A Decibel Disparate: Exposing the community to local artists: musicians, writers, designers, performers, thinkers, who are doing things outside of the “Annapolitan box.” You will find no sailboats or Blue Angels here. This is a place for raw and unique talent. Let us look at our city with a “view askew.” Diversity is life.
By Brianne Leith
Photos by David Adkins
“I do fashion designing, because…” Karen Garalde’s hands become untangled and she gestures wildly and her face becomes a large smile. “…it’s such a generic answer…but it’s my passion. I’ve always loved fashion.”
Karen Garalde sits on an off-white computer chair in her studio at her house in Baltimore. The room has a couple of clothes racks that colorful outfits hang from, a large main table, sewing machine, dress-form mannequins, a computer and numerous sketches. It has a feeling of artistic organization and professional modernity. She smiles as she pushes against the back of her chair in a rocking movement. Karen continues to look calmly ecstatic with her kind eyes smiling as much as her mouth throughout the entire interview, but she is exhausted. Baltimore Fashion Week starts on Thursday the 18th and she is the opening designer. Her 18 pieces are completed, besides some minor adjustments, and she thought she was going to be able to rest forgetting about the interview we had set up.
Her computer was playing music that filled up her work space. “Is this too loud? Do you want me to turn it off? It’s Pandora…I always listen to music or watch movies while I am working.”
Karen’s clothing/accessory brand is named Kalai Kai. “It’s a very special name to me since it’s the nickname I was given as a child and a name that has stuck with me among my family.” In 2009 Karen started Kalai Kai and in 2010 started selling her products. Though she started mainly selling jewelry, there became more demand for her clothing, and this demand has grown greatly within the year.
“The Kalai Kai collection is heavily inspired by the beauty and culture of traditional and natural materials, like deadstock and organic. I draw on a variety of experiences, sights and textures to personalize my designs with my own unique touch. I hope to offer both a modern and fun vibe, yet still maintain classic elegance.”
Kalai Kai is fun and fashionable pieces with the hint of avant garde style but everyday sense. When you see someone wearing her pieces it turns your head. They are attractive and stand out, without being too outrageous. Karen’s sense of style has been fine-tuned and matured through her years of absorbing herself in fashion.
Karen studied pattern making and design in a college in the Philippines to get back to her roots. It was her second degree, but she wanted to really immerse herself in fashion. While she was there she interned with a famous Filipino designer, Oskar Peralta. Continuing her education in fashion, she took a couture class in Baltimore under Susan Chalje. “I learned draping and how to fit one of a kind pieces…couture techniques…and started manipulating patterns by draping.” She then found a job with a major clothing company.
Karen lowers her cheerful eyes, “I wasn’t exactly happy because I wasn’t designing…I was doing ‘behind the scenes’ things.” Then Karen immediately brightens up as she swivels back and forth in her chair, keeping her hands folded neatly in her lap. “I started selling my own stuff to friends of friends, and at festivals, and I brought my line to Pageboy Boutique in Pittsburgh and Vivo! in Annapolis…”
“Mae Whitman actually bought one of my animal rings for Emma Watson…”
Karen stops abruptly and gazes at me; her eyes have become to betray her tiredness though the corners of her mouth still point upwards. “…is there anything else?” She pauses and then her hands start moving wildly. “There is just so much to talk about.”
“Well…How about, why do you do this?”
“It’s my passion. I’ve always loved fashion. The process is completely therapeutic…and it’s a good way to express myself.” Karen leans back and her beauty shines out of her. “It makes me happy that I can make others happy and feel good about themselves. The most rewarding thing for me is to see people feeling beautiful because of my clothes. It means a lot to me to be able to make things for people of different lifestyles and ages. And I really love playing around with things people don’t think are worth anything and are basically just trash.”
Karen won the Being Green Rocks contest at ArtScape one year for her line of “trash wear.” She focused on non-traditional material like corn husks, paper, pine cones, crocheted plastic bags, burlap sacks, coffee filters and telephone book paper. The pieces are magnificent. They are high fashion with society’s discarded items. “I got so much attention for them after I won. Crowds of people came up to me and my models, asking to take pictures or to buy them. People were shocked I could make such pretty things out of trash. The feedback was so great…and it was from people of all ages and even people who weren’t into fashion at all…
…that memory keeps me going through the hard times of designing.”
“These recycled outfits are so fantastic…will you sell them at all or just keep them for your own collection?”
Karen’s lips flatten out into a straight line. “Not a lot of people want to be wearable art. These are art pieces in the form of clothing. And it would take so long to remake that it would cost… like… thousands of dollars.”
But her new clothing line, which can be bought, will be shown at Baltimore Fashion Week. (http://www.
I thumb through Karen’s sketch book for the show as she locates different dresses and outfits she wants to show me. “What is this last page with the cheesy movie pictures?” “Oh, Those are pictures of a movie from the 80′s called Body Rock. It’s my inspiration.” I look at her slightly skeptically, since in my mind her clothes were much better than the absurd pictures of men in neon sweatbands. “My pieces are updated versions. Bright colors and just fun. I want people to know you can wear fun clothes.” My eye scans over to a vintage bathing cap that is on the table near me. Karen smirks. “I am using vintage bathing caps for accessories on the runway. The movie had a lot of bandanas, and I thought an updated version could be a turban…but then turbans became trendy, so I thought an updated turban could be a bathing cap. And I found some on EBay… I wanted to set myself apart during Fashion Week.” Karen places her head into a neon pink bathing cap and looks adorable and oddly chic.
Karen Garalde needs no help standing apart.
Karen Garalde can make you into a walking piece of Art.
Check out her clothes on www.kalaikai.com or this Thursday at Baltimore Fashion Week.