Slowing Down Fashion
Camilla Jos talks with me about her start in fashion, her design process, and the endless downsides to fast fashion.
I’ve worked as a photo assistant with Camilla Valentina since early 2021. Working with someone new is always a bit strange and anxiety inducing. Maria Wurtz and I didn’t know what to expect, but clearly Camilla made quite the impression as a year later we still work together. The studio space when we all come together was full of creative life and energy. Camilla created pieces that inspired us and made us feel both happy and excited during a time when more often than not we were anything but. Camilla always brings the most lighthearted and wonderful mood to both her work and any artist working with her. It’s hard to wear her clothes and not feel her radiating light. I look forward to every season more and more and I know Maria always feels the same. It has been amazing working with her, and with the launch of her most recent collection I had to interview her. I loved learning all there was to know about her start in fashion and how Camilla Valentina came to be.
Ava Williams: Please tell everyone your name and a bit about you and what you do!
Camilla Jos: My name is Camilla Jos and I own a clothing brand that focuses on all things color, comfort, and fun!
AW: When did you realize you wanted to be in fashion? Why did it excite you or maybe why does it still excite you?
CJ: Fashion has excited me for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I took a bunch of sewing classes, would obsessively read through fashion magazines admiring the clothes, and would draw my own designs. I’m pretty sure in my 8th grade yearbook under ‘dream job’ I wrote fashion designer. It was always a passion of mine, but what really solidified it as my career path was taking my first class at FIT as a freshman in high school (they offer weekend classes for high schoolers). I took a draping class and on my first day I was assigned a dress form and fabric, and taught how to make a perfectly-fitting top using both. My mind was blown in that moment - being able to take a square piece of fabric and mold it into whatever I want?! I was hooked after that first day and took as many classes as I could throughout high school, and then into 4 years of college at FIT. The more I learned the more I fell in love.
What excited me most about fashion is how much of an impact fashion can have on your feelings. Depending on what clothes you put on in the morning you can feel confident, sexy, comfortable, playful, etc. I’ve always loved the idea of “creating feelings” when making clothes.
AW: I love love love this creating feelings idea, what sort of feelings do you hope your clothes create or inspire?
CJ: The first word that always comes to mind is playful. I feel like as adults, most of us have lost the playful energy that comes with being a kid - being carefree, fearless, confident, and not taking yourself too seriously. For me, when I can create that feeling in my life I am at my happiest, and I always have it in mind when designing my clothes. I want CV to make people feel their most fun and playful.
AW: When you start designing a collection what sort of things do you think about? Where do you draw inspo from? What’s your process basically!
CJ: My process always starts with gathering inspiration, and I am most inspired by art made of different mediums like sculptures, paintings, architecture, and textiles. My designs include a lot of style lines and color blocking, and I look to this art to inspire the shapes of those lines.
Next comes sketching. To start I pick a category (tops, dresses, skirts) and draw about 20-30 of each. When you look at my designs, you can see that I’m not creating silhouettes that are new. I do basic tank tops, basic skirts, etc. What I like to do is take something basic and turn it into a version of itself that you haven't seen before. So when I’m sketching I’ll start with the outline of a crew neck tank top for example, and then play with style lines and color within that.
AW: How do you decide which version you’re going to create if you draw so many? How do you narrow down your designs? Is it hard? In photography when we do a portfolio review and we can only have 20 images it feels excruciating to pick. Is it the same for you and your designs?
CJ: It is really hard to narrow down the designs for so many reasons. I have to balance my own opinions about what I like against what my customers want from me. Plus, I have to make sure I have a range of products offered that don’t compete with one another and aren’t repetitive - from style details to complexity of designs. I need to design pieces that can stand alone, be paired together, and fit into my customer’s closet easily. It’s so much to think about which makes it really hard to make decisions.
So this is what I do. After I have all my ideas sketched out, I pick my favorite 10 (or so) pieces from each category and send them to about 10 friends to get their opinions. They all send me back their top picks and I start to see trends develop in what they are liking. From there, I often resketch and start the process over.
I love collaboration in all ways and try to incorporate it in as many aspects of my business as possible. It can be hard being a sole founder of a company because a lot of the time, I’m just in a room alone thinking. I love including other people in my design process for that reason - it feels like I’m building the collection with the people that love CV the most and love to wear it!
AW: What do you wish people understood about your work? What things do people look over or not understand as non-designers and maybe just consumers?
CJ: I wish people understood how much time and care went into making each piece. All of our pieces are made-to-order, and most pieces take a minimum of 2 hours to make from start to finish - but people complain about my pricing. Fast fashion has really changed the mentality about how much clothes should cost, and a lot of people compare small businesses to these big companies which in my opinion isn’t a fair comparison.
