Sofia Karvela prefers strength. In a behind-the-scenes series by Shopify Plus, the Wknd Nation co-founder says of startup life,"It goes under your skin, in your veins, and eats you alive. And I'm in heaven because that is exactly what I wanted."
Fashion hasn't been known for being an easy career path. The now creative director and co-founder of this loungewear brand started her journey in the business for a stylist. She moved to the city at 16 to pursue acting but rather found a house in styling, soon working on places like Sex and the City and, more recently, Younger. Karvela watched the legendary styling genius Patricia Field do what she does best with clothing. And while Karvela is used to--and delights in--the occasionally discomforts fashion work could be, she doesn't need to sacrifice her own physical comfort in her clothing, an ethos that has translated into this new business.
Wknd Nation launched this spring but it started, as Karvela would state in the series, since the world started to shut down. Beginning a brand during a worldwide pandemic is a feat: Karvela and her co-founder Phuong Ireland had not even secured financing before the pandemic was well underway.
Staying home for almost a year might have made it more popular to throw out tighter, sleeker clothing for looser, comfy collections but Karvela sees this period as more of a fad. What endures instead is relaxation before and after the pandemic and how Wknd Nation fits right into that. Comfort is not only sweatpants while binge-watching yet another show on Netflix; it is integrating a soft tee shirt or an exquisite hoodie in your fashion repertoire to be dressed up. Or not. It is your choice: relaxation is a lifestyle.
What Karvela and Ireland have landed is the classic notion that relaxation is an extension of itself; what buyers want, more than anything, is to feel great in their own bodies and those essential, classic bits are foundational for that. Here, Karvela talks about her first love for fashion, why couture wasn't really her scene and the way the long-sleeved tee could captivate her more than anything, and the way Wknd Nation's future won't be tied to trends.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What's the first fashion memory?
Sofia Karvela: I remember myself as a kid loving fashion because I believed it was a way for me to have the ability to express myself in a creative manner. I come from quite creative parents but, regrettably, I believed myself not on their level of talent in that sense. My mother was a singer, my father was a composer. As soon as I discovered a way to observe patterns and find joy in textures and colors as a very young girl, there was a part of me that just finally realized that I exist. I deserve to be here. I've got a point of view. And that was a really young age, I was a really weird kid. My hair was too frizzy and I was quite chubby and hairy in bizarre places that I felt really uncomfortable in my skin. Getting dressed was a really freaking huge challenge. There was lots of insecurity since I had a stunning mom and I had been in an awkward stage. I recall myself which makes it a life mission to find out a way to feel more comfortable, more beautiful.
Fast-forward to your move to New York in 16: What are a few of the most significant moments in your styling livelihood who have informed your work then and today?
Karvela: I believe failing made a difference. It was not a moment of"oh my God, [look at] this magnificent thing I put together." For me, the things that stood out... I believe there is lots of beauty out there and a great deal of ugliness. I found a way to be happier in this business and in myself to find what that didn't work. By way of instance, I recall putting a corset on a model and she was so uneasy. Just shooting stuff because that is the trend in the present time. The individual who is wearing it, almost like behind the scenes, is simply tortured. But they have got to sell that garment because that is part of the organization. I realized very soon that I can not be a part of that crew. I don't think I am even that great at it as my mind goes into a long sleeve t-shirt. It is way more intriguing than a couture gown. I find a whole lot of beauty in simplicity--I learned that early on.
I need to discover a way to make my own thing as doing what other individuals are doing seems not to be aligned with my beliefs and my own needs as a human being in order to be happy.
There is some advice you gave in an interview lately I keep revisiting:"To like yourself...a lot. Not to give up comfort for any tendencies which don't talk to you." I have heard variations of this for decades but not articulated this way. When it comes to style, can the ideal brand help close that gap for somebody?
Karvela: Occasionally some people today say first you need to love yourself and then someone else. And other men and women are like,"oh, he loved me , and then I loved myself." So it is almost like, oh, no, I move in and out of self-hatred now, yesterday, likely tomorrow. I learned, and that I favor, a state of mind where I accept myself and if I do not love myself. It is almost like in regard to the brand message. I think that what brands can do is likely not only promote that message, whatever they think, but more so show it. I believe a visual speaks for itself.
That is why we're very interested in using different body shapes. The idea is there is no limitation of the way you get to take yourself. We're extremely aware of making people feel good and comfortable and contained in our brand. We absolutely promote all people. It is not about self indulgent or not self-evident, because some people can be like,"you know what, I am going through a really challenging time." Well, you know what? Join us. We feel you. It's a battle. There's no"oh, I am so filled with life. I love myself." It is a bit of a mess.
What were your reference points for the first Wknd Nation collection?
Karvela: I am not a designer, right? However, I always knew in my mind what shapes I felt looked good on people. I was born in the 80s but I mention the 60s and the 70s. Funny enough, despite the fact that that's not actually reflected, so to speak, but there are particular things, like our sewing. We use them with a tiny vintage vibe, though the colors and the brightness and boldness are very much a contemporary take.
I wonder if it is specific to this time that it is simple to be that detailed and creative as a small brand, you can experiment.
Karvela: that I don't have any interest in creating complicated layouts. I wish to actually create simplicity with a bit of an advantage, with a tiny twist in the information. It is the baseline of what we do. Because we are not only making loungewear bits, which we started with since we felt like we wanted to enter the marketplace with core basics. We're growing and becoming to other things. You know, we've got jumpsuits, we have shorts, skirts. What is consistent is the cloth and how we're using those very comfy fabrics to still make something that's trendy and trendy that you could use to work or wear out and feel excellent about it.
I am struck by the fact that you're working on a loungewear style line prior to the pandemic and then this class would come to define pandemic wear. How can you avoid becoming tied to a occasion and develop as a brand?
Karvela: It is almost like that is another trend. We don't do tendencies, so relaxation will live forever. I take the train daily. I am a train junkie. My kids love it as well. It is my way to actually connect with the world. I swear to God because I do not actually traveling, I do not do much or go out, my way to connect is seeing people on the train. And 99.9percent of people are merely comfortable.
I would like to Discuss the Wknd Nation stylist hotline. How did that concept come to be?
Karvela: We find that how you wear something is what makes or breaks it. I have seen people take a t-shirt and f--k this up. I don't know how! Come on, keep it simple. I just felt like we could have a conversation with our client and ping pong with thoughts since it is not so much about the hotline itself. It is based on a conversation. Things happen when there's a conversation. You know, it's not like that is how we solved it. It is almost how we thought it might look, but what do you think?
How are your clients responding to it?
Karvela: It is really nice. People only want to chit-chat. You've got an extra little like"you got there," you understand. You just want someone to tell you that this looks great. We like that link.
Perhaps I'm asking you to be a little prophetic but as a longtime fashion industry employee, what do you see or believe could be in store for trend in the next few years?
Karvela: I do not understand about tendencies. I don't know what genius will wake up and give us something that will shake the entire world again. So far as Wknd Nation, we'll continue to do what we want, which is more individuals, a team of believers, who do not sacrifice comfort for nothing or no one. If we can inspire women to love themselves, accept themselves, if they love themselves or not, and feel really cool in our outfits and actually dare to do it their way. That is what I see.
And I think very much in physical shops. I think that people believe digital is eternally going to grow, but there's a huge thing in the closeness you get from in-store experiences. We wish to make pop-ups for people to actually begin connecting again.
The pandemic actually interrupted our lives in such a concrete way. I wonder, as an owner and creator, how you're considering the future? How has this year altered your believing?
Karvela: That is why we're a DTC brand, right? We are building our own brand and we are growing it blatantly, mindfully.