When asked why people should care about design, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley hesitated.
"I mean, that's like saying, why should anyone care about art? I don't know," the designer told Inc.
What the independent owner of her namesake brand can't express in words, she accomplishes every day, churning out designs such as her kaleidoscopic, floral-patterned shirts. Rowley plans to extend her design products from eyewear, accessories, and dresses to fitness wear and even office supplies.
So how do you stay relevant in an industry where even multibillion-dollar retailers like the Gap still struggle to stay fashionable? Rowley says it helps to move beyond your comfort zone and stay atuned to what's going on in your industry and even outside of it, as you never quite know from where your next shot of inspiration will come. Her company is creating Cynthia Rowley erasers, notebooks, and Band-Aids, through partnerships with Staples and Band-Aid. Rowley likes to describes her personality as one of "pathological optimism."
Inc. followed up with the designer--who also served as one of this year's Best in Class Awards judges--on how she stays ahead of the game in the fashion industry.
What is your approach to fashion design?
I get really excited about everything. It's really crazy; I really have such an enthusiasm for anything new. If it's new and it hasn't been done, new frontiers and opportunities that haven't had design as part of their DNA, those are the kinds of things that I thrive on. I kind of have an enthusiasm for almost anything. I think it is unfortunate sometimes when designers think "this is my vision, this is my style, this is who I am." I think that really cuts you off from so many possibilities and having the vision to be able to reinvent something. I feel like you really have to have an open mind.
Where do you get your best design ideas from?
I wish I had that sort of idea spot where they will always come to me. I really love my team that I work with, and we work really well together. It's the idea of getting in a room with creative people and brainstorming. I think that's always the ultimate, great way to be inspired, but I kind of don't stop. I'm not really good at relaxing. When I first wake up in the morning, that time when your brain is still a little bit sleepy, I find that's the best. That seems like a very creative time for me because it's just pure and fresh. I don't know, though; I wake up in the middle of the night and draw and write, too. It can be anywhere.
How do you define good design?
I just think the design of something helps tell the story. So if there's no design, if it's a blank canvas, that's telling a story. I think you have to just look at everything and ask: "What does this mean to me and my aesthetic?" And "How can I influence this?" Or "Isn't this great?" Be appreciative of other people's creativity, too.
How do you choose what to design or redesign?
You know those giant boxes, the red and white boxes that your case paper gets delivered in? I was like, "Why hasn't anyone designed that?" We design these boxes now, so I'd say even for B2B products it matters. Overall, I'd focus on the stuff that you're so used to looking at, but in the past hasn't been designed. Those are the areas that I want to be able to influence with good design.
How do you stay relevant in the fashion industry?
I try to be as involved in events and cultural movements as possible and react to them. I think that being able to incorporate them in as meaningful a way as possible, to evolve what we do, and to be able to navigate into different parts of design has been how we've stayed relevant. I mean, definitely, normal fashion designers wouldn't want to make a Band-Aid or wouldn't think of making a wetsuit. We're early into the fitness apparel world, and we're making office products for Staples. You know it's things that I think are very scary sometimes, but it allows us to have a different conversation with different people and a different audience all the time, so just being able to move between high and low and different categories and be able to influence things that haven't been done before, I think that's what keeps the conversation fresh.