AW: Fast fashion has completely warped people’s sense of budget, quality, and general idea of clothing. I think the rate at which we have trends moving doesn’t help either. Do you think we can come back from this sort of mentality? I think since tiktok, influencers, ect we are sort of in this weird limbo. Some influencers are completely transparent, wear things over, urge people to buy clothes that will last while others do collaborations with Forever 21. Do you think people will ever learn to buy clothes that are more expensive but will last? Or to shop small when possible?
CJ: I wish I had a better answer for this, but I really don’t know. My first response is to say that I am optimistic about this issue, and I really do believe that people’s minds are being changed everyday as they are educated about shopping small, ethical business practices, etc. However, I now have to spend a lot of time on social media for my job, and seeing the overwhelming amount of fast fashion being promoted and the urgency to hop on the newest trend NOW is really disheartening.
I guess my answer is that yes, I believe people will learn, but I think that group of people will grow slowly. Our minds as a society have been conditioned to think in a specific way, and I don’t think that’s something that can be changed overnight.
AW: How has your style or designs changed through the years or evolved? What were you making when you first started vs. right now?
CJ: My designs have changed so much! When I started Camilla Valentina we were a few months into the covid pandemic, which meant I had just spent months trapped in my house wearing anything I owned with an elastic waistband. I was prioritizing comfort always, but found that I had lost those “feelings” (confidence, happiness, etc.) that I had pre-pandemic when I would get dressed every morning. My sweats were so boring and wearing them was affecting my mood everyday, but I also couldn’t imagine dressing up to just stay home. And that’s how CV was originally born - as a loungewear company that made sweats unlike any I had ever seen.
However, as time passed and we all found ways to live our lives within the restrictions of covid, I saw my designs change in my second collection. It happened subconsciously, but when I reflect back it makes a lot of sense. My second collection came out in the springtime and at that point we were all itching to get out of the house, see people, and have fun. For that collection, I designed clothes that were meant to be seen - with bright colors and eye-catching details. Clothes that people wore out with friends, to parties, or anywhere they wanted to feel fun and playful. This is where I felt my designs found their place and what I continue to try to achieve.
AW: how do you see your designs changing in future collections do you think? Do you want to expand? Make more? Or are there different themes you want to follow. It seems like many artists, you start with an idea. The next season it’s another idea. First it was staying in, then it was returning to what was a little more normal. What would you say your most reason season is representing for you?
CJ: I’m planning on embracing this “feelings” idea full force and designing each collection around a feeling. I’ll pick one word - one feeling - and all designs, photography, marketing etc. will embody that.
As for the types of clothes I’ll make in future collections, I don’t see them changing too much from where they are now. I want to continue making clothes that are easy to wear, made from comfortable fabrics, and that people wear when they want to have fun and feel amazing. I do want to expand my collections though to include more pieces! I am limited to what I can handle as one person right now but am excited to grow my collections as my business grows.
AW: How did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to start your own brand as opposed to working for someone else?
CJ: This is always a funny question for me because for the longest time I was very opposed to starting my own brand. Throughout college and after graduation I worked for a company I loved in their design department, and found the work very exciting and fulfilling. I enjoyed going to work everyday, and also enjoyed the freedom of leaving and having my nights free to be with friends, with my husband, and have fun. I easily saw that being the rest of my life.
The pandemic changed everything. That company downsized and I was fired, and I had no idea what I was going to do next or when I would even have the option to work in fashion again because there were no jobs at the time. My husband and I moved to Virginia temporarily to save money and I was feeling even more disconnected from the things I love and my passions. So I just started making clothes and as I made them, I felt that they were really special and unique, and the idea of starting my own business started to formulate from there.
I am very lucky to have a huge support system that pushed me to take the leap, because at the time I wasn’t a risk-taker and was wary of trying something I hadn’t wanted to do for so long. But it has been the happiest surprise of my life. Starting this business has reminded me how much I love learning, creating, and trying new things - and it’s given me the freedom to do all those things.
AW: What has been the biggest surprise in starting your business then? Especially considering you hadn’t originally thought this was something you wanted to do! I’m surprised honestly you hadn’t just thought to start designing your own clothes right out of school you seem so excited about every collection that it always felt, to me, that you had always wanted this!
CJ: The biggest surprise has always been how much I love doing this. I love the endless possibilities there are of things to learn as a business owner. Designing/making clothes is the only thing I know through and through, the rest I have to learn from scratch. It is really challenging but has changed me at my core in monumental ways that I love.
Another huge surprise was experiencing how all-consuming running a business is. I always heard people say that but didn’t understand the true meaning of those words. It takes all my time during the day, as I am actively working, but also takes so much of my mental energy everyday. It has been hard learning how to balance my work life with my personal life - I’m still finding the balance!
AW: Are there any brands or designers you look up to? I don’t think these people have to be designers or brands that look like yours. Sometimes I think craftsmanship or technique is equally as inspiring as aesthetic!
