Most people may find themselves asking, “What’s next?” after an everyday task or small victory. But for Shan Latris, that question was running through her head moments after winning Birmingham Fashion Week’s “Top Emerging Designer” award in 2015. While this was a huge moment for Latris and her brand, for her, designing is about more than the accolades.
“I’m not big on awards,” Latris said. “I just want to see people in my clothes.”
When Latris decided to pursue fashion design as a career, she immediately felt the pressures of the “typical” migration to New York for fashion students.
“I was just looking for a school,” she said. “I thought I would go to New York, but I didn’t know how to sew yet. I couldn’t get into the big New York schools.”
That’s how Latris found herself on The University of Alabama’s campus.
“Being from Tuscaloosa, it was a big deal to go to The University of Alabama, and I don’t think people realize just how good of a school it is,” Latris said. “You don’t have to be in New York, especially with social media and its ability to spread your ideas and work that way and connect with people from larger cities.”
Even before her first day at the University, Latris dedicated herself wholeheartedly to her work. Her family was skeptical of her making money in the fashion industry. Latris would go to the Tuscaloosa Public Library and teach herself there using books the library housed. That is what ultimately got her accepted into the University in 2008.
“It took a lot of self-discipline,” Latris said, “but you have to use what you got.”
Since graduating, Latris has begun working out of her home in Northport. She recently launched her premiere collection, Genesis, which was inspired by football game days at the University. They feature modern southern styles, with houndstooth and crimson being key themes in the pieces. From sketch to production, everyone who touched the collection had ties to the University or Tuscaloosa, which was special to Latris.
“I couldn’t have done it without those particular people,” Latris said.
Among those people were her summer interns: Jeff Austin, Priscilla Olsen, Janai Lourdes, and Zahra Vance.
Although Vance was handling public relations, and was not herself a fashion student, her time with Latris was still more than beneficial.
“I knew working with Shan, that has an amazing celebrity network, would be great for me,” Vance said. “This internship is giving me a lot of experience and since Shan is an [alumnus,] she understands the position I’m in as a full-time student looking for future opportunities.
Since Latris works for herself, she sets her own hours and chooses to push herself as hard as possible. This mindset was instilled by Latris herself, but she does credit one instructor and mentor, Brian Taylor, for never letting her produce something that was not her best.
“I don’t put any crap out,” Latris said, adding that Taylor imprinted that mentality into all of his students. “Some run from that – I run to it. I still have his voice in my head; it kind of haunts me, in a helpful way.”
Affectionately referred to by Latris as her “fairy fashion godfather,” Taylor, who has been teaching apparel design in the College of Human and Environmental Science for 11 years, is a veteran in the industry himself. He has worked for Betsy Johnson, Dillard’s and Project Alabama.
Latris was a standout student from the start, according to Taylor.
“Shan was very enthusiastic and passionate about fashion design,” Taylor said. “She was hard-working and a joy to have in class. With her energy and determination, I knew she’d be going places. There was just no doubt.”
Taylor feels most proud of his students around the time of the end-of-semester show, when all of their hard work pays off and they are ready for the next chapter in their careers.
“I always tell my students to be confident and curious, and to never be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes,” Taylor said.
Now, Latris is a mentor for aspiring fashion students as Taylor was for her. Besides her interns, she has 22 seniors that she is advising through their final fashion show in the fall.
“I give them advice, and will attend their shows for support,” Latris said.
As her own brand continues to develop, Latris sees a bright future ahead. But, if she’s learned anything through this process, one thing she remembers is to “not plan too much” and let her success guide her to her next venture.