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In Fashion

Fashion designer Deanna Hodges finds inspiration in Orange County.

hodges-deanna
Deanna Hodges
RALPH PALUMBO

Get Out  
Fashion’s Night Out begins September 8
in locations throughout Orange County.
The global event’s aim is to celebrate
fashion and restore confidence in the
retail industry. Check out FNO’s website
for information on participating stores,
which will host special events for shoppers.
:: fashionsnightout.com

Did you think all West Coast fashion happened in L.A.? Deanna Hodges thought so, too. At least until a few years ago, when she moved her successful Hodges Collection and Etoix lines to Huntington Beach. She found that, in addition to dropping over 500 miles of driving per week, she was happier and healthier and had more time to do what every good designer does best: design clothes.

And it would be hard to argue that her lines have suffered because of the move. The Hodges Collection is sold in more than 400 boutiques across the U.S., Europe and Japan.
But Hodges isn’t one to keep all the good times for herself, so she started the Orange County Fashion Showcase in early 2011. Happening every April and October, it’s Hodges’s answer to L.A.’s famed Fashion Week and has grown steadily with every event. And in addition to raising awareness about Orange County’s fashion scene, it raises money for good causes, such as OC’s Working Wardrobes. Hodges has also helped the National Kidney Foundation, Girls Inc., Casa Teresa, Kiva, and the Malibu Surf Association for Heal the Bay.

Hailing from a small Southern town, Hodges wasn’t exactly destined to be a philanthropic fashion designer. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Her father was a laborer who worked six days a week, and Hodges was no stranger to hard work and hard times as a child and young adult. Maybe that’s why she has accomplished so much. She holds not only an MBA, but a master’s in international business and founded Orange County Fashion Trade Association, a 501c3 organization, Orange County Fashion Showcase, Global Fashion Network, and the Fashion Insiders Group.

In other words, Hodges has earned her fashion stripes.

Did you grow up around fashion?
No. I grew up in the South, in such a small town that you didn’t even have to dial the first three numbers of a phone number, just the last four. Population was about 2,500. Dirt roads. In one sense, it was a really good place to grow up because it wasn’t hit with a lot of the problems common in big cities, like crime and violence. But it had its share of challenges, because you have people who have nothing better to do and they get in trouble. So I had friends and relatives who died very young because they would do stupid stuff, like riding in the back of a speeding pickup truck on a gravel road and slipping and sliding.

Doesn’t sound like your parents were into fashion.
We were pretty poor. My dad was a laborer. He worked at a Florida State Prison and also doing landscaping. He would work from 3-11 p.m. at the prison, get home by midnight, sleep for a few hours, get up by 6 a.m., and go off to do yard work until 2 p.m. Then he’d get home, eat, shower, and go to the prison again. He was working with the hardcore criminals, got hit in the head with a lead pipe and ended up in the hospital. They told him his skull was cracked and he couldn’t risk getting hit again so he had to leave that job. So he started doing landscaping full time and got extra jobs on the side. And all summer and every Saturday I’d go with my dad to help lay sod and mow grass.

Is that what gave you your strong work ethic?
Definitely. In fact, one day I wanted to buy something so I wrote up some invoices and gave them to my dad. I said, “I’ve worked for you for 78 Saturdays and at $5 each that would be so much.” He just laughed and said, “You get paid every day that you live here and every day that we feed you.” That was a valuable lesson for me. It showed me that you’ve got to work hard just to get by, that there are no free rides.

What was your first experience with fashion?
We were cooped up in the house because of rain and I was playing with my Barbie dolls. I took a piece of newspaper and made a pattern for her pants. I cut it out of fabric and sewed it together with some thread. But they were terrible. They didn’t fit and only went to just below her knees, because what I failed to realize was that you need room for the seam. I couldn’t even get the pants on her. So I remade them and learned another lesson. Barbie’s proportions are completely unrealistic. Her waist is ridiculously tiny and I didn’t have elastic, so I could never get them right. But I loved trying.

Were you ever affected by celebrity fashion?
I never really followed what other people were doing. I wore what I wanted. I wasn’t crazy about it – I didn’t give myself an orange mohawk or anything. But I did go through one phase where I dressed like Madonna. But that only lasted about a week because it was too exhausting putting all that together. So it became whatever I’m most comfortable in.

And now?
Right now I’m more of a jeans and T-shirts type of girl because I’m in the warehouse a lot and it’s just so easy to throw on. I tried to fashion my line toward that, too: easy. You just throw it on and you’re good to go.

