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Tricia Hoke on The Cotery and Bringing Out Your Inner Designer

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For those of us who lack the drive to be a designer, there's now a website for that. But The Cotery was really created to make it easier for talented designers to do their work without having to get bogged down in the production and distribution side of the business -- and in the process, the site also highlights the amazing talents of Denver. Tricia Hoke and Charlotte (Char) Genevier are the creative minds behind the Cotery; Hoke recently took time out from her busy schedule to talk with us about how how to bring out your inner designer with the Cotery.

See also: Urban Nights Put the Spotlight on Mondo Guerra and Other Denver Designers

Westword: Tricia, tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what's your background in fashion?

Tricia Hoke: Char and I are founding partners of The Cotery. I bring the fashion, she brings the technology to thecotery.com. I have worked in almost every sector of the fashion industry...as a designer, a developer, a fit technician, a retail buyer and seller, a fashion show producer; I have even worked on the factory floor. My industry working experience includes work for brands such as Sierra Designs, Isis, Smartwool, Descente, Izod Golf. Most recently, I founded a product development company called Pie Apparel, where I helped many independent designers, such as Project Runway winner Mondo Guerra, move into manufacturing. In addition, I am a volunteer board member and mentor at the Denver Design Incubator. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and varied experiences, which have given me the tools to operate in the corporate fashion industry while remaining rooted in the independent design community. A designer at heart with the acumen of a developer, my favorite thing about fashion is taking wildly creative ideas and applying logic.

Charlotte Genevier taught herself to code when she was fifteen years old, studied theoretical mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, and has spent nearly the last fifteen years building tech companies. In 2007, with a few acquisitions under her belt, she founded SocialEngine, a white-label social-networking platform, which she bootstrapped to profitability. SocialEngine went on to become a part of the Techstars Boulder class of 2011, before being acquired by Room 214 at the end of 2013. Char now uses her technical expertise and knowledge of community building to make the Cotery the premiere resource for aspiring clothing designers. What are your thoughts about the Denver fashion community? What's good, what could be improved?

The industry here is improving! We have some great designer resources, like Denver Design Incubator and Ralph's Sewing supply. There are many new places where designers are able to produce their goods (Running Stitch Industries/Co-sewn) and many local shops actively support local designers (Goldyn, Made Life, Fancy Tiger, A-line Boutique, Indy Ink, Super Ordinary.) It is awesome that they are so vested in the community. People supporting the artists, designers and the locally owned stores and boutiques is the #1 thing that will continue to improve and empower the industry. I think Denver and Boulder have strong communities and governments that support the arts. The fashion industry is an extension of that larger initiative, and I feel honored to have watched it grow.

Talk to us about the Cotery.

The Cotery is a website that enables designers to design, sell and manufacture all online. We basically automate the entire process for the designer.

Why did we build this? Because starting an apparel brand is hard! Choosing vendors, sourcing fabrics, managing timelines, meeting high minimums, buying into excess inventory, building an audience, predicting the market, managing costs that meet with end consumer needs, and then finding a manufacturer that will even take your smaller scale project on -- and doing all of this for multiple seasons. Needless to say, it is very challenging and very expensive.

Our aim is to remove those barriers, and let designers design. At the Cotery, you are able to design your garment through our online "design assistant" where you can select trending silhouettes, fabrics and trims, dye them to match to specific Pantone colors, apply your own print designs, etc. After you have created a garment (or a whole collection), you are then able to build a store on the site and pre-sell your collection to your customers. This is through our site, and via your own website and social media platforms. Once you have met the minimum sales requirement, the Cotery will manufacture your garment, and ship directly to your customers! The best part is you get to set your price as the designer, and you make a profit!

Keep reading for more on The Cotery. Walk us through how we become a designer on the Cotery.

Sure. You just need to go to thecotery.com. Once in the site, you can do two things.

A) Shop. (Support independent artists!)

B) Design your own.

If you decide to design, the site will walk you through setting up a storefront, a collection and designing a garment with our "design assistant" tool. The tool guides you to select from a range of pattern blocks and pattern options, select from a range of fabrics, select your own Pantone colors to dye the fabrics or you can upload your own print designs, add your own label and hangtag design.

Throughout the process, you can see what the garment will cost. We also offer all sorts of tools to help you pre-sell.... We offer a template to photoshop your designs on to a model, a code "widget" so you can offer your product via your own site, and a range of social media tools. Once you pre-sell into the minimum (currently 200 pieces), we take care of the manufacturing (keeping the designer in the loop), ship it directly to the customers, and handle the customer service. At the Cotery, you make the design decisions, you participate in the sales, and you make the money. We take care of all of the hard stuff.

What do traditional designers think of this concept?

We've had great feedback, much of it from our Denver designers, on how easy the site is to use. They love that there is no risk: They can go in and design a collection with no upfront costs. You can go to our site and design, pre-sell and have your collection manufactured and shipped in around ninety days. That, of course, depends on the designer's design process, but either way, traditional manufacturing would take much longer. We've already had such a wide range of designers using the site -- from emerging designers that are just starting out to established designers designing collections that complement their existing brand. For us, this reiterates the fact that there is demand and a need in the fashion world for the Cotery.

I'd also like to point out that we actually exist for all types of designers and artists: If you are a fashion designer, it's a great way to launch or supplement your current collection and offer trendy, moderate priced items. If you're a graphic designer, it's a great way to do more than just screen-printed tees; you can offer some really unique and amazing stuff...move away from the blanks. We also think it's an amazing way for photographers, fine artists and other creative types to experiment and play with new ways to make income.

We have some very talented and business savvy designers in Denver; are they using the Cotery?

Yes, there are some awesome designers from all over the country, but some major standouts from the Denver/Boulder area.

Kristen Littlejohn of Imminent Rise, who designs a high-end women's wear line called Imminent Rise, has done an amazing and artistic secondary-line offering that remains true to her high-end aesthetic.

Keep reading for more designs from the Cotery. Dameon Redd from Kind Design, who makes awesome Colorado-based merchandise, has made some awesome Topographic Colorado based tees for men. Mona Lucero has done some super-cool men's and women's tees that reflect her sensibilities as a designer. Kristin Hatgi has put some of her amazing flower face photographs into a beautiful collection. Samuel Shimek from I Heart Denver did some really colorful graphic designs based on his own art. Julie Tierney from JMFT industries has a few designs that really capture the graphic and energetic vibe of her popular handbags. Alexa Allen, a furniture designer by trade, is doing some great, experimental stuff in her first attempt at fashion. The results are pretty cool. Mondo Guerra and his intern, Kellehanna E'Shawn , are working on a collection together to benefit the National Kidney Foundation and promote Denver School of the Arts... I expect them to launch it soon. Just yesterday, Heather Arellano made a pair of tochtli-leggings that blew me away.

Make sure you go to the thecotery.com and shop! Each garment is available for pre-order for thirty days only. These designers have made some cool stuff... they need your support, too!

Why is the Cotery a good fit for Denver's fashion community?

Why not Denver? Technology makes it easier to do things from anywhere... You can have a board meeting from Dubai while wearing pajama bottoms, or you can design a collection of street wear from Denver. That's technology. We are in our beta now, so anyone can use the site and design a collection or shop from the designers on the site. We are actively testing, changing, and adding things. The designers on the site now all received "sneak peek" invites, and are the people who have been driving the bulk of the feedback. We want to make the Cotery a product that designers want, not just one that they need.

Denver has been instrumental in this process and we are really proud and happy to call Colorado our home.

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