From day spa maven to an emerging Houston fashion designer, Deanna Laster is on to something. She has already created her own lane within the health and beauty space, the philanthropy world and life coaching. Now, Laster is stepping on to a new path, one that led her creative side into designing for her debut clothing line, DeannaMichel, a lively spring collection where the free-spirited woman meets sophistication. Her line comes complete with ombre and maxi kaftan dresses, off the shoulder gowns and cowl knit pieces. The collection speaks for itself—diverse, chic and majestic—just a few descriptive words that complement the designer as well. Behind the soft spoken, kindred spirit is a fearless designer ready to wake up the Houston fashion industry. Laster spoke with Empower Magazine about her debut line, her entry into the fashion world and her favorite designer.
Empower Magazine: As an entrepreneur you have left your mark on a number of different industries, one more recognizable industry, the health and beauty realm. Some Houstonians may know of you from your day spa, The Root of You, but they may not know of your artistic side. How did your love for fashion come about?
Deanna Laster: After opening The Root of You and letting it run its course, I had a strong desire to design clothes. I started to take a couple of fashion courses at Houston Community College (HCC) while continuing my day job. As I continued to study, my progression within fashion design started to pick up, from developing, to creativity and to the technical side of fashion. I also met other like-minded designers, which kept me encouraged and creative. Looking into my long-term perspective within fashion, I know that my purpose on Earth is to give back, empower women, transform and evolve. The spa served its’ purpose, like employing women from various locations. Now, it is time to elevate my platform as an extension to my purpose.
EM: Besides developing your craft at HCC, did you have any other artistic influences?
DL: Both of my grandmothers are fashionistas in their own right. They were both well put together and they sewed clothes. My grandmothers were trendsetters; they always cared and had a strong concern for the way they presented themselves. As a child, I was always in awe of magazines such as Vogue and Glamour. I would go to the local drugstore and write letters to the designers, there wouldn’t be a name but there was an address to forward my questions. I was about 12 or 13 and I really wanted to get into fashion. One day I started to receive boxes and shipments of samples from the designers that I wrote letters to. I could not fit them, but I was excited to see that they actually read my letters and sent clothing to inspire me even more.
EM: What was your process for designing and creating the DeannaMichel collection?
DL: I do everything from producing the concept to creating the mood board for each collection. I am very hands on with the creativity behind the line. Once I have the concept down, then from there a pattern is developed and the prototype is made. I have a pattern maker with over 20 years of experience checking my patterns to make sure that my pattern maker is not missing anything. Once the prototype is taken to production, I place orders.
EM: Since you were exposed to fashion at a young age, did you take on any jobs in the fashion industry before you decided to create the line?
DL: I produced hair and fashion shows for five years during the existence of my spa. Also, I partner with local boutiques for the philanthropy aspect. I am also connected here in Houston through the local chapter of Fashion Group International which allows me to stay plugged into the industry to execute the growth of my brand within the business. It’s all about growth and evolution.
EM: We know the DeannaMichel woman is a very confident, fun loving, free spirited person, but what about the woman that’s less confident but still wants to wear your line, what would you say to help her step into her own confidence?
DL: Seeing is believing. Women of various age groups love to transition themselves. When you are in your 20’s you are becoming aware of yourself. The transitioning stage from the mid 30’s to the 50’s is my target. When you are in your 40’s hopefully you are reaping the benefits of your hard work from your 20’s or 30’s, but some women are still trying to figure out what should she do next. With my line, I hope to inspire women to continue to push forward and express your values first. I produce workshops, initiatives and styling consultations to help continue your pursuit of transition. Advice on how to shop or how to incorporate style choices in your life can help you be where you want to be fashionably. If you represent yourself well, then people will gravitate towards your message. If they get close enough to engage with you, then meet them where they are. Be transparent and share your story.
EM: The fashion industry can be very cut throat, and there are only a few designers in Houston that are household names what do you think sets you apart from the other designers here in Houston?
DL: Well, I showcased my un-official first collection at HCC, which featured an eclectic denim collection. My second collection called “Blurred lines” included lots of creams and stretchy knit materials. This spring collection is my official launch. I am debuting my work, production, creativity and my business side. With this collection I decided on comfortable and flowy dresses, because the warmer climate is my favorite. I like feeling comfy and free which this collection leaves you in a resort like state. It makes you want to go on a stay-cation or vacation. I know what women looking for—something comfortable whether it be dressed up or down.
EM: What are some challenges that you face in this industry, especially being a designer from the south that has not taken her line to New York City?
DL: Yes, New York City and Los Angeles are known for fashion. Houston is known for its oil and medical industries and not fashion, but Houston has so many emerging designers that need recognition as well. There is so much flavor for fashion in Houston, but still not scalable; there is only so much you can do by yourself. Finding production and other scalable resources in the city is hard. In Los Angeles, you have textiles available, which is hard to find here. I have to pull from the east and the west and bring it to the south for production. I am setting my tone locally and then I will branch out. Houston has the tendency to produce a big show, but there is no traction on developing something on a larger scale for the city. I am still trying to get production here in Houston without sending it outside the city.
EM: Who is your dream client and why?
DL: Oh, Michelle Obama. She is very supportive of the emerging designers. Like she wore the Jason Wu gown, an emerging designer at the time, the night of the 2009 Inaugural Ball. I can picture Michelle Obama in my gowns.
EM: Who is your favorite designer and why?
DL: Alexander McQueen because he was so far left with his designs. He was eclectic and off the wall, everything was bold or behind masks. All of his designs were a different expression of all shapes and sizes. He married so many aspects of a woman in his collections. His legacy is so strong and will live on.
EM: Any advice for upcoming fashion designers?
DL: Dreams are not just dreams, they are opportunities that become a reality. Creativity is the start, but put some wind and traction behind it to start the process. Manifest and execute your ideas into something people can recognize and is long standing. Dream big but stay realistic.
EM: Where can we purchase the collection?
DL: The DeannaMichel Collection is available online and it will be in two boutiques by April. I will deliver or mail your items to you personally. We also take custom orders online. The price range is between $150 – $175, but it can go up depending on the garment, textile, cut and how it is made. My designs are finished with a high grade of custom material. I’m looking forward to a number of events here in Houston this year. I will be having a trunk show soon, and you can find my collection in a booth during the Essence Festival in New Orleans this year.
For more information on this enterprising designer, visit www.boutique.deannamichel.com.