You started your own line in 2000. Did you find breaking into the world of fashion as tough as it’s made out to be?
Yes and no. I came to California from Florida in 1998 and worked a regular job. During lunch and after work I would sketch designs. And on Saturdays I would go to downtown L.A., to the fashion district, and fight the crowds to try to figure out how to make patterns. Design school wasn’t an option because I was too busy just paying bills. So I started a tween line and quickly realized that it was a lot of work and very expensive. I felt like I was in over my head, but I wasn’t about to give up.

So what did you do?
I found a guy in L.A. who was extremely talented but new, so he made my patterns and samples. Then, and I don’t know if it was naive or stupid, but I cold-called Macy’s [The Federated Group in New York]. I said “I’m a designer in L.A. and I would love to come show you my line.” The buyer in New York knew I was young and didn’t have any money, so, thinking she was getting rid of me, she said, “Let me know the next time you’re in New York and I’ll take a look.” So I drove down to LAX and got a ticket to New York. I called her back and said, “I’m going to be there next Tuesday.” She was shocked. But she gave me an appointment.

How’d it go?
I was so green that I showed up with my line in a suitcase and I didn’t even know how much to charge for them. But she took mercy on me and I left there with a $30,000 order. She was probably thinking I’d just cancel the order because I couldn’t make it happen.

What did happen?
That was the end of August in 2001. Two weeks later, September 11th happened and two weeks after that I got a call from Federated saying they were canceling all new vendors.

You then got an MBA and a master's in international business. Did that help?
Not in fashion. That was simply a plan B, to give myself options. In fashion, anything other than a design degree doesn’t matter to people. You could have two PhDs and be a Rhodes scholar and they don’t care. In fact, I was in a meeting once with a buyer from a huge retailer and my sales rep said, “Isn’t it fascinating that Deanna has a master's in business?” The lady looked at her like she was an alien and asked how that was relevant. I was an outsider.

Why did you start an Orange County fashion week?
I was driving over 100 miles roundtrip a day to my offices in L.A. And to be honest, the fashion district needs an overhaul. It’s dirty, the parking is terrible, it’s really expensive, and the buildings are really old. But I thought I had to go back and forth because everybody knows all fashion is in L.A. I mean, that’s what L.A. tells you. But finally, I just decided to move my business to Huntington Beach and ignore what people thought. And it worked out. So I wanted to promote the fact that Orange County has a strong fashion industry, too.

How did you get the fashion week going?
I called a few friends. Todd Herschberg, a social media guru. He came on board, but he probably thought I was crazy so figured it was safe to say yes. Next I called Parris Harris, a fashion show producer out of L.A. His whole world is fashion. He thought I was just talking, too. But the next thing you know, we had a location, a DJ, supporters, and models. We had our first Fashion Week in April of 2011.

But it’s grown.
Yes. The first one was only one night. Now it is four nights.

What do people see and do?
This year it’s Thursday, Friday and Sunday night, and on Saturday we offer free seminars for anybody who wants to attend. We have seminars on intellectual property, finance, exporting and doing business with China, social media and branding, and even how to style yourself for success. There’s also a mixer.

And how about the fashion show nights?
Each night, there are multiple designers, a DJ, cocktails, and appetizers. We have four fashion shows and a break with a live musical guest. We also have an emerging designer competition for designers who haven’t started a line yet. Maybe they’ve sold a few dresses to individuals. The winner gets to present their fashions at the next fashion week for free, gets two hours with an attorney to talk about logos and trademark, two hours with Todd Herschberg to talk about social media, a consult with the finance professional, and a free fashion show from Parris. It’s a great way to get started.

Why are you so big on new designers?
It’s very tough and if you didn’t come through the system, you’re an outsider. You’re that kid who nobody picks in kickball. But you just need to do your thing and keep trying. We want to encourage new designers, not shut them out.

Why is fashion so important?
If you put on something that you’re comfortable in, you project yourself better. If you’re in something that’s not you, you’ve got your head down and aren’t your best self. It’s like your business card or your book cover. You go to the book store and if the cover doesn’t interest you, you don’t open it. It’s like that with people. If you dress sloppily, people are going to perceive you as sloppy. And fair or not, perception is reality. So I think fashion is important; it’s what you put out there as your brand.

What drives you to raise money and awareness for good causes?
My dad passed away when I was a teenager and I was out on my own. So I’ve been there. I’ve been very poor and in very challenging situations where I didn’t have the basics, and people helped me. And if they didn’t help me I’m not sure where I would have been. Of course I would have loved to have “The Brady Bunch” happy life growing up, but I really think my experiences made me a better person. And when I see people who are in difficult situations, I realize how fortunate I am. So any way that I can help, I feel that that’s what I’m supposed to do.



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