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Fashion Sense

Missouri native Heather Koonse, who started sewing as a six-year-old, aims to kick-start a cottage industry of clothing production in Charleston. She already works with a number of local designers, producing pieces for lines such as Mew Design (right). Photographs by (left to right) Kris Koonse, Ruta Elvikyte, & Amy Berenyi

March 14, 2012

Fashion Sense
Local designers’ go-to seamstress, Heather Koonse, seeks to launch a garment manufactory in Charleston

written by Melissa Bigner

Fashionistas needing frocks altered and area designers needing duds made have long knocked on King Street seamstress and pattern maker Heather Koonse’s door. Now she’s knocking on ours.

The owner of The Rose Knot, a downtown alterations and custom clothing shop, Koonse first appeared on the Charleston scene in 2005 after graduating with a BFA in fashion design/product development from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. She began designing skirts and tops for Upper King pioneer Gianna Costas, then moved to a South of Market atelier to make women’s and children’s clothing for Spinster with Adrienne Antonson. When Spinster closed, Koonse opened The Rose Knot, and just recently she’s turned her sights toward making a new dream, the Charleston Garment Manufactory (CGM), a reality.

“Designers here have to fly to New York or California to get things produced,” explains Koonse. “They are doing everything—designing, making patterns, sewing, conducting quality control, and selling and marketing the product. It’s a huge process, and no one can do it all by themselves. I had a lot of designers looking to hire me to produce their clothing, and I realized I needed to stop doing alterations and focus on helping them instead.”

Thus Koonse’s garment manufactory is the next extension of her one-woman sewing army. Using the fundraising website, she’s launched a campaign to raise $15,000. The money, she says, will move the project out of her small studio space and allow her to buy heavy-duty machinery plus hire seamstresses, pattern makers, and herself as a production coordinator.

Step one: In addition to offering custom design services for individuals, CGM will start fashioning samples for local designers and then move to runs of anywhere from 20 to 200 garments. Koonse is already producing pieces for many of Charleston’s best, including Laura Dolloff of Adornments, Barbara Beach of b.b., Megan Waldrep of Mew Design, and a host of Charleston Fashion Week 2012 designers. Among them: featured designer Michael Wiernicki of Mystery School; Rachel Gordon of ONE LOVE, showing at Charleston Weddings Magazine’s Spring Bridal Show; and Emerging Designer Competition: East participants Shelley Lucille Smith, Adrienne Antonson, and Kristin and Robert Galmarini.

The CGM aims to keep that March fashion madness rolling year-round and expand the long-time tradition of local handiwork. "I want people working at CGM to have fun, love their job, and be able to earn a living wage doing it,” says Koonse.

For more information and to donate to the cause, click here. The fundraising mission ends April 20.

For a full Charleston Fashion Week schedule, click here.

To purchase Charleston Fashion Week tickets, click here.

Wed, 03/14/2012