A lot can happen in four years. From 2014 to now, Graciela Rivas Leslin went from fashionista with an international business degree to fashion company owner and designer in Boston.
After graduating from college in her native Mexico, Rivas Leslin set out to pursue a career centered on her lifelong interest in fashion. While loving fashion and being a designer are two very different things, Rivas Leslin proved to be a natural; she taught herself how to design, sew, and craft one-of-a-kind pieces.
Rivas Leslin launched her label, Graciela Rivas Collection, in 2015 along with three subsequent collections, Waves, Darling Blush, and Transition, on the New York-based designer platform Nineteenth Amendment. She has showcased her creations at New York Fashion Week, Boston Fashion Week, and Boston Design Week.
Rivas Leslin’s pieces are architectural works in modern shapes and solid colors that play with movement, dramatic sleeves, and cutouts. They are bold and feminine dresses, skirts, and tops. The designer will be showcasing her fourth collection at Boston Fashion Week’s official opening night on Sept. 30.
The event, “The Power of Women: The Future of Boston Fashion,” is dedicated to the city’s most talented female designers.
Exhale: What can we expect from your upcoming show at Boston Fashion Week?
Graciela Rivas Leslin:I’ll be showing my fourth collection, Silhouettes, at Boston Fashion Week. I’ve launched teases here and there on Instagram but not everything yet. The entire collection is 12 pieces, and I’ll be showing four or five at the show.
You can expect the same drama but different necklines and lengths, as well as new shapes you haven’t seen before that I’m really excited to show. I’m all about the drama and cutouts. The pieces will be showing a little more skin too.
My designs are mostly inspired by flowers. The ruffles and shapes are inspired by petals. I also get inspired by actual women. Bloggers or models, different people who have amazing style.
What was it like launching a fashion career in Boston? What is the industry like?
Boston’s fashion scene is having an exciting moment right now; I’m excited to see where it goes in the next five years.
Like any other career, it takes time for people to pay attention, but once they do and they appreciate the work that you do, it’s so satisfying. I was launching my first collection at the same time Nineteenth Amendment was launching. The co-founders, Amanda Curtis and Gemma Sole, started the company in Boston, and they invited me to join the platform. I was able to sell pieces from my three collections on it, and they took care of production and manufacturing.
The industry is very supportive in Boston. It’s small, so everyone knows each other. I’m very thankful that they have their eye on me now, like I have had on them.
I go back and forth between Boston and New York. I am now doing production here in Massachusetts, but I like to go to New York to connect with people, learn more about the industry, and be inspired by the city itself. I love the energy it gives you.
How would you describe the type of woman who wears Graciela Rivas?
She loves dressing up, for sure. My designs might be over the top for some people. But the Graciela Rivas girl is comfortable in her skin and appreciates fashion and likes to have fun with it. She knows what she likes, and whatever she puts on, she makes it her own and rocks it.
In the past, people would put more effort in getting dressed up every day, and I would like to bring that back.
What has been your biggest challenge starting your own fashion line?
As both a fashion designer and entrepreneur, the biggest challenge for me has been finding a balance between the two roles and dividing my time and attention equally to both.
Because I’m currently transitioning the brand into selling directly to the consumer from our website, I had to take time for myself to think about who I want to be working with, what I want to do, because you need to know exactly what you want in order to get it.
With relaunching the website, you always have to tweak here and there; we're always editing and editing and constantly learning new things and figuring things out.
My priority right now is moving forward with production with the budget that we have. I want to keep producing and drive more sales.
With your background in international business, beyond Boston, where would you want to take the brand?
Eventually, I would love to be a part of New York City, but this is the best place for me to be right now because I’m still learning and growing, and what better place than in Boston, [a city] that’s also growing.
But having Graciela Rivas go international would be fantastic, that would be the dream. And that’s exactly who I admire: women designers who have taken their brands from unknown to globally recognized. My goal is, no matter where it is, people will be able to recognize my brand and say, “That’s Graciela Rivas, that’s her aesthetic, that’s her girl wearing her dress on the street.”
We caught up with the six powerhouse female fashion designers who are being honored at this year's BFW to discuss new collections, overcoming challenges, and finding balance.