How do you go from a 9 to 5 job to New York Fashion Week, Couture Fashion Week, become the first American designer to showcase in Cuba since the embargo was established, AND accomplish all of this in under 3 years?? Meet Kelsy Dominick. Did I mention that she just received an exclusive invitation to showcase her designs at the Cannes Film Festival? (Do check out the link. Kelsy is designing custom made dresses and gowns to help fund this experience). Part 3 of an in depth interview with this fascinating lady.
Picking up where we left off in Part 2 …
DC: So you and your friend are gone and traveling for…
KD: 2-3 months.
DC: Ok. You were traveling. Experiencing freedom. Meeting all of these people. New cultures. New ideas. Then when you come back, what was your move then?
KD: When I came back…well, first off I had a fashion show to do. Hit the ground running. I came back with all of this information. How do I start to make this work? So, I immediately started building a website, reaching out… and one thing I wish I did when I was younger, in high school and college is collecting business cards like they were gold. That’s your network. People who saw who you were and what you were doing then are still the ones who want to follow that story.
DC: Was DiDomencio already formed at this time when you were traveling?
KD: No, it wasn’t. But again, I was making a lot of moves like it was. That was my end goal. You know another really hard, hard part about business is finding the name. (laughs) You can overthink that as well. DiDomenico for me… so this is how I found the name for my business, I came out of college knowing that I wanted to do something with fashion. We had a class project which was find a name for your business and I named it “Victimized Fashion” because I’m a fashion victim and it made so much sense. And then later on when I wanted to get more serious about it I really wanted it to have something to do with God. I wanted it to represent him in a really good light. So, I started looking up all of these Greek mythologies… like Zeus… you know, I wanted something strong. At the time I had already adopted the name DiDomenico but was going to get rid of it for this “God Name” that I was looking for. But then I thought that I had never really looked up what DiDomenico meant. So, I looked it up. And do you know what it means?
DC: No, tell me.
KD: It literally means the Lord’s Day. It’s like Sunday. Like Domingo.
DC: But this is the Italian version of it?
KD: Yeah. I was like, “Aha, God, ok, I got you.” I’m gonna keep it. I never thought about it since. I adopted the name and that’s when you start coming up with branding and how can I incorporate heritage into it? That’s where I brought my grandmother in and she made the logo. Once you find that it is really cool. But the name is really hard because you overthink it. It takes about a year after you change it three times. (laughs).
DC: You’ll have to tell everyone the origin of DiDomenico other than just the brand but your family also.
KD: My last name is Dominick. DiDomenico was the original Italian surname before they Americanized it. Essentially that could have been my last name which is way cooler. And that’s why I adopted it. That’s a cool last name that my family used to have. And then later on I found out what it meant. It was a really cool synergy. “How does it tie into who I am?” was a big question for me because it is a very personal thing. It’s different than if it was a computer company where you have to do something very practical.
DC: Your grandmother ended up sitting down and doing the logo for you?
KD: She does everything in scripts or calligraphy. I don’t even know if they teach that in school anymore. But she has wonderful penmanship and I had her sign it over and over and over again. Just to make sure it was accurate. She loves all of the attention! I do photo shoots with her all the time. I try putting her in dresses. She gives me a lot of flak for it but she likes it. (laughs)
DC: Were you already up and running when you came up with the brand and logo?
KD: I wouldn’t say I was up and running. I may have already had my first customer. It was really hard for me. When you are an independent person trying to figure out your value… I was afraid to even charge $100 to create a dress for someone and people could literally go to Macy’s and get a dress for $100. Now, my wedding gowns are between $1500-3000 from the start. On the first one I may have lost a little bit of money. It’s a process. That’s why I say start early. Because you will make mistakes like that. Very simple mistakes. But you get to allow more time to fix and correct those mistakes.
DC: What would you say the inception date actually is DiDomenico?
KD: My website was published August 2015.
DC: So, basically in the course of two years give or take… You are here now. DiDomenico Design is obviously flourishing. Can you share some of the highlights?
KD: Just to put that in perspective because I think about that all of the time. One thing my mother tells me is, “Think about where you were one year ago.” And it is always amazing. One year ago, even from today, I was just making an effort to support myself. But then afterwards I did a fashion show in Cuba. With the fashion show in Cuba we became the first Americans to showcase there since 1960. And it is very likely that we could have been the first Americans ever because back then how many American fashion designers really traveled there to do fashion? So it was a really amazing experience. Within a year after I quit my job I was accepted to New York Fashion Week, I created a collection, did some traveling, was in the Washington Post and Fox News. It was this collection of things that happened. So that’s within one year. The two years have gone so fast.
