Interview with CFS Designer Karen Lum


It wasn’t that long ago Karen Lum, Stanford student graced CFS stage us with her ready-to-wear, unique fabrics and painted fashion. She talks with Helium on what CFS meant to her, what’s she doing nowadays and a sneak peak at what’s in store for this upcoming show.

Helium Magazine: How long have you been designing? How did you get started?

Karen Lum: My mom had a sewing machine. She taught me how to mend my own clothes. When I got to middle school I realized I wanted to do different things and so I took some classes and make two pieces from scratch. In high school I started to experiment on my own and I even made my prom dress. In college I found out about Charity Show and starting to do this seriously and I do it because I enjoy it. now I realize that it is something that I really enjoy. I do it more for fun, not professionally.

HM: And you’re going to school?

KL: Yes, my major us Science & Technology with a concentration in Product Design.

HM: Any plans when you get out?

KL: I’m interested in product design or working for a company. I would love to travel. Sometimes I think I want to move somewhere like Hong Kong and see what happens in fashion. I don’t see myself working in the fashion industry, but I really love it a lot. It’s all up in the clouds and is a mystery- who knows where I will be.

HM:How long have you done Charity Fashion Show?

KL: Three years, this will be my last, so four total.

HM: What was the best part of doing the show?

KL: The clothes inspire me; CFS gives me a platform for my collection.  I like to just watch it ‘all go by’. The shelves and the mannequin comes to life with my collection.

HM: Remind our readers what your collection at last year’s Charity Fashion Show was like

KL: I lived in India for six months and worked for a non-profit that was developing a low-cost incubator using a pouch-contained material. The collection was inspired by architecture, nature, festivals, religion and colors. I brought my sewing machine to India and I worked on four dresses. My goal this year is to do four more, a smaller collection than usual. Basically, I utilized textiles from India and converted them in ways that express what I saw in India. They were inspired by banana leaves I saw in festivals and worn for decoration as applications. I used Kelly green color and rigid stripes. I made a dress based out of Indian textile, color and banana leaves. I also bought a lot of saries and converted them to dresses. Another dress was inspired by the Indian flag – saffron ,white and green. The colors represent peace and hard word.

HM: Compared to CFS last year, how do you explain your style today? Has it changed much?

KL: I make all these clothes for myself. I make what I am feeling at the moment. There are  two ways I work. I either end up buying fabric that catch’s my eye with no plan in mind, then I create something later OR I find material and I have no idea what to do with it  then later  I find something to do with it—this is the best form of method.

HM: Can you give us an example?

KL: For example 2 years ago at CFS I was given puffy sleeves by another designer that were cut off  a dress. I ended up making a trench coat jacket and this military inspired dress out of them. It makes it more creative when I buy with restriction and then make use with what I have.

HM: Do you have a specific style?

KL: I make what I am interested in wearing at the moment. I make things that I am interested in owning myself. I trying really hard to make clothes that no one else has, just like every fashion designer does, right? I like making dresses, going-out outfits, and good quality cocktail dresses. If I can’t afford it, I make copy of the original.

HM: Have you considered fashion as a business?

KL: Since I have no formal training, I can’t sell my fashions professionally. I could contract my services for construction or have some one to help me replica of the original but I have an attachment to the things I make; so I would feel that I am giving away. You can’t put a price on the conceptualization you are giving away.I have no desire to sell for money, I do it for fun.I make clothes that I want to have and keep.

HM: What are some of your favorite pieces?

KL: This dress I made last year for my 21st birthday dinner last year. It was a black dress- bunch of black stretch twill – short shift-dress with pocket, buttons and Indian hand bead work.

HM: What would you tell someone looking to get into designing? Are there any special skills that you need?

KL: Always try to do something new. The thing with fashion is that it is driven by consumer trends, whatever the style is now will sell. There are so many ways you can go with fashion. I make it [my style] anyway. I go for the accomplishment it brings and the truly original piece that comes out of it. Try something new and be true to yourself.

HM: What’s in the near future for Karen Lum? Are you working on anything now?

Besides working on CFS, I am working on an artwork exhibit for the art fair on campus. I want to blog more about my traveling. What is my dream job? I enjoy travel and then make clothes or art out f that experience.What if my job was to travel the world and make clothes inspired by art– that would be the coolest job ever! To travel to south Korea, Vietnam, France who knows? India was a very valuable experience in the way that I was able to translate what I saw– that is what I really love an am passionate about. I am in the process of trying to find a way to raise funds to go to Italy after graduation. 😉

Karen Lum can be reached at:

Interview by Amanda Holst

Photography by Ralph Nguyen

Photos used with permission by Karen Lum

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