Photos by Alyvia Covert. Interview by Laura Gallup.
Welcome back to our series, “In my Element” where we visit and interview vendors at their farms, studios and kitchens to see what happens behind the scenes. This week we caught up with Carolina Perez of Carolina Perez Designs at her home studio in Danby. Carolina makes clothing for men, women and children including shirts, aprons, bags, hair accessories and more, and is known for her bright and colorful patterns.
Carolina grew up in Venezuela and moved to the US in 1991 after completing fashion design school. She joined the market in 1992 to sell her handmade clothing on the side while working full time. For a short time she owned a retail clothing store on the Ithaca Commons called “Fashions by Rica,” and later worked in the sales department for a women’s clothing manufacturer in the area. Five years ago when the company suddenly closed, Carolina turned her side hustle into a full-time job. You can now find her (and her well-known dog Chanel) at booth #83 all season long.
Business owner: Carolina Perez
Business name: Carolina Perez Designs
Business address: Danby, NY
Vendor category: Artisan
How long at market: 1992
Reserved booth: #83
Ithaca Farmers Market: What do you enjoy most about your business?
Carolina Perez: People’s reactions when they like something that I make, and of course when I run into people around town wearing a piece from my line. I always enjoy seeing people who appreciate what I do.
IFM: Where does your inspiration come from?
CP: I grew up with my grandmother who sewed and she first inspired me. I’m so passionate about bright and colorful things, because I grew up with a lot of color – to the left of me was the mountains; beautiful green and flowers, and to the right of me was the ocean. I get motivated when I see bright fabrics! I’m not from Mexico, but I do love Mexican-inspired prints. And I’ve noticed that more and more people recognize them, and are into them. I’m known for those fabrics now.
IFM: What’s the hardest part about your job?
CP: Finding the time where I can start something and finish it. Since my studio is at home, and I take care of my mom who has Alzheimers and my son, I have a lot of interruptions. I think the hardest part is all the people who are depending on me. My mom has lived with me for four years and I am a single parent, so time management is hard. The winter is when I can catch up on things and get ready for the busy season!
IFM: What is your advice for other small business owners?
CP: Don’t give up. I didn’t give up. There were many times, especially after I had my son, I didn’t think I could manage it all, but I did it. You just have to be consistent and determined and not let people crush your dreams. If you want to do it, you can do it. I never took out a loan, so my advice is to try out your hobby on a small scale first, don’t quit your day job in the beginning.
IFM: What is something we might not know about you?
CP: I have always been an entrepreneur. As a teenager I attended dance school – and one of the parents on my street asked me to give her kids private lessons. I wasn’t an instructor, but I made a make-shift studio in my grandmother’s backyard and ended up with 30 students! I was going to school and teaching dance to kids, and then the moms asked me to teach jazzercise to them. I hired my best friend’s mother to be my secretary and ended up moving to a real studio and I had a gym! I taught jazz and my friends taught ballet and karate, all when I was 18.
Also, during college – I did modeling so I could understand that side of the fashion industry. I ended up designing dresses for the graduating class from the modeling school. Osmel Sousa (former president of the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant organization) was at the graduation and liked my designs – and gave me his card! But then I moved to the US. To this day I still wonder what might have been…