PROFILE: Winning design

Published 4:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Every piece of clothing you wear is designed by someone.

If you’ve ever purchased clothing in the women’s department at Kohl’s, there is a chance it may have been designed by Ironton’s own Electa Royal, who has worked for the company as an assistant designer for more than three years.

“I create the artwork for So Young Womens and Sonoma Athleisure,” she explained. She also helps decide which clothes get spotlighted every month. She began working at Kohl’s as designer in the So Juniors Athleisure department.

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Her work is wide-ranging, from picking material and designing patterns to creating artwork for t-shirts and hoodies, usually a year or so ahead of time to create trends in clothing.

She has also been featured for the past two years during Black History Month, “so that’s pretty cool.”

And if that wasn’t enough, she designs clothing on her own.

“I do a lot of freelance graphic design, but, in addition to that, I’m a fashion designer by trade. I did a lot of fashion shows before COVID-19 hit and put a damper on things,” she said. She was involved in the Milwaukee Fashion Week for two years and was going to do Pittsburgh Fashion Week until the pandemic shut down the show, but plans to go sometime in the future.

“I do a lot,” Royal said, with a laugh.

How she designs clothing depends on whether she is doing something for Kohl’s or for her own lines. “If I am doing a design for myself and my own brand, I do it old school, where I am making the patterns and cutting the fabric and doing the fittings with models,” Royal explained, adding that she tries to be as sustainable as possible and using deadstock, which is already manufactured fabrics, and even ripping apart clothing to make new garments.

One example of reusing is a jacket she made as a project when she was studying fashion at Kent State

University. The jacket is made up of denim and then highlighted with white fabric that has patterns made with actual rust on it that she created by soaking the material in a jar with a bolt and water.

It was a tribute to the blue-collar background of Ironton.

“It was part of my senior collection. I wanted to do something that was a tribute to my hometown,” Royal said. “I have always been proud of Ironton. Everywhere I go, I say I’m from Ironton, Ohio. I don’t just say Southern Ohio, I’m going to tell you the city, you’re going to know.”

Her Ohio roots inspire her creations to be very utility-based, “almost like workman’s wear, but not quite because I want it to be feminine.”

Another piece is a cream-colored corduroy jacket that she made for herself.

“They were corduroy pants I found at the thrift store,” Royal said. “On the back is an Ohio square quilt block. And I found the buttons at a thrift store. I try to re-use all the resources I can.”

“At Kohl’s, it’s completely different than when I do my own designs. We are working with vendors overseas, I do a lot of sketches digitally,” Royal said. “We’re picking fabrics a year in advance. But both of them have a lot of sketching and a lot of planning involved. But for the textile portion of my job at Kohl’s, that is straight up doing my own artwork. So I use ProCreate, PhotoShop and Illustrator on my iPad.”

Ohio is a continuing theme in her work. Her LinkedIn account proclaims her as a “proud Ohioan” and her workroom has a shelf filled with Ohio memorabilia.

Royal graduated from Ironton High School in 2012 and went to Kent State University, from which she graduated with Bachelor’s Degree in fashion and apparel design. She also studied haute couture at Paris American Academy.

She spent two summers interning at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Kentucky, where she designed clothes for stage productions. She also did internships at the web-based CollegeFashionista, with fashion designer Jonathan Marc Stein and at Akron Design and Costume.

She got her first job as an assistant designer and graphic artist at 5B’s in Columbus before joining Kohl’s in 2018. She had talked to a company rep at a job fair a year before “but they didn’t have positions open, so they kept me in mind for a whole year and offered me a position. Crazy. So I said yes and took the job.”

She moved from Ohio to Milwaukee, where she lived for three years before moving back to Ironton in May. She gets
to work for the company remotely.

“It is bittersweet, in a way, because the only way I am able to do this is because of COVID-19,” she said. “I do miss Milwaukee because the thrift stores are so amazing. And I do get to visit once a year.”

So how does a woman from Ironton get interested in fashion?

“Remember Neopets? When I was nine, Neopets was my thing,” Royal said.

Neopets are virtual pets and owners can use in-game currency to take care of their pet’s needs. She still has an active account.

“They had an opportunity to be creative on their website and here I was a little kid learning how to do HTML and CSS on Neopets to be creative and do artwork.”

From that, she decided she wanted to do graphic design, but wasn’t really sure if there were jobs in it.

“Around here, I don’t feel they encourage people to do creative careers as much, but opportunities are out there, you just have to find it,” Royal said. She decided on fashion, found out that Kent State had a top-rated fashion program in the country and that’s how she ended up designing clothes.

As for putting clothes together, “all the women in my family have experience with textiles and sewing. I always enjoyed making stuff. I just needed the technical and advanced skills to do it,” Royal said. “I put my graphic background with fashion and that’s what I’ve done with my life. It’s worked out.”

And now that Royal is back in Ironton after nearly a decade, she wants to give back to others who may want to follow a creative path and give back to the community.

“I love Ironton and I’ve always wanted to take the knowledge that I’ve learned be- ing away and bring it back here and impact someone else,” Royal said.

One of her goals is to run for Ironton City Council.

“I’ve been attending meetings regularly. I’m trying to get my head in there and learn what’s going on and try to understand,” she said. “And I would love to connect with the high schools and tell kids that there are more opportunities for careers outside of the regular, everyday things we think about, that it is okay to be creative and have a career in art. You can leave, do your thing and come back.”