Joi Mahon, fashion designer and owner of Dress Forms Design Studio is an award-winning freelance designer out of Sioux City, Iowa known especially for her couture gowns. My relationship with Joi started about a year ago when I was looking for someone who could bring my dream wedding dress to reality. My mom found her studio while google searching for local designers, and although it was initially a shot in the dark, I’m so glad we found her!
Joi is known for her immaculate skill with proportions, cut, and fit, but she’s not just a seamstress. Besides design and sewing, she also does pattern making, article writing, and illustrations. She orders all of her beautiful fabrics from companies that supply many leading high-end bridal designers, and my experience working with her taught me a lot about the difference between ready-to-wear gowns and the custom works of art she creates!
I thought Joi would be a great resource to many of you who are looking for a gown designer, want tips about choosing a ready-to-wear gown, or just are interested in the design process!
Q. So tell me about yourself and your business!
A. I have been designing professionally for 16 years. I loved to design ever since I was a little girl drawing and coloring paper dolls and sewing Barbie clothes from fabric scraps. I have always had a knack for it, and only took one real sewing lesson in 8th grade. After that I just kind of knew what I was doing. I know this is my gift. I did apprentice for a tailor in high school and had a wonderful opportunity of learning how to fit just about every body shape. That is actually one skill most designers lack. I have a BS in Apparel Design, Merchandising and Production from Iowa State with a focus of design and product development. I always knew I wanted to start my own design studio so my I filed all the official papers my senior year and a month after graduation I leased some office space and have never had a lack for business since. That was 10 years ago.
Q. You have always had design clients?
A. Yes! I am a bit of a perfectionist so I won’t put out bad work. Plus, my grandpa always said if you are going to do something do it right. I live by that. A happy bride or client is going to pass my name along and that is my main source of advertising. You can’t beat word of mouth. Just look at what has happened since we worked together on your now “infamous” dotted gown!
Q. Explain what type of things you design?
A. I design beautiful things for Women and Children. Most of my designs are couture gowns for weddings and special events. I like variety so some designs are traditional, but most of my work is colorful, trendy, edgy and even fashion-forward. Each design client is unique so I customize everything from sketches, fabric swatches and fit to their individual needs. I also do historical reproductions of beautiful clothing from that past for Historians and many theme weddings and events. There are so many options available for every theme and event that I want people to know that just about anything can be designed. If you can think it I can create it in fabric.
Q. What is the process for a client who wants you to create that very special gown?
A. Everything starts with a consultation. For out-of-state brides we do this by telephone. Clients within driving distance see me in my studio. There is no obligation at this point. I know that I will always do a good job creating whatever garment I am working on, but I also want my clients to feel absolutely comfortable and at ease with me and how I work. If someone likes or does not like something I want them to feel that they can be up front with me. It is a collaborative effort so communication is key.
I like to show pictures of my work, look at fabric swatches if necessary and just collaborate on the actual design. This time is also very informative for the client because I can answer questions, concerns, and breakdown design ideas they might bring with them.
Once someone decides to work with me, I fill out my Design Proposal form with all the design details, fabrics, and the price. Everything is in writing and I keep an extensive file for each design. I take quite a few measurements (out of state clients I have options for measuring and fitting) then I drape the design on my draping forms.
I always say if you watch Project Runway when they are designing that is basically what I do- Only this is the real world. Next we do a fitting on a “muslin or toile” to perfect and refine the fit. This is important because I perfect my pattern making, you get to see what the design will look like on you, make changes, and address any fit issues all before we cut the actual fabric. What really makes this different is most people that just sew don’t do much of the actual design and pre-fitting. That is one difference in what I do and why my designs look so much better. Once the gown is in the fashion fabric there may be some tweaking to refine the fit and finishing touches, this is normal because the body is a moving object, and finally your design is complete. All my brides love the customized service and advice on fit and styling.
Q. Where do you get your design ideas?
A. Sources of inspiration are everywhere. I have one of those brains that is always processing ideas. I can’t help it. Magazines and TV are obvious sources, but museums, books, fabrics, ideas and more are all great places for ideas. I see a lot of texture in architecture and apply that to fabric manipulation and I also try to attend at least one trade show every year. Last year I went to MAGIC in Vegas which is the fashion industries largest trade show. Talk about sensory overload! I am never at a loss for ideas, and have far more then I will ever use.
Q. What are some tips for working with you or another designer?
A. For me, booking early is my main advice so you can ensure time in my work cue. I do a lot of bookings a year in advance, and that is not too early. As for working with any designer, communication is key on both sides. Make sure you feel comfortable with whoever you work with, their skills, their work and that they will follow through. Always make sure you are open to what your professional is telling you when it pertains to fit, fabric and other design details. I really try to accommodate all my client’s ideas, but if something is a bad idea or won’t work I will be honest about it. I just ask at that point that you trust my experience. There are many tips, but again if you communicate well that helps most of all.
You can also look at Joi’s website for a short 90-second video about the fitting process from start to finish. Later this week I’ll be posting the flowers for a wedding that Joi and I are collaborating on together!