying everything that Chicago's amazing city has to offer. From the nightlife, new restaurants, to walking around, etc. there's so much to do. I also try to get away to the Rocky Mountains when I can since hiking and being outdoors is the best. Nothing beats the fresh air and beautiful sights out there. That’s where the true inspiration comes from. Staying fit is definitely a priority and another passion of mine. I love to exercise and eat really healthy.

Q: What was your brand like in the very beginning?
A: I still consider ARAE in the beginning stages since it's not even a year old. But, in the very beginning, I started with just two colors: black and navy blue, and offered short and long gloves, circle and long scarves, in three patterns. Currently I have seven different color options for short, medium, and long length gloves, circle scarves of two lengths, long scarves, and a polar fleece lined collection of headbands, gaiters, and beanies with fox fur poms. I still offer the original three patterns as well.

Q: Where would you like to see your brand in 5-10 years?
A: When starting ARAE, it made sense to first introduce accessories. But in 5-10 years, I would like to have expanded into clothing since I went to school for fashion design, and love designing clothing. I would also love to be doing business abroad in other countries and be up there among the bigger fashion names in the high-end sportswear category for fashion. Since I'm also big on textile design, another dream is to license some of my patterns for upholstery and houseware, and be featured in that market as well.

Q: If you are sold in any shops, which ones?
A: Currently, you can find ARAE in the following stores: 

  • Illinois: Ami Ami, Artemisia, City Soles (and citysoles.com), Gem, Florodora, Little Luxuries, Manouche, Relics, Serenade, ShopColumbia, Stella, Style Shack

  • Alabama: Kim’s Fine Fashions

  • Colorado: Canary In A Clothes Mine, Pano

  • Connecticut: Pimlico

  • Indiana: Relish

  • Minnesota: Poppy

  • New York: All Pretty Things, Dvash, Lu Jin Fashion, Saffron Trading Company

  • Michigan: Lamia & Lamia

  • Vermont: Salaam Boutique

  • Wisconsin: Blonde Russian.

Q: When you get in a creative rut, what do you do to get out of it?
A: When I get in a creative rut I take a break. I’ll do everything else that I enjoy in life instead of forcing myself to create something new.

Q: What are some things you have learned over time in the business?
A: Over time, I have learned that I have to ask for help. I am afraid of letting go of things when it comes to my business, but I have been open to any advice anyone has to offer me. I've been lucky to have friends who are willing to help me in areas which are not my strongest. Also, I've learned to be patient but work as hard as you can. If you do your best then there’s no way anything can go better than they are going in that moment. Things will organically happen as they are supposed to and you have to enjoy the journey. And on top of all of that, you have to be really organized and keep good track of your finances.

Q: Which part of the city is your favorite?
A: I love the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. It’s where my brand and myself as a designer was born, and also where I lived the last two years of college. The first store to carry my brand was at six corners - the busiest intersection in the neighborhood - called City Soles. I also worked at Scotch and Soda in Bucktown for a little over a year, which helped me save money to launch ARAE after graduation. Besides the business reasons for loving that neighborhood, the food is great, the people are great, it’s a very creative place, and it's split in half by North Ave, which if you go east takes you straight to the beach.

Q: What do you wish you could do more of?
A: I wish I could travel more often. I want to see the world. I know I will one day and it’s going to take a lot of time and money, but that’s okay.

Q: What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up, family, siblings, etc?
A: The first half of my childhood I lived mostly with my sister and my mom because my parents were divorced when I was really little. I only saw my dad every other weekend because he traveled a lot and was starting his own business at that time; but we’re extremely close now. When I was 10-years-old, my mom remarried and we moved to Wheaton, IL, which is where I consider the place I grew up. From that change, I gained a stepbrother and a half brother and am thankful for having grown up in Wheaton. I still have very close ties to that town through my friends, family, and the experience I gained about starting over in a new place. 

Growing up, I traveled a lot...vacation wise. My mom was born and raised in Bolivia, South America, so we've gone to Bolivia to visit family a handful of times. My dad always took me and my sister on vacations to Florida, California, New York, and many other states, as well as abroad to Vancouver, British Columbia, Italy, and Spain. I got the travel bug at an early age, but those experiences have made me who I am today. My entrepreneurial spirit, I’d say, comes from my dad, whereas my creativity and love of art comes from my mother. But what I get from both of them is their drive to succeed, and knowing that failure is never an option.

My mother moved from Bolivia to the United States, a foreign country, and did whatever she could to stay and make it work. My father started his now successful business with everything he had. They are the support that keeps me going with my choice to start my own fashion brand.

Shop ARAE's Colabination Showroom!

By Leslie DiCarlo

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