Q&A with Dawn Smart, ballroom dancewear designer
Kimberly talks to the owner of competitive ballroom dancewear company Dore Designs about her industry and the fashion of dancewear, at the Wisconsin State Dancesport Championship.
Kimberly Gomez: How did you get started in fashion design?
Dawn Smart: I was interested in clothes since the age of three. I watched my grandma sew garments, and, by the age of seven, I was sewing some of my own clothes. I continued sewing through junior high and high school, but put sewing aside while going to college, majoring in psychology.
KG: What made you want to focus on dance costumes?
DS: I started dancing competitively and needed unique dresses for myself, so I started creating ones for myself. People started asking me to sew them dresses. For one of the first dresses I sewed for a “real” client, I reversed the stretch of lycra so the client couldn’t wear it. If you don’t sew the lycra correctly, it won’t move with you, so it’s useless. I noticed the mistake and fixed it before the client got the dress.
KG: What’s your favorite part of dancewear design?
DS: Ballroom designing is totally different than mainstream fashion design. The fabric we use is different because it needs to move with the dancer and the different types of dance they’re doing. Design is sometimes restricted to work with the specific types of movement, or to not work against different movements. Creating dresses is like sports equipment. It’s functional, besides being beautiful, and needs to show off the different parts while dancing.
KG: How many collections do you create a year?
DS: My mainstream evening gown collections are done twice a year to coincide with the seasons of spring and fall seasons. The ballroom dancing costumes are all customized and created specifically for the dancer. We create 20 costumes a week, all based on the dancers’ body types and dance styles.
KG: What advice do you have for someone who wants to break into this type of business?
DS: This is an extremely expensive industry. You’ll need a large amount of startup funds. There is a lot of overhead and inventory with costumes, textiles, crystals, and other supplies. There are also many fees charged just to show at each dance competition. Prepare to be majorly subsidized. Also, you’re almost never home. The whole summer, I’m only home 12 days, which doesn’t leave time for much.
KG: Tell me about Dore Designs Inc.
DS: I started creating ballroom dresses in 1990, and bought Dore Designs in 2007. Dresses start at $3900 and go up to about $8000. For some of the dresses, I work with an artist who handpaints designs on them. After they’re handpainted, they’re stoned (crystals are applied), which takes about three days. (Author’s note: I looked through some of the handpainted dresses and saw prices ranging from $5395 to $5995.)
Dancers of all ages, shapes and sizes compete. Dancing changes your figure and can change your life. It’s very hard work, but rewarding.