What inspired you to work in fashion?
It’s what I wanted to do for as long as I can remember. My father was an architect and my neighbor who used to watch me after school was an artist, so I grew up in a very creative environment.
What was your day-to-day like as an intern in Teen Vogue‘s West Coast office?
It was pretty typical of any internship. It was less about the work and more about being exposed to the industry and the inner workings of a magazine. I really loved the shoots, and I still do to this day. With Kohl’s, I get to participate in the creative in a more direct way. Back then I was just sitting back and observing, but now I get to be a part of it and I think it’s so much fun, the process of putting it all together.
Do you remember any specific shoots you worked on?
Sure! We did a shoot with Whitney Port’s little sister and Colton Haynes. That’s when I met him—he was so little and handsome! It was in a garden and there were flowers in their hair. It was very romantic. I loved it.
What was the most valuable thing you learned at Teen Vogue?
I think the most valuable thing was that it really exposed me to the timeline of fashion for the first time. I had learned about production and how to flat sketch in school—you know, the basics—but I hadn’t really learned about how far out things are done.
Much was made of you turning down the opportunity to go to Paris. In hindsight, what do you make of that decision?
I was young, and I think your mistakes sort of mold you. It was important for me to make that one. After that, I definitely made it a point to not let others get in the way of what I wanted to do. Whether it’s a relationship or your family or friends, the people close to you should encourage you to work towards your dreams. That was an important lesson for me to learn. And also, just always go to Paris! Always!
How did your experience at the magazine prepare you for the next steps in your career?
One of the first things I learned at Teen Vogue was that you have to develop a thick skin. This is an industry built on personal opinions.
The majority of reality stars aren’t able to extend their careers beyond the lifespan of their shows. How have you managed to build such a successful brand and career for yourself?
I don’t know what the real reason is. I’ve always just worked really hard and focused on what I wanted to do, and I think I’ve been really fortunate.
You also seem to live a pretty sane and normal life. How have you been able to achieve this in the wake of such a great level of exposure and celebrity?
I have very good people in my life, which always helps. I wanted to do big things, and the rest of it wasn’t important to me. The glitz and the glam can become very attractive, and, you know, it’s fun every once in a while. But if it was gone tomorrow, I don’t think I would be too disappointed.
That said, how do you think your celebrity has helped as you’ve built your career?
I think it’s helped me in every way possible. It’s given me a platform. It’s allowed me the best marketing tool ever. It’s made countless introductions. The only negative is something that’s typical when you’re involved in the entertainment industry and are trying to cross over into another industry: You have to prove yourself for a while. But it encourages you to work even harder!
You juggle several different fashion lines and projects. How do you balance it all?
To be honest, I don’t really have a typical day-to-day. I travel a lot. I’m in New York almost every month now for Kohl’s. I’m doing something different every day, which I love. It’s nearly impossible to get bored if you do things that way! I’m not the type of person who was built for a desk job, so it works.
Tell us about the LC Lauren Conrad for Kohl’s collection. How has it grown since you first started it?
The line is very fashion-forward, and I think the quality is amazing for the price. I’m a fan of high-low dressing, and these pieces are very easy to mix with designer items. It’s definitely got a girly element, but it’s evolved so much from where we started. The biggest growth I’ve seen is the expansion of the line into different categories, which is really exciting. It started off as just clothes, and now we’re in accessories and home.
And what about your other fashion line, Paper Crown?
Paper Crown hasn’t changed much since we started, which is exactly what I wanted. I love that this is a specialty line. It’s three of us in an office most days—every design is from me. With Kohl’s I’m liaising with multiple teams, and with Paper Crown it’s me lugging fabric rolls around. It’s my happy place. The girl who runs the company is one of my best friends from childhood. I can just walk in, take off my shoes, and it’s a comfortable, laidback vibe.
Do you have any interns?
We just added a fourth, but she hasn’t started yet. I love my interns. They’re so much cooler than me. A lot of times I’ll ask their opinion when we’re trying to decide on something like, “Would you wear this?” It’s good!
Do you design for yourself or do you have a muse in mind when you’re designing?
I almost always want to wear everything I design. The only thing I have to keep in mind is that I dress a very specific way for my body, and it’s important to remember there are lots of different body types. You have to do all different silhouettes.
How do you approach each new collection?
It’s starts off with inspiration. It’s funny because there’s usually a story behind every collection, and by the time it makes it to stores, nobody even knows about it. You can’t tell because it’s been so developed and there are only select pieces available. I also usually look back at the last couple seasons and see which pieces were strong and try to learn from that. Then it goes into development. We go to the big fabric shows downtown. Most of the collection is produced in downtown L.A., which is nice because we can go see it right away.
Design is obviously only one part of creating a collection. What else goes into it?
Once it’s designed, you have to sell it, which is very important. There’s a lot of marketing involved. Whether it’s doing a cover or planning to add to a boutique, we’re constantly working on marketing and sales and developing relationships with different people, deciding where we want the line to be. It’s funny, once the line is finished and you’re set with samples, you kind of exhale, and then you’re like, “We’re only halfway done, let’s keep going.”
Tell us about XO Eco, your line of on-the-go bags.
I partnered with a company called Blue Avocado a couple years ago for a collection of reusable bags—everything from makeup cases to shopping bags to casserole pie carriers. It’s run by three very smart women, and I saw endless potential. We work with a fabric called Repreve, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s amazing what you can do with recycled fabrics now. I do everything I can to live a green lifestyle, but when you can do it without compromise, that’s always ideal.
You just launched The Little Market. Tell us about that.
I launched The Little Market with my friend Hannah Taylor Skvarla. It sells fair trade products made by artisan groups that employ women, and we’re focusing on countries where women don’t necessarily have the same rights or opportunities as men. We’re starting with India, Nepal, Peru, and Bolivia. Our goal is to add four countries every year, and to actually go and visit the groups in these countries. Hannah does a lot of work with human rights organizations, so she’s really well-educated about the issues. She and I have been traveling together for years. When we go to different countries, our favorite thing to do is go to marketplaces because you find these amazing things you just can’t find anywhere else. So we came up with the idea as a way to combine two things we love—hunting for unique items and supporting the women who make them.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers or entrepreneurs?
Be prepared to work very hard and do something that you love.
What’s your favorite part of your job, and what’s the hardest?
The hardest part is balance—making sure you devote time to the people in your life as well as your projects. The best part is all of it! It’s getting to do something you enjoy.
Do you have any favorite trends for fall? What are you currently obsessed with?
I really love the menswear trend. It used to be a tougher look, but it’s gotten more sleek this season with all the tuxedo details. I’ve done a couple tuxedo-inspired jackets for both of my lines. I really like them paired with an ultra-feminine piece or with a simpler outfit. They just sort of elevate it. I’m also a big fan of leather. I’m a year-round leather person, but it’s more respectable once fall comes around, so I always get excited.