Article in 303 Magazine, November 2021
Keti McKenna’s Big Break in the Fashion Industry
McKenna grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia in the Soviet Union, and living there highly impacted her view on fashion. “I grew up during the Soviet era, but still, Tbilisi was the most fashionable city in the former USSR. Department stores never carried nice clothing, but everyone managed to dress nice. My mom used to have seamstresses make her clothing from her own ideas,” she said.
Growing up, McKenna learned how to sew from her grandmother at an early age. She started designing and making her own clothes in high school. “Even though I wanted to become a fashion designer, I studied geophysics in college, because the profession of fashion designer didn’t exist in Georgia at that time,” McKenna said.
In the late ’80s, the Russian government started allowing individuals to own private businesses. As a result, McKenna started to design and manufacture women’s shirts. She did not have many fabric choices to choose from, so she created her very own screen-printed striped fabric.
McKenna moved to New York City in 1991 and started working at a dry cleaner in alterations. She met a boutique owner there named Effie. McKenna told her she wanted to create a fashion design and manufacturing business, so when she shared her designs, Effie loved them.
“I started manufacturing private label garments for that boutique in 1992,” McKenna said. In the meantime, she started school at the Fashion Institute of Technology and took night classes. She received a degree in 1995 in Patternmaking.
After she graduated, McKenna got a full-time job as a patternmaker, fit model, technical designer and technical design manager. She worked for many companies including Federated, Tommy Hilfiger, Anne Klein, Tahari and Joe Fresh. She was promoted very quickly and the companies would start sending her to overseas factories to train colleagues in craftsmanship and garment construction. She was well respected in the New York fashion industry.
In 2015, McKenna moved to Denver and started consulting with fashion start-ups, and began teaching at Denver Design Incubator. She launched KetiVani in May 2017. Her slogan is ‘Fashion with Fit and Function.’
“I am building a sustainable fashion brand, using high-quality fabrics, offering excellent craftsmanship and perfect fit. Terri Garbarini was the first in Denver to give me the opportunity to sell my product at her store and I still get orders from her,” she said.
The Inspiration and Creation Behind KetiVani
McKenna’s inspiration for her new collection for Denver Fashion Week is based on jacquard fabrics she found at Premiere Vision Paris from September 2019. She built her collection around these fabrics, making sure to keep the style of the garments sophisticated, but with an edgy presence through the pieces she designed.
When McKenna is creating, the first thing in her process is fabric sourcing, “Fabrics inspire me the most. Once I find fabric I like, I design for that fabric. I draw, drape, cut, and sew the first sample all by myself,” she said.
McKenna is always using new materials to make her creations come to life. In this new collection, her materials are Jacquard, Bengaline, Silk, Viscose, Cashmere, Leather and Wool.
The Challenges Behind Her New Collection
When creating designs, McKenna loves the process step by step from finding fabrics, sewing, and making the piece come to life. Her favorite item to make in this collection was her peak lapel jacquard blazer.
“[It was my favorite to create] because a version of this design is currently on a display at the Denver Art Museum Thread Studio of a fashion exhibit [called] Suited: Empowered Feminine Fashion,” she said.
McKenna wanted to incorporate an empowered feminine look in her designs for this collection because she wants people to look beautiful, but most importantly, feel beautiful and strong.
Being a fashion designer is time-consuming and requires hard work. Therefore, McKenna has had many challenges with creating this collection, “Many trade shows have been canceled and supply chain challenges have made sourcing fabric more difficult than usual,” she said.
However, McKenna is thrilled because this collection is much more sustainable than her past collections. “I’m excited about what I’ve been able to do with upcycling and restyling existing garments,” she said.
“We got very comfortable in joggers and slippers at home for the past year and a half. Let’s not forget high heels and high fashion. Dress up, get out and have fun,” she said.
The Future of KetiVani
McKenna is very excited to participate in Denver Fashion Week this season. “I am grateful for the opportunity! It inspires me to be creative and do more. I also get to meet wonderful people,” she said. She is eager to showcase her new designs and provide a message to the audience to show them that it’s exhilarating to dress up and feel good about oneself.
The future looks very bright for Keti McKenna and her brand. “I love what I do and I will continue creating for the rest of my life. It makes me really happy when people wear my designs. I am planning to grow my business and have a presence at more stores in Colorado and nationwide,” she said.
All photography by Roxanna Carrasco.