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Karen DeFreitas Fraser – SOKA Fashion House

“Fashion is a reflection of ideology” – Karen DeFreitas Fraser

As I watched Karen DeFreitas Fraser’s Soka line take over the runway at October’s 2014 Brooklyn Fashion week, I had to keep my inner ghetto Jersey girl from hollering in admiration. Her first look was a white, sleeveless, black meshed side panel, long t-shirt dress with an old school graphic of a young and shirtless Shabba Ranks! Yes, the original King of the Dancehall! This is fashion I live for! The line oozed of modern urban Brooklyn swag, yet had feminine and flirty sophisticated pieces that are perfect for any island vacation. The range of classic and modern dancehall and reggae music playing was the cherry on top. All of these illuminating elements fully captured the audience—and that my dear Detoxaholics is the je ne sais quoi of Soka!

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Karen is a proud West Indian, born and raised in Kingstown, Saint Vincent. She was the only child of a single mother household. Her mother, Miss Jean Findlay, always provided fun and structure in her childhood by having her actively participate in Girl Scouts, Brownies, and the National Swim team. She always had a love for fashion and design, and held an innate talent for sketching her own fashion designs since the age of eleven. Karen’s natural ability for creative expression was unfortunately stifled due to the lack of diversity in her academic setting when it came to studying creative arts. Despite the social shying of viewing visual painting as more of a hobby than a profession in Saint Vincent, she ambitiously pursued her passion and studied Fine Arts in high school and community college, and became a highly skillful visual painter and sketch artist.

After graduating community college, she landed a job as an academic French teacher, but still held onto her dream of establishing herself as a fashion designer. Every day after teaching French, she would assist and work under trained seamstresses and designers on her island. Her two main mentors during her early years as an aspiring designer was a well-respected elder and designer named Patrice Reddock, and her aunt Laverne Alexander, who was an esteemed seamstress in Saint Vincent. Since Saint Vincent did not have any fashion design institutions, these two women provided her with the technical foundation for sewing and designing clothing. However, it was her mother who was always her main support system, and encouraged her creative expression as a designer. The production and funding behind all of her early fashion shows in Kingstown was due to the loving assistance and support of her mother. The support she was blessed with served as the early framework that allowed her to flourish once she was accepted into the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

It was an important transition for Karen as a student and new resident of the Big Apple. She enjoyed the discovery of urban life, and was finally able to receive the in-depth training and heightened technical instruction of design that she always wanted. At Parsons, she really learned how to feel proud in her own skin and stand firm in the conviction of her creative expression. Being Caribbean and raised in warmer climate, Karen’s design aesthetic stood out in school because she loved to design clothing that are tastefully sexy and display the beauty of the female figure. Her observation of the design aesthetic difference between her and her classmates didn’t allow her to become insecure, but realize that “fashion is a reflection of ideology and society.” Now alumni of Parsons, she is proud of her heritage and cultural perspective, and bravely strives to build the Soka brand to ultimately achieve international notoriety.

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The major inspiration behind the Soka brand and its Spring/Summer 2015 collection is the infusion of her personal life experiences and deep love for music. Karen’s spirit tends to cling to hip-hop and dancehall music, and she always tries to integrate those elements in either her design patterns or the music selection in her fashion shows. Since the brand’s inception around 2008, Soka has allured new audiences and clients with its signature design elements of bright colors, playful prints, and sexy bondage pieces (strappy dresses, tops, etc.). In future Soka collections, Karen seeks to challenge herself by experimenting more with different fabric selections that are more eco-friendly and make technological advancements in her print design. She runs her line as a “one-woman team” conducting the branding, marketing, design construction, and image. However, her manager and best friend, Rhema, also assists with the financial and business aspects of Soka, along with keeping Karen sane and focused in times of stress. Both women’s complimentary work ethics successfully bond in steering the progressing line on its ambitious path.

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Karen is determined to preserve the Caribbean flair that exists within the fashion industry. She is constantly inspired by other fellow Caribbean fashion powerhouses such as: Oscar De La Renta, Stella Jean, and Anya Ayoung Chee. She professes that she designs for women that don’t believe in any fashion rules—who have fun and love to play with color. She has her sights set on building Soka to the level of Donna Karen’s multi-tiered DKNY label to eventually turn her one-woman show into Queen Karen’s empire!

For all the latest updates on the designs and purchases of SOKA, please visit http://madebysoka.com/. Also click here to check out SOKA’s Spring/Summer 2015 designs that premiered at Brooklyn Fashion Week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlaE4pVLbeA