DC: You’ve done all of this in two years. But within the first year you were already seeing leaps and bounds of growth. So it’s not like you take this leap and it takes a few years. Rather it could be something that is right around the corner for you if you put in the work.
KD: It’s very exciting to see that. I am always so thankful and feel very blessed in that regard. Even this year alone we got the invitation to do Cannes Film Festival and that’s where the fashion show is in May. That is a huge deal too. For one thing we are raising $40,000 to go. There’s going to be all kinds of celebrities and film makers there in conjunction with that so you get so much exposure. And I’m excited to see what it turns out to be afterwards.
DC: Can you tell us more about the “Sewing the World” book? This is actually how I met you…while you were out sewing the world. By the way, I am the 200th follower on Instagram of Sewing the World.
KD: Yes he is. (laughs).
DC: It’s a big deal! Who knows where it is now but it was a big deal at the time! Obviously when you and your friend left and started traveling you got the traveling bug. You told me in the last 3 years that you have visited 25 countries. So through all of these travels you are sharing your experience and your personal thoughts with everyone.
KD: Yeah, in particular, “Sewing the World” started when I was in the Middle East. That was much more story telling. I wear costumes from that area. You saw the one where I was sewing at the Red Sea. From there all the way to Israel. The most recent one in Cuba, it was very interesting because I got to meet another designer, Mario Freixas. He is the most prominent designer there. He let me sew on one of his very old machines and that machine was older than the cars on the streets there. So more than 100 years old. Just like my little machine was. Going through the struggles of what it is like to be a designer in Cuba, the lack of resources, but still having this amazing creative level that he brings to the table. Those are the kinds of people I meet along the journey and I tell about that and what I learn from them. It’s so cool. The journey itself is so cool.
DC: So you have DiDomenico Design going and Sewing the World going. They complement each other but are also like two different tracks?
KD: I’m actually considering taking Sewing the World and turning it into a nonprofit because I realized in third world countries how easy it would be for women who actually have sewing machines to learn how to sew and create enterprise for themselves and learn how to support themselves. Eventually, over time, that could affect their countries in a lot of different ways. If women could start their own business, how different would the respect levels be for them in terms of job market, economies, or being able to provide for their families. I know many women that we met in Malawi don’t even have access to their own bank accounts. They don’t control the finances even if they do provide for their family in that regard. Even in Malawi it is typical to see men sewing. Women don’t sew. It’s so weird because we find the exact opposite here. But if they have a sewing machine…they can change the world. Sometimes it is that simple. It has to start very locally before it can get to a state and country level. I would love to be able to partner up with Singer Sewing Machines and get them to sponsor machines and then every country I go to I could give lessons.
DC: I know philanthropy and charity are near to your heart and you are involved with several projects. What are some of those?
KD: I’m involved with Wounded Warriors. It’s not Wounded Warrior Project but it’s a nonprofit called Serving Wounded Warriors. They build retreat homes for the wounded and their families during their recovery time. The average recovery for a wounded warrior coming back is about 2 years. During that time, especially, they don’t have funds for hospital bills and to bring out their families and have them stay there for an extended period of time. You can imagine being in the depressive kind of situation and not having anyone to rely on? They have to recover physically but also mentally and emotionally. We provide them with that opportunity and they pay for everything, even for their family to be able to travel out there. It’s a really awesome program.
The other one that I am involved with is called “In a Perfect World.” They build schools internationally and just finished their 25th school in Haiti. I was in Malawi in September and we were building a school there. Another really cool thing about them is that whatever school they put in place and whatever program that they put in place has equal representation for women. It’s the same for girls attending class as it is to the advisory board. They have to be 50/50. That’s a really important program for me. That’s the only way that I think we are going to end the poverty cycle.
DC: It’s inspiring to hear how you are giving back and that you have even bigger plans for the future. Now the question is: Are you ready for the life philosophy round?
KD: I think I’m ready!
**Do you want to know Kelsy’s thoughts on Love? Friendship? Prayer? Passion? Make sure you come back for the fourth and final part of our interview.** Read here!
In the meantime learn about DiDomenico Design from the lady herself.
*Photo by Lionel Madiou