Q&A: Designer Katelyn McClain

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

For fashion designer and former Substance Boutique employee Katelyn McClain, fantasy is always better than reality. The self-proclaimed “Lord Of The Rings” nerd is excited to debut her elf-inspired fashion line at Alternative Fashion Week (April 18-25). Featuring modern fabrics and billowing silhouettes, the Kent State grad has shown with the Alternative Fashion Mob since it began three years ago, and believes this will be her best work yet. We caught up with McClain to talk about her line and how the Alternative Fashion Mob inspired her to bring her fantasies to life.

When the Alternative Fashion Mob came up on my radar, I was in. I’ve been with Alternative Fashion Mob since their inception three years ago. I found out about it through my manager at Substance. I had just finished school at Kent State when she asked me if I’d like to do it. I ended up showing my senior collection with a few added pieces. Last year I challenged myself by showing 13 looks, and I actually got to sell some of the things from that collection at Substance. The Alternative Fashion Mob took an idea, flew with it, and made it their own. More people know about it, and [the organizers] worked out a lot of the technical bugs from previous years. It keeps getting better and better. There were so many new models, designers and volunteers each year. It has grown so much since I first participated. I look forward to Alternative Fashion Week every single year.

I don’t know what I’d do without design. After Substance closed I had to find a new job. I felt like I was hitting my stride there at the time with loft sales and designing. But the owner had to move, and I had to find work. Right now I sew mascot costumes with my terrible allergies, but at least I get to sew. I want to see if I can branch off and really get my designs out there at local shops. I’m a little scared of that next step, but designing is the best creative outlet for me.

I own way too many pairs ofelf ears. I’ve always been a big nerd for “Lord Of The Rings.” I’ve made dresses for Comic Con and I’ve gone to the Renaissance Fair dressed as an elf before — I dress like an elf whenever I can. I thought, “Why haven’t I made a collection that reflects that?” I chose modern fabrics for the collection, but I incorporated the long billowing sleeves and crowns. I tend to believe the fantasy side of life rather than the reality. I hope some photographer who sees the line approaches me about shooting in the woods, or people ask to wear my designs to Comic Con. When I line the models up, 13-year-old Katelyn is going to want to play dress up really badly.

I design for myself, not for anyone else. I tend to withdraw into myself because it’s scary to put yourself out there. If I were a more outgoing person, I could probably have had more opportunities. But I design because I like to surprise myself with how far I’ve come in such a short time. It’s a joy creating and then seeing your creations come to life. I’m used to ruthless critiques, and people digging at your personal creation. But when people like what you’ve made, and the part of yourself you have shared, it’s a completely indescribable feeling. I put blood, sweat and tears into everything I do. It’s a piece of my creativity that I get to see somebody wear and enjoy.

I’ve always been a bit more alternative with my fashion, and Columbus is very alternative. There are a lot of fun groups and great designers that don’t always fit the mold. When I think of CMH Fashion Week, I think of a more high-end gig. That isn’t for me. With the Alternative Fashion Mob you aren’t going to get questioned about your unfinished edges, if that is how you want it to be. I’m into the non-buttoned-up vibe. Next year I want to do something even bigger and better.

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Alternative Fashion Week Opening Runway show

Land-Grant Brewing Company

7 p.m. Saturday, April 18

424 W. Town St., Franklinton


Alternative Fashion Week

April 18-25

Various locations


Age: 26

Hometown: North Side

Current neighborhood: North Side

Day job: Stitcher at Costume Specialists

Currently listening to: The soundtrack from "The Hobbit"

Playing Favorites:

Favorite movie: "The Quiet Man"

Favorite TV show: "Treehouse Masters"

Favorite cocktail: Jameson and ginger ale

Favorite restaurant: China Dynasty

Best way to spend $10: "A ticket to the Dublin Irish Festival"

If you were Harry Potter, how would you use your wizard skills? "I'd travel around the world. And you know, maybe fight evil or something."