Imagine meeting your husband, for the first time, on a subway train heading into Brooklyn. It's one of those stories that seems too good to be true, and yet it happened to women's clothing designer, Helena Fredriksson. Her stories about falling in love with her husband and making her way in the fashion industry had me wondering, "If it can happen to her, can it happen for anyone?"Helena grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden. She studied painting and photography at an early age and learned how to sew and knit around age 10. At 12 or 13 she was making things for her sister and friends. With little money, Helena reworked cheap vintage from the dollar sale. She fully enjoyed the underground music and culture scene Sweden offered but upon completion of school at 19, she got restless."I was curious about a new and exciting place. New York was always on the horizon of magic with it's creative energy and endless possibilities. When I first moved to New York, I waitressed and bar-tended. I remember walking across the bridge a few times because I didn't have money for the tokens. Finally, I enrolled at the Art Students League of New York and found myself sketching fashion instead of painting. I thought, 'Maybe I should be doing something besides painting.'"Helena started making more garments and invested in a sewing machine. Outside of substitute teaching and odd jobs, she taught herself how to make patterns (the shapes of the garment) based on cutting up and reworking old vintage pieces. Aside from her schooling in photography and printmaking, Helena lacked the educational background considered relevant to design."I think that's why my collection looks the way it does. I drape a lot and I think outside the box when it comes to patterns because I have no schooling. All the prints [the images on the garments] come from my own photography. I don't usually shoot with the intention of making prints--I just shoot and things become my prints. I travel and take a lot of inspiration from film, books and music. I have a lot of friends who are dancers or musicians and I go to a lot of performances.""It's been a very organic process. At first I made everything myself. After my day job I'd stay up all night sewing. I wore things I made and people would ask me about them. I also put pieces in consignment stores. One of the dresses I made became a best seller and I produced it in a million different colors and patterns. It always sold out so that was the start of my company money wise."Eventually,Helena was able to invest in better fabrics and machines. She also hired sewers to help. Finding the right people to help her grow, however, was the biggest challenge she had."Having people you trust is crucial to a successful business. I'd have a showroom and panic from no sales. Then I realized it wasn't a bad collection, it just wasn't in the right place. I've been through a lot of work relationships and it takes a while to find the right fit. Now I have the right fit. I also went through a process of testing things that were foreign to my intuition. I wasn't secure in my design. I felt like I had to do what others were doing instead of just doing my own thing. Now I just go for it. Without that confidence you have to go through trial and error. The pieces I've designed more naturally have always been the most successful. You have to fail sometimes to learn what actually works. It's been a good run so far!"Her hard work allowed Helena to get studio space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where she has always lived. "Williamsburg is the only place I've lived since moving to New York 16 years ago. Back then it was truckers and hookers and now it's condos and strollers. To me, New York now isn't as interesting as it was back then. The dark, expressive people have been pushed out. This culture still exists but it's not as accessible. Now everything is so money driven that people can't afford it. I used to do runway shows in $200 spaces in the middle of the city. You can't do that anymore. There is nostalgia with when it comes to the old, rough, strange part of the city that existed years ago. I'm sure you'll feel the same way in 10 years when it changes again. It's just the nature of big cities."Although change is inevitable, Helena still admits her love for the big city, after all, it is where she met her husband. "I met my husband on the 'L' train. We were flirting and he got off at my stop. He came up to me and said, 'I feel like I need to get to know you,' and I thought he seemed nice. So we walked and talked and hung out for a bit and I figured, 'Well, I guess I'm totally in love.' We've been married now for 12 years and have a 1 year old.Helena's story is really unbeatable. Moving from Sweden at 19, taking odd jobs, falling in love, becoming a designer, and settling down in Williamsburg are all part of her journey. I love her designs because they make you feel free and comfortable, yet confident and pretty. Her color block dress has always been a favorite of mine."I like that people live in my clothes. When someone buys something and I ship off garments, it's like I am saying, 'Go on! You are going to have your own experiences. Each of you little garments will have separate lives.' And whoever receives them will make the pieces their own. I just hope my pieces make women feel beautiful."Not only does her success prove that her pieces make women feel beautiful but her story proves you can come from another country, with little money, and still find your home in New York City.
All photos of me taken by Alex Mouganis Photography.