Student label, designs head to New York

By Alexandra Kukulka

Some Students at arts colleges may lose hope because of the limited career opportunities available in their chosen fields. Often, students must decide whether to change majors or stick it out.

Omar Villalobos, sophomore fashion studies major, experienced this dilemma when he first came to Columbia as a film student. He realized film was more of a hobby for him, so he changed his major to fashion studies. This change of heart paid off,  resulting in his being one of the designers to show his work at this years’ New York Fashion Week. Villalobos and his partner, Gordana Rasic, presented their collection, titled “Elegance of Maturity,” Feb. 14 under the fashion label GOCA.

The Chronicle sat down with Villalobos to talk about New York Fashion Week, fundraising challenges and the inspiration for his designs and fashion label.

The Chronicle: How did you get the opportunity to be a part of New York Fashion Week?

Omar Villalobos: A couple of months ago, I was on Facebook looking at other designers, their shows and their pictures. I followed the producers of the show [and] I added them on Facebook. I thought nothing of it.  A few weeks later, one of the producers, [Dionne Williams], asked me, “Would you be willing to show in New York Fashion Week?” I was like, “Sure.” She said, “Send me your information,” so I sent her all of our pictures. I think there were just like 40 Chicago designers because, mind you, [the designers come] from all around the United States. [The producers] were supposed to pick five,  and we ended being one of the five that they chose. [Williams] was just saying how the entire time she was keeping up with our Facebook and seeing our progress.

The Chronicle: What inspired your newest collection?

OV: We were definitely inspired by maturity. Being that I am 20 and my business partner is 21, we are both very young. Here in the Chicago industry, people are always questioning, “Can these young kids really produce such a great show, such a great collection?” Is maturity something that comes with age, or it is something that comes with experience? Being that it is a women’s collection, we were definitely looking back into the 1920s and 1930s when women got the right to vote and they earned their public stance. We mixed in the two together and created the “Elegance of Maturity.” It is a lot of 1920s cuts, flappers, layers, pleating, pearls—all that great stuff. That is ultimately how the collection came about.

The Chronicle: Did you have any challenges getting into the show?

OV: A lot. Just to show and solidify our spot  was $3,000. That doesn’t bring in production costs to get the samples, the pattern making, the airfare and staying there for a week because we have to do fittings. We did this campaign online to try to raise money and we did a fundraising event. We ended up raising $3,500. I remember the moment we found out that we had to raise $3,000. It was either we take it and see where it goes, see if we can raise the money or we let this opportunity go and wait until we have the funds for it. We were like, “Even though it is going to be expensive, let’s do it.” It’s a risk, but I know we can. It has been really honoring to know that we did it on our own at such a young age.

The Chronicle: What does GOCA mean?

OV: Gordana and I are co-founders. Her name is GO for Gordana, and then CA is me being from California because I am very family-oriented and all about where I was raised. So we were like GO plus CA, GOCA. It matched with her name and it matched with the idea that I had for my label. We didn’t really want to pick names because that has been overplayed.

The Chronicle: How do you like working with Gordana?

OV: She is a biology major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It has definitely been tough, but working with her, it’s like we both get each other. We are both full-time students and we are both busy in that aspect. We know that ultimately GOCA is like our baby. We like to joke around sometimes saying I am papa GOCA and she is mama GOCA and we have a baby GOCA. When we [make] decisions involving GOCA, we always ask ourselves, as parents, would we hand over this child like this? It is an easy way for us to get in that mindset and really understand the ethics we have. Sometimes I want to kill her and she wants to kill me, but we work very well together.

The Chronicle: What is next for GOCA?

OV: When we come back from New York Fashion week, we definitely want to launch our show [in Chicago] in April. We have already a couple of showrooms who are interested, showrooms in LA and New York. There is a PR company that is interested in representing us, [as well]. Our next step is opening the door, getting into boutiques and getting into stores and opening up GOCA to the public. That’s our goal and we will see where it takes us. For us, our mission is definitely to bring hope to students, [because] I lost hope during my film years. I told myself, I will just try and see where fashion takes me. Hopefully, we get to do something amazing, inspire lives. That’s our goal.  We will see where it takes us.