Jose Criales-Unzueta was born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia and at age 19 he relocated to Savannah, Georgia to further pursue his education. Graduated at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), he pursued a major in Fashion Design with a minor in Accessory Design.
He has worked as a Costume Designer and Production Assistant prior to his college education and has worked with Fossil in a sponsored project by SCAD and interned as Handbag Design Intern at Kate Spade New York and as a Men’s Knits Design Intern at Banana Republic.
A conversation with fashion designer Jose Criales-Unzueta
TPM: When did you first realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
My mom used to make a lot of her own clothes when I was a child, and that definitely sparked a sense of curiosity when it comes to the process of making clothes. When I started to learn about designers and their careers and the design process, I realized that this was something I wanted to do as a career. I think that fashion lends itself greatly as a tool for research and the understanding of human behavior, which is.
TPM: When did you land your first internship and what was the most valuable thing you learned from this experience?
My first position was as a production assistant and costume design assistant in film for advertising when I was 18. I learned a lot about working on a fast-paced environment and making decisions on the go, which definitely shaped my problem-solving skills and work ethic. My first internship in the fashion industry was in handbag design at Kate Spade New York when I was 20. The most valuable thing I learned was the significance of making long lasting connections (not just “networking”) and how important it is to understand who you are designing for in the industry.
TPM: What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
My first job out of college as a design apprentice at Coach in New York. It took a lot of work to land the position and it started with me establishing a genuine connection with the recruiter and keeping in touch throughout my last year of college by sending both digital and physical samples of my work and following up. After, when I interviewed with designers, it came down to showing my work truthfully and explaining my skillset in the best way possible, and of course following up and being persistent. I consider myself lucky I had that great opportunity but also trust that all my hard work led me to it.
TPM: Define sustainable concept nowadays in fashion industry in five words.
Conscious, transparent, natural, essential, and organic.
TPM: If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?
Trust your own voice and intuition. There’s a lot of noise around you and you will get lost if you listen to outer voices more than to your own.
TPM: What was the biggest rookie mistake you made when just starting out?
Listening everyone’s opinions and not budgeting my money and time properly!
TPM: What is one thing you look at the models for your campaigns?
Genuine diversity and a face that invites people to learn more about the story I’m trying to tell.
TPM: What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
A positive role when it comes to representation and the democratization of the industry and a negative role when it comes to the overexposure of content and how easily visions are diluted and copied.
TPM: What is your favorite and NON-favorite part about being part of the fashion industry?
My favorite part is the people I have met. From other designers and models to marketers and editors, this is an industry that thrives on collaboration and some people can be truly amazing. My least favorite part would be how easily it is to forget the significance of what we do and just focus on the business aspect of it.
TPM: How do you want people to feel when wearing your clothes?
Like they’re telling a story, their own or even someone else’s, just by wearing something different.
TPM: Can you tell us how your brand makes a difference in fashion industry?
I think it shows an interesting approach to gender neutral design and tailoring for different body types. I also use only natural fibers and explore how to go back to using nature’s resources without being exploitive.
TPM: News on the way regarding your next collection?
Currently working on the concept stage of it. Very excited to share it hopefully soon. It feels like a more evolved vision with a fresher and more relaxed take on dressing.
TPM: What do you think is the biggest challenge for a fashion designer?
I think the biggest challenge is to remain authentic and truthful to your own voice. There is so much that can influence oneself that it is very easy to get lost in opinions and other voices rather than listening to our own.
TPM: There is one important person, in your life, who pushes and motivates you to believe in yourself?
I would say both my parents. They have been my inspiration and my strength all my life.
TPM: How do you think a big brand should motivate their collaborators and team members?
By being authentic and offering something different to the table. Big brands have budgets that allow a lot of trialing and prototyping, which most small brands don’t. If these brands offer their resources to smaller collaborators, the results can be truly incredible.
TPM: How do you think sustainable can play an important role in fashion industry?
I think sustainability plays a key role in the industry. It is really hard nowadays to have something new to offer without having some sort of sustainable approach to the way of doing things. Hopefully sustainability will continue to become more of a focus for more brands, especially larger brands that create the largest amounts of product.
TPM: Describe us you as a designer and how your feelings influence the creativity process?
I am a very concept and narrative driven designer. I love to create stories and concepts and execute my designs as pieces that create a visual narrative. My feelings and emotions greatly influence my design process and they almost define it. I think that what I am feeling at the time and how I feel about something really informs what I choose to create and how and in what circumstances.
TPM: Would you like to involve other accessories designers in your future projects?
Definitely! I have worked with footwear and jewelry designers in the past and would love to continue to do so in the future. I am also trained as a handbag designer so I do handle that myself, but when it comes to footwear and hardware I love to collaborate.
TPM: What do you think is the main mission of the CO-BRANDING concept?
Make good use of brand awareness and reach by combining forces and reaching even more consumers.
TPM: How fashion PR agencies can help more the brands and what skills a good fashion PR should have in your opinion?
Establishing good connections with publications, buyers, and editors. I think PR agencies can help a lot when it comes to the development and growth of a brand and a good fashion PR should have good contacts and be able to help create truthful and authentic connections for the brand.
TPM: What designers inspire you and why?
Gabriela Hearst for her impeccable designs and very authentic and transparent approach in sustainability. Kim Jones because of his unique perspective when it comes to collaborations and partnerships. Thom Browne for his free and inspiring vision, and Alexander McQueen for his disposition to explore the beauty that exists in darkness.
TPM: There is anyone special who would like to meet in person?
In fashion, I would love to meet Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York.
TPM: What do you think about the opportunity of selling your collections online nowadays?
I think it’s definitely a great opportunity! I would love to be able to sell my work online depending on the retailer, of course.