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ArtPrize brings fashion and designer Liesl Geneva to the forefront

October 4, 2012
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The Grand Rapids fashion community found its way into ArtPrize this year with Fashion Force Challenge, a new event introduced by ArtPrize and Spotlight 616 and a preliminary competition to Spotlight 616's annual Style Battle.

Emerging fashion designer Liesl Geneva won the Fashion Force Challenge this summer, securing a spot on the ArtPrize team for Style Battle last month. Her teammates for the battle, now in its third year, included Adam Bird, photographer, Christopher Michael, hairstylist, and Hanna Wagner, makeup artist.

Geneva also received a $500 stipend to create the garments for Style Battle and was given the opportunity to develop a line of limited-edition T-shirts to be sold at the ArtPrize HUB. Her T-shirt designs were accepted and are currently on sale at the HUB, where the dress she created during Fashion Force Challenge is also on display.

"It's great that her design work is something that can work on both petite and curvy women," said Noddea Skidmore, ArtPrize event producer. "That's a market that isn't often catered to in such a fashion, so it's a very forward-thinking angle on Liesl's part. We love what she created and like the works in ArtPrize — they're one of a kind. I own one!"

Geneva welcomes the city's growing fashion scene.

"It's really nice for me to be involved in fashion events in Grand Rapids," Geneva said. "I've been doing this for a couple of years, but nothing ever happens in Grand Rapids — I always have to travel to Chicago or Detroit. I was excited to support a local fashion event to begin with and, secondly, by winning Fashion Force Challenge, all of a sudden people are starting to take notice of what I do."

Geneva, originally a screen print designer, began seriously trying to create a business out of her designs earlier this year, following a restaurant job that didn't pan out.

"I told myself I have one year to make real progress — one year from right now to get out there and get serious," she said. "And if I don't make any progress, I will go back to school and become a therapist, and it will be awesome. But this year at least I know I'll try. I'll know I tried my damndest for one year — and that was seven months ago. Within five months, I had won the Fashion Force Challenge."

Geneva focuses her designs around making clothes that adjust from a size 0 to a size 20. She currently has T-shirts, dresses and skirts available, all of them adjustable, as well as a shrug she's named "What the Shrug."

"For the T-shirt line, each one has some sort of ribbon or chain detail in the back, and those are probably the craziest ones, the ones that are the most unique, because each time I tear one down, I put it back together in a different way," Geneva said.

"The dresses that I make all have six rings in the back and that ribbon threads through to create a corseted effect in the back," she said. "The skirts are a true wrap skirt, so there is one end of the waistband that is super long, and it wraps around in order to give a true fit and that goes from a size 24-inch waist to a 42-inch waist.

"The philosophy behind my clothing is that every woman should be able to feel beautiful in whatever size or shape she is and that every woman should be able to walk into my store, see something they love and buy it," she said.

Geneva doesn't have a brick-and-mortar store. Instead, she operates online, using her website,, and Etsy to reach customers. She also spends a lot of time traveling to events to sell her products face-to-face. Geneva spends one day a month in Ferndale at the Rust Belt Market. She hopes to begin selling her line in boutiques here in Grand Rapids, as well as in Ferndale, Royal Oak and Chicago.

She said her success during the past year has meant there is no longer enough of her to go around, and she can't be everywhere she'd like to be.

"That is where I am at, right now," Geneva said. "I want to be able to go to all of these places, but how do I manage it without destroying myself?"

To keep up with the demand for her products and to continue to grow, she hopes to hire an assistant, and she is in the process of applying to Start Garden to take her business to the next level.

So far, she has learned many of the aspects of running a business on the fly. She gave an example of a challenge that came up earlier this year.

"All of my online sales are actually routed through Etsy, because that was part of my problem: managing inventory on my website, managing it on a secondary website, such as Etsy, and also having in-person inventory," she said. "It was a problem because, if I am at a show and I sell a one-of-a-kind piece and it's listed at all three places, what do you do about that? So I started porting everybody over to the Etsy store from the online shop and that way, if I am at an event and a piece sells, I can deactivate the listing from my phone."

Geneva hopes that in a year's time she will be on her way to seeing a steady profit and able to reduce the hours she spends to get her products into consumers' hands. She thinks the growing Grand Rapids fashion scene can help her achieve these goals and will continue to give her outlets to show off her designs.

"I would love to see more people start buying from their local designers," Geneva said. "And that will probably start with the local boutiques getting more involved with the designers, because we do actually have a local designer community. We might be a little difficult to find sometimes, but we are here."

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