In The Limelight: Lauren Hansen sews the seeds of her fashion career

Lauren Hansen at her first self-produced fashion show, “On Runway,” at The Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday.

Tana Gamad

Pin-pricked fingers and late nights are a staple in the silk-wrapped, hand-beaded universe of Lauren Hansen.

From folding out paper clothes for her stuffed animals to spending hundreds of hours on the makings of hundred-dollar couture pieces, this young, self-taught designer has evolved along with her work in the most stunning of ways.

Taking a needle to cloth for the first time at age seven to quilt with her grandmother was the very first step for Hansen, a freshman in apparel, merchandising and design. This was followed by a renewed dedication to the art with a Jo-Ann’s sewing class in 2014, resulting in handing out numerous pajama pants and circle skirts to friends and family.

Since then, a cascade of clothing projects has worked its way into her hands time and time again to weave themselves into the very fabric of her being.

“The very first thing that I made myself was [put] together with random fabric from a tub I found at a garage sale and lace curtains,” Hansen said. “It was this dress I puzzle-pieced together without knowing how to drape, and the skirt was a horrible material, but I did it anyway. You just have to keep going.”

With love for making visual art in general, Hansen directed her focus into fashion through middle school and high school. After joining the Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), she threw herself into designing her very first four-piece collection and now releases annual collections, racking up accolades and exposure along the way.

With a sense of pride and in an almost giddy manner, Hansen discussed her progress.

“I became a featured designer at Omaha Fashion Week the first time I showed there at age 16, which was pretty cool,” Hansen said. “I’ve been doing shows since then, and now I’m 14 shows deep and still going.” 

During this time, her love of craft shone through after learning to hand bead from watching YouTube videos. Now, a mainstay feature in her brand’s aesthetic, the product of tedious handiwork decorates almost all of her pieces in intricate patterns.

“I like doing tedious work,” Hansen said. “I think it’s because I have this thing where I always have to do something with my hands. [Hand beading] became my art form.”

A Story City native, Hansen looks at reaching outside of living in the middle of Iowa and having a broader outlook in life as something that informs her designs.

“Getting to know more cultures, more people and more kinds of things that are out there all affect the way I design,” Hansen said. 

Primarily a formal wear designer, Hansen’s collections center around a variety of themes and are closely tied to her life experiences and how she feels. With each piece in a collection taking around 60 to 300-plus hours to do, there is a great deal of effort put into each of these art forms. Hansen’s cheapest piece sold was a pair of hand-beaded gloves for $170.

“I want to bring back the art of handwork and lead the next generation into having well-made pieces that you keep for a long time,” Hansen said. “I want to produce quality work, and I also just love making these pieces and beading them.”

Almost never one to sketch before breaking out the sewing machine, Hansen’s process of making clothing may start as one idea and end up completely different between the usual draping, patterning, structuring, lining and overall dress making.

“I am a throw everything everywhere designer,” Hansen said. “But my patterns are pretty organized. I don’t think clean designers exist. I think if they exist, then maybe they should let go a little bit. Beading is also really fun; my favorite part of the process. I’m definitely not someone who likes to do things the quick and easy way, but I love it.”

Loving what she does, even to points of accidental starvation at times, Hansen is all in when it comes to making clothing and, of course, hand beading everything in sight.

“It’s always been the thing I’ve liked,” Hansen said. “There have been times that I’ve thought about quitting, either because I’m unsure or because I get interested in other forms of art, but sewing is always the thing I come back to.”

She explained that she views sewing as some type of personal therapy and how it is difficult to leave it for a few days, even feeling sadder without it.

“Almost every single day, I sew a little bit,” Hansen said. “People tell me to take a break, but I when I stop sewing and get back to it, I feel like I could cry because of how happy I am that I’m sewing again.”

An addition to her list of accomplishments, Hansen’s most recent one is putting on a fashion show of her own. After showing at different places including multiple FCCLA and 4H events, Kansas City Fashion Week, Des Moines Fashion Week and Omaha Fashion Week — which is considered Midwest’s largest fashion event and the nation’s fourth largest — she decided it was time to do one herself.

Realizing this dream of hers happened much quicker than she had planned. The event, something that takes around a year to execute, was accomplished within a timeline of four months.

“I’d say 98 percent of the show I did by myself,” Hansen said. “Every single day, I spent hours working on the show.”

Called “On Runway,” the show featured six designers, including Hansen, all of whom she had worked with before. Her latest collection debuted at the show and was a step outside of her comfort zone, combining her usual niche of formal wear with street wear, something she had never tried before.

“It all turned out to be high-end street wear made of formal fabrics but with a street-wear silhouette,” Hansen said. “I wanted to mix in Victorian inspiration with very modern street. I wanted to make more wearable things than my usual designs and went for a badass aesthetic in street wear.”  

Drawing inspiration from different kinds of street wear during her research for this collection, Hansen placed an importance of branding at this point in her career.

“Everything is branded in logos,” Hansen said. “I got this ribbon that has my logo and brand name, H.ART Studios, on it, and I used it as a trim, or I made it dangle off stuff because branding is a big thing now.”

Sustainability and working to divert from fast fashion are also important to Hansen, implementing this into the collection and even planning a new brand under her name to be called Death to Fast Fashion. According to Hansen, this brand aims to include thrifting, upcycling and recycling material.

“It’s no waste sewing,” Hansen said. “All my scraps and threads are going into each clothing items. I save and organize all my waste into little Ziploc bags and use them in other garments or in making other things. I despise fast fashion because [it] isn’t made to last long and it falls part easily, which adds onto the clothing industry being a top polluter. I’m also someone who thinks that if its broken, then try to fix it.”

Hansen moved to work on her own event, wanting to give people the same opportunity that she had when she was younger.

“Two years ago when I started doing fashion shows, there were people that gave me an opportunity to be part of a fashion show, and I just wanted to give back,” Hansen said. 

The show was open to any model, designer, hair stylist, makeup artist and photographer of any level that wanted to join. Hansen said that this is how she wants to make sure that she is able to give out opportunities to do something and to encourage people.

“I used to use my friends to model back in high school, and some of them came up to me and told me they wanted to do it professionally, so I felt happy and proud,” Hansen said. “People have been telling me how much more confident they feel in themselves, and I am so happy that they are feeling good and having a good time.”

With the show being a success, Hansen ended her show on February 13 with a full house, feeling accomplished and ready for more.

Hansen is thankful for the help she has received over the years, from her parents and friends to the people who help her through each show. Calling her mother one of her “biggest helpers,” Hansen’s memories of early-morning rack checks and pre-show jitters are made better by knowing someone is always by her side.

“She drives me when I’m tired to give me more time to sleep, which is really nice, and my family usually comes to all my shows,” Hansen said. “My dad has gotten more supportive as he’s seen me grow and become more successful. I didn’t see it, but a family member told me that my dad cried during my first show.”           

Making up her mind early in life to pursue fashion design as a career, Hansen looks to the future.

“I found a video of myself officially saying it when I was a sophomore in high school,” Hansen said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think I want to go into fashion as a career.'”

Hansen will be closing Omaha Fashion Week’s Spring 2020 show at the end of the month and hopes to show at the Iowa State Fashion Show in April.

“There is no motivational ending to what I want, and I don’t care to be famous,” Hansen said. “I don’t know why fashion makes me happy; I just know that it does.”

This is what she does, who she is and how she enters the world.

Editors note: This semester, Limelight is featuring the talents of Iowa State students and local artists in Ames. We’ll be profiling bands, musicians, visual artists, authors, designers and more. If you or someone you know would be interested in being featured for this series, contact [email protected].