CJ: This may sound weird but I have been obsessed with Parade lately. I concentrated in intimate apparel in college so have always had a love for lingerie design, and they are making high quality products that’s inclusive, fun, and sustainable. I also admire them so deeply for their strong brand vision and how everything they do from their packaging to their products to their marketing is so them (if that makes any sense).
I also really admire Aurora James, the designer of Brother Vellies. I’ve read about her approach to running her business - about how she makes decisions that are solely in line with what her company’s needs, even if that goes against the industry standard or expectations. Running a business can feel very restrictive at times and watching her carve her own path is really inspiring.
AW: Would you ever collab with a brand like parade or a smaller brand? I think a little Camilla Valentina X Parade would be unreal.
CJ: Yes yes YES! I am in awe of other people’s art, whether it's a clothing brand, jewelry brand, artist, any kind of art! I’d love to do collaborations that combine my artistic vision with theirs.
AW: How is designing or fashion in general an outlet for you? How do you use it for self expression?
CJ: Since starting my business, designing has become even more of an outlet for me than ever before. My days now consist of so many new things - from marketing to finance to growth strategies - and there's a lot of fear and uncertainty that comes with entering uncharted territory. Designing is my safe space, my comfort. It’s something I know I am good at and I use it as a tool to re-ground myself when I feel I am in over my head with the business side of things.
AW: In that sense does it feel like you can’t imagine doing anything else now that you’re here? With artists at times it feels almost impossible for them to do anything else in the world. I know with photography I love it, every single bit of whatever it is. I love taking iphone photos, candid, portraits whatever. I don’t want to do anything else even if I’m an unsuccessful photographer. Can you relate to that or that idea at all? Am I crazy?
CJ: You’re not crazy at all! I think this is a common feeling among artists, and what separates a passion from a hobby. Like you with your photography, this is my passion. I love designing and making clothes, and know I will do it in some capacity always.
I also couldn’t imagine doing anything else in respect to running my own business. That’s one of my scarier thoughts because there are so many factors that go into my business succeeding, and like I said I am still learning in most areas. But wanting this is also my biggest motivator to figure it out and make Camilla Valentina succeed.
AW: When you’re feeling a creative slump what do you do to get inspired that isn’t fashion based. Basically do you have any other mediums you do to inspire yourself and how does it help your process?
CJ: I love to knit, embroider, paint, and recently I found out I love to do ceramics!
AW: Where do you hope the industry goes from here on out? It feels like the way the world works is changing and the micro changes across the board are exciting and scary. What are you hoping for in the future of fashion? What do you hope for yourself and your brand in relation to that as well?
CJ: I hope the future of fashion is more intentional.
The fashion industry has created a standard that praises overproducing, questionable (at best) working conditions, and an overall lack of inclusivity and creativity across the board. Decisions are being made with only money in mind and because of that, people and the environment are hurting.
Buuuut…..I’ve seen a lot of small businesses trying to change that, including mine! Businesses with strong morals are making decisions that help instead of hurt. Everyday I see a new business expanding their size range, using recycled fabrics, or making ethical jobs for people that need them.
For Camilla Valentina, I hope to continue creating clothes that make people happy to wear them! I hope to find a path for growth that allows me to elevate and empower women, that allows me to reduce as much waste as possible and take care of the planet, and allows me to change the minds of consumers to prioritize investing in quality clothing that lasts!
AW: I have found with, at the very least the influencers I have interacted with including my own little micro fame (Cringe a bit saying that but it’s true), people are looking for more honest approaches to fashion and life in general. Being transparent and honest about what we consume and use every day. I do think we are heading in a direction especially with small businesses and “micro influencers” who are just every day people, a whole new world of fashion for the better. Do you have any small businesses you admire other than yourself of course.
CJ: I completely agree and really love seeing a new wave of transparency being introduced into fashion through social media and small businesses.
I’m obsessed with Tyler McGillivary - they design some of the most unique pieces I have ever seen and always seem to be outdoing themselves creatively with each new release. I love Hope Macaulay who makes chunky, colorful, super unique knits. I also really admire this furniture designer named Sophie Collé.
AW: Where do you see your growing business taking you? Would you like to expand beyond what you make now? Say lingerie or underwear?
CJ: I have big dreams for Camilla Valentina.
I want to grow to a point where I can build a team of women that love and believe in my brand vision and can help propel it forward and change people’s perception of the fashion industry and what clothing can add to your life. I want to create my own growth plan that allows me to keep my business made-to-order and sustainable, in a way that empowers my workers and is kind to the planet. And I want to bring fun to so many people’s lives through my clothing!
As for expanding my offerings, it is definitely a dream of mine to incorporate my love of lingerie into CV. I want to make bralettes, bodysuits, underwear that are colorful, fun, and comfy.
To see Camilla’s work follow her
To shop her work you can visit her website!