Fashion Challenge

Local designers talk about life beyond the 'Runway'

We know you've been watching "Project Runway" - who hasn't? We're also sure that at least once, you've thought "Wow, I could do that."

Just keep in mind that becoming a fashion designer is not as easy as it seems.

"You can't sit down at a sewing machine for two hours and get it done," said Clint Zeagler of Atlanta-based Pecan Pie Couture (www.pecanpiecouture.com).

In fact, local designers say the business side of fashion is especially challenging. Being a designer is a labor of love - with emphasis on the word labor.

"In the beginning, when you don't have any money, you're doing everything yourself," Zeagler said.

During the workday, he takes care of the business side of Pecan Pie, from making phone calls to planning promotional events. At night, he concentrates on design.

For Atlanta designer Jason Carl, getting his clothes into stores is a top priority - and one of his biggest challenges.

For his company, Jason Carl Designs (www.jasoncarl.net), he does the design work. He also oversees the pattern-making and clothing manufacture, as well as handles invoicing and billing. In addition, Carl relies on the four people who work with him.

"It helps to surround yourself with people who can help you. Not many people can be all things to their companies," he said.

Original designs

For Carl, the creative process is almost effortless. He's been drawing since he could hold a crayon.

"The designing part is the easiest part in the world for me," Carl said.

He started his design business by creating custom garments for individuals. He has now designed two commercial lines of women's wear. He describes his Jason Carl line as "sophistication with an edge."

One of his most recent designs is the Jaki, a versatile kimono that can be worn over jeans, capri pants or as a sarong skirt.

"I based it on my younger sister. She's always had a great sense of style," Carl said.

Originally, the Jaki was made of cloth printed with tropical flowers. People loved the piece, but stores weren't interested in carrying it. They didn't think their customers would like the material used to make the kimonos.

"I had to remake them in these abstract, colored prints," Carl said.

Working within the parameters of what stores and buyers want is an important part of being a designer, Carl said.

"You have to set your ego aside," he said.

Southern roots

Zeagler began his career as a student at Georgia Tech, where he studied industrial design. In college, he also printed T-shirts for school clubs.

After his 2004 graduation, he studied fashion in Milan, Italy. Last December, he moved back to Atlanta. In February, he began Pecan Pie Couture with business manager Jud Savelle. The first two Pecan Pie lines have featured T-shirts with custom knitting and beadwork.

"My line, it's all about being fun and being expressive. I really want my fashion to be like Dolly Parton - tacky and wholesome at the same time," Zeagler said.

The designer grew up in the south Georgia town of Sylvania, where his grandmother owned a restaurant and pie factory. "I get a lot of inspiration from growing up there," he said.

Vintage logos from the pie factory appear on some of his T-shirts. The materials Zeagler uses also reflect his Southern background. All the knitting is done in Georgia, while the beadwork comes from Cherokee, N.C.

Though working in fashion in Atlanta, instead of New York or Los Angeles, is a challenge, Zeagler plans to stay here. "When I was in Milan, it sounds really fancy, but I missed home," Zeagler said.

Carl, who has loved Atlanta since he used to spend summers here as a boy, doesn't plan to relocate either, though moving might offer greater job opportunities.

"The truth of the matter is, if I wanted to move to New York or Los Angeles, I could get a job as an assistant designer," Carl said.

As Atlanta, which is already known for its shopping, continues to grow, the fashion scene here will continue to develop, Carl said.

"People are starting to pay attention," he said.