News & Events

3/9/21 Fashion is Political Panel Discussion

Posted on March 16, 2021 / Webinar
On Tuesday, March 9th, Made in NYC hosted a panel discussion with the fashion designers and creators behind Inauguration Day’s most memorable looks — made here in New York City. The legacy of American fashion has often erased the voices of the makers, specifically the women and immigrants who contribute their labor to the fashion industry. We gathered the makers behind iconic ensembles featured on Inauguration Day for a discussion about what it means for them to create garments for the political sphere and why dressing is a political act.


Sara Kozlowski (Moderator)
VP of Education & Sustainability Initiatives at CFDA.
Evita Chu
Founder of PDR Knitting and creator of Mrs. Obama’s sweater for the inauguration.
Laura Weber Rein
Founder of LW Pearl Embroidery, responsible for embroidering the mask, jacket, and dress worn by Dr. Jill Biden.
Yukali Robertson
Senior Designer at LW Pearl Embroidery.
Ruchi Kotahwala
Founder of Ruchi New York and creator of Dr. Jill Biden’s earrings for the inauguration.
Katie Sue Nicklos
CEO of Wing & Weft Gloves, responsible for the custom gloves worn at the inauguration.
Alexandra O’Neill
Founder of Markarian and creator of Dr. Jill Biden’s garment and coat for the inauguration.
Arturo Castañeda
Founder of Storytellers & Creators and pattern maker for VP Harris’s coat and blazer worn at the inauguration.

Panel Discussion Highlights

When you first got the news, what was your reaction in the moment?
“I just think that it was such a historic moment and I really appreciated the fact that [Dr. Jill Biden] was wearing all American designers and strongly supporting American fashion.”
–Ruchi Kotahwala
“This was so special and Dr. Biden’s stylist was amazing and made clear from the very first meeting that it was Garment District, it was Made in America, it was ‘We support you and we’re going to wear your handcrafted items. We’re going to showcase all these beautiful makers and designers. Come joyfully be a part of it!’ And that was… everything.”
–Katie Sue Nicklos
Many of you are founders of your businesses. What has this opportunity meant to you personally?
It was so important to showcase something that I’ve been doing… since I was four years old. So, I’ve actually been doing embroidery for a very long time and so to showcase that and to be able to build a team over time that really values the craftsmanship and the artisanal way of making. I have such a talented team. They’re actually all women and they’re all immigrants — so to be able to support that is huge. I’m actually an immigrant myself, too.
–Laura Weber Rein
I think it was really incredible how we were able to shine a spotlight on the Garment District and on American-made clothing and that Dr. Biden knew the impact that her fashion choices can make…A lot of people forget that there is an entire industry behind a single dress, and that it supports an amazing number of jobs and people. To be able to support that during such a difficult time when people are short on work or losing their jobs is very important.
–Alexandra O’Neill
What has this kind of exposure meant for your businesses?
“What happened was the news reached to my birth country — I’m an immigrant from Indonesia. So it reached to the news media over there and they were very surprised that an immigrant and a woman could do such a big magnitude of work in a foreign country. So… I think that was a big moment for me, that I could inspire other people who I feel like, as immigrants, have this hesitation to thrive — are we able to? are we not able to? — and to take a risk in a new foreign land. But if we have the tenacity and if we have the perseverance and if we work hard, we can always achieve success because it is available to everyone and it is up to us whether or not we can take that opportunity and make it work.”
–Evita Chu
“I had a similar experience in Ireland. It was a very hopeful story for people who have left and hope to become successful. It’s difficult to leave your home and your family, and it’s difficult to start over — but you can reach a level that you never thought you could reach.”
–Laura Weber Rein
“Being an immigrant from India, this is almost like living an American dream. I’ve been designing since I was sixteen, and I’ve been passionate about jewelry designing, but never did I imagine that I would be dressing the First Lady of the United States at the inaugural celebration. I feel like this is the only country where you can live that dream. So, it was a big moment for us.
–Ruchi Kotahwala
Could you share about the power of storytelling in what you do?
“I went from being a migrant worker and helping support our family — my mom raising six kids on her own — to this now. From the fields to the halls of the White House. It’s been that kind of story for us. I learned how to sew from my mom — she worked at a sweatshop in Mexico. So I knew that I was created to do this, to create and that eventually I would have my own business. I didn’t know how that would happen, or where it would happen, but having it here in New York City is a dream and a fulfillment of my mom’s dream as well.”
–Arturo Castañeda
How did you enter into the work that you’re doing and do you have any advice for anyone in our audience who may be aspiring to go into similar careers?
“For new aspiring designers who want to enter the industry it takes a lot of patience to get where we are. It took me 15 years to get where I am right now and sometimes we have to start from the very bottom, but by learning how to do so many different tasks, you learn how to tackle every single problem.
–Evita Chu
“I think it’s really important to take advantage of the resources that you have around you. New York is incredible — everything that you could ever need or want to start a clothing line or a fashion line is right here in NYC.”
–Alexandra O’Neill
“I started designing when I was sixteen in India and I was so passionate about designing and about being an entrepreneur. I always saw that women where I grew up were not supposed to be financially independent and were treated as underdogs. I always thought I wanted to be an entrepreneur and, at the same time, work toward financial empowerment of underprivileged women.”
–Ruchi Kotahwala
“There’s no job in this industry that’s beneath you. If there’s an opportunity, and you work hard and diligently, you don’t know where it may lead. Honor the process and honor the mistakes and have reverence for the mistakes because strength and growth is found in those mistakes. My first job in fashion was opening boxes, shipping and receiving at the back of a J.Crew.”
–Arturo Castañeda