The Runway's New Queen

Designer Carrie Hammer wasn’t always dressed to perfection. Before she was running her own clothing company and bowing before cameras at Fashion Week, she worked as an advertising executive, where she struggled to keep up with the city’s glamour while living on a shoestring budget.

After graduating from UCLA with degrees in Women’s Studies and Economics, she worked in sales, and moved to New York to fast-track her career. But as she began building her corporate wardrobe, it became increasingly difficult to manage the pressure of looking great, with the cost of living in expensive cities like Los Angeles and New York. Also feeding her frustration was the feeling that standard business attire was restrictive, unattractive, and out-of-date. “I got really annoyed with what I had to wear to work. Women want to feel feminine and powerful and prepared and appropriate.”

“I was always told to dress for the job that you wanted, rather than the one you have”, she says, reflecting on the years she spent working at the beginning rungs of various media companies. In New York City for one, the cost of a work wardrobe is often unattainable for up-and-coming young professionals, making discount retailers the only viable options for many. With limited options and disposable income, Carrie got creative. Rather than pay for expensive mark-ups, she began buying her clothes from low-cost international suppliers, and then altering them. It didn’t take long for friends, and even strangers to notice. “People on the street would stop me and ask, ‘where did you get your clothes?’”

Eventually, what began as a way to save money for herself transformed into a side business of selling colorful, on-trend, but professional work attire to friends and colleagues. That’s when she began seeing her side business as something more serious. Prompted by the initial popularity of her designs, she applied and accepted an offer to study Fashion Business and Marketing at Parsons School of Art and Design in Paris. Then, upon graduating in 2011, she spent the remainder of the year crafting what became the Carrie Hammer namesake brand.

While it’s usually extremely costly to start a clothing line from scratch, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for Carrie, who by now had been testing her concept for quite some time. In 2012, the Carrie Hammer brand officially debuted online, using digital marketing and word of mouth to attract customers. Hammer’s trademark is the customizable nature of her clothing; women can provide their measurements, and then buy ‘made-to-order’ dresses that are designed using the customer’s true dimensions, rather than arbitrary clothing sizes.

Leveraging its pre-existing customer base, the brand has created quite a following, with features in Forbes, CNBC, Fox Business News, Good Morning America, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Marie Claire.

But if disrupting the world of conventional work attire wasn’t enough, Carrie also wanted to disrupt the very epicenter of fashion culture—Fashion Week in New York City.

In 2014, Carrie landed her first debut at New York Fashion Week. As a first-time designer, she shocked the audience by deliberately chose not to feature any models in her show. Traditional models weren’t welcome, but industry leaders, Editor-in-Chiefs, an Olympic figure skater, and the NYC Mayor’s Commissioner were invited to walk the run-way. Using the slogan ‘Role Models Not Runway Models’, Carrie made history by being the first designer to include a model in a wheelchair during Fashion Week. Before the show, Carrie had struggled to go through with the traditional model casting. “I literally said to my stylist, she says ‘ it doesn’t make sense to cast runway models when all of our clients are such role models’”. By intentionally defying the rules of fashion, Carrie hopes to persuade other designers to do the same.“It’s become a really unrealistic standard of beauty. I don’t cater to editors, I cater to my customers”, she says. After leaving her mark on New York, Carrie has extended her line internationally—her first debut at Shanghi’s Fashion Week happened last October.

In fall of 2015, Carrie was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, thanks to the headwind she’s made with her brand. When she first began, she had only her personal conviction and savings to stand on. Now she has the attention of the fashion and business worlds combined. And because her brand has differentiated itself with its intent to disrupt the world of beauty, she’s hard to ignore.

“Our eventual goal is to be one of the largest brands in the world. We want to change the definition of beauty.”—Carrie Hammer

Alana Brown