Five Designers Give Insight into Creative Processes, Philanthropy and Personal Style
From cowboy boots to brilliant watches, these style experts are helping Austinites accessorize to the nines
By Britni Rachal
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
Boots and flip-flops designed for life. That’s the brand concept behind Alvies boots. Tailored to break in more easily and faster than your average pair of cowboy boots, owner Alvie Faulkenbery started creating the concept on a trip to Thailand after quitting his former job and trying to decide what to do with his life. Sharing the greatness of both cowboy boots and flip-flips ended up becoming his primary focus, and the inspiration behind what’s now one of Austin’s most unique boot brands.
What sparked the passion for boots?
“I grew up in a small town in East Texas. Everyone wore cowboy boots, but it was just never my thing, and I felt like a poser any time I tried them on. I was more of a long-haired flip-flop guy. When my Grandpa Alvie Jr. passed away, I inherited his beautiful, broken-in cowboy boots. I didn’t think I would ever wear them, so I stored them away as a nice memory. Years later, I grabbed a pair as part of a Halloween costume. After putting them on, I was shocked at how good they felt, and at how good they made me feel. Plus, they reminded me of him. And shortly after, I realized that I could pull off the style and didn’t have to look like a cowboy to wear cowboy boots. From then on, boots and flops became my go-to style.”
Can you tell us more about the quality of the boots?
“Alvies boots are handmade in León, Mexico, by traditional boot artisans — and the boot making trade goes back centuries there. We use only the best leathers for our boots and build in a lot of features to make them incredibly comfortable and durable. That includes things like full leather toes and heel counters, using lemonwood pegs instead of brass nails, a steel shank to hold the insole and outsole together, a Goodyear welt so you can have your boots resoled over and over, and a stacked leather heel. Those features may be table stakes to some quality cowboy boot connoisseurs, but our quality is also tied to our designs — we take a ton of pride in creating classic cowboy boots with a minimalistic design and a purpose behind every design element.”
What inspires your own personal style, and how does that translate into your brand?
“I tend to favor timeless looks that will never go out of style. That’s why our boots feature classic cowboy boot toes and heels instead of things like the big square toes that are popular right now. But I also like to be comfortable, which is why our boots are made to be worn all day — if I’m not comfortable I’m not going to wear it.”
Do you have any hints on upcoming new product launches?
“We recently launched a boot with Billy F Gibbons from ZZ Top called the BFG. We have had a lot of success with the BFG with his fans from all over the world. Billy and I have become friends in the process. You can expect to see more collaborations from us together in the future.”
What do you recommend people consider when investing in a new pair of boots?
“Start with a style that you will wear every day. A lot of people choose a boot that is too fancy or western for their style and the boots sit in their closet collecting dust.”
Can you tell us about the inspiration surrounding your charitable cause, Alvies Kicks Back?
“We always knew we wanted to give back locally as part of our brand. But we didn’t want to just have a standard program where we give back X% of sales to a cause. We also wanted to celebrate the people who make Austin what it is: artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, etc. Each of our boots has an ambassador who decides where the charitable portion of that product’s sales go. For instance, Juan Meza of restaurant Juan In a Million gives back sales of The Congress boot to Con Mi MADRE. And Laurie Gallardo of KUTX gives back proceeds of The Guadalupe boot to Project ATX6.
Inspired by vintage aesthetics, Ryan McGrath is owner and designer of custom hat making company, Trovador. With the goal of making quality designs that outset trends, incorporate people’s stories, and complement their image, Trovador has been in business for three years and ships hats all over the country and to Mexico.
What is your creative process?
“Anything worn on your head is an extension of yourself, so we’ve created a process to help our customers connect to meaningful life themes through a profile we ask everyone to work through before our initial consultation meeting. Some of these questions include favorite quotes, song lyrics, spirit animals, relevant or reoccurring numbers that help shape the creative direction of the hat and incorporate their story through a symbolic design. We also encourage customers to bring sentimental personal items that can be included like old jewelry, fabrics, playing cards, etc.”
What is your biggest suggestion to someone who is looking for a custom hat?
“I’m not sure if I can pick just one, but for starters, invest in a quality material that will withstand the test of time and wear like 100% beaver. I’ve had customers bring in a 20-year-old 100% beaver hat that still felt brand new. A hat is such a personal purchase, it should also complement your general style, personality and functionality. When choosing a color, we encourage customers to consider their eye color, skin tone, hair color and common colors worn in their wardrobe if they’re looking for a staple piece that can be worn daily. A statement piece has another set of guidelines — these are pinks, reds, royal blue colors that command attention when entering the room. When choosing a crown shape and brim length, it’s fitting to consider the shape of your face, your height, shoulder-width and how you plan to wear the hat.”
What inspires your own personal style?
“Trovador (Troubadour in Spanish) is about storytelling and empowering people through intrapersonal connection and self-expression by wearing their story. Personally, hat-making started as a creative outlet and quickly became a passion, now a purpose. My personal style is derived from life experience, attractions and mood. I love textures, refined grit. Moto culture, vintage cars, old guitars and palates found in nature.”
Do you have a favorite creation?
“It is difficult to pick a favorite, but the first that came to mind was an orange hat I made for a friend last spring. An actress with a personality larger than life, she wanted a bold color and design that highlighted her country roots and love for hip-hop. We used a vintage handkerchief and some rustic twine to represent the country vibe and a blinged-out chain for her love of hip-hop. She also chose to include her late father’s military dog tags and her childhood nickname engraved under the brim ‘Start My Heart Machine.’”
In addition to design, what other types of artistic work do you create?
“I’m also a musician; guitar was my first love, and I have played in a handful of bands throughout the years. I’ve always gravitated toward blues, classic rock and funk. In the past, I’ve also built furniture, blown glass and thrown clay.”
You have a philanthropic project, as well.
“Customs for Cause was inspired by the desire to positively impact the lives of people amid a battle where many sacrifice some personal identity of their hair undergoing chemotherapy. We ask patients to pick a word, phrase or theme to inspire hope that will be engraved or designed into the hat. We’ve partnered with a local oncology clinic to help nominate C4C recipients, and additional nominations can be made through our website.”
Timeless and traditional — and each named after an Austin landmark or iconic piece of history, Steven Lee owns and operates DuFrane Watches. With a love for poeticism and “inspiration beauty of mechanical watches,” Lee says the gift of his first watch at age eight sparked a lifelong theme in his life. Paying homage to his mother through the use of her maiden name, Lee launched Dufrane watches in 2016.
What are some of your favorite elements in watch design?
“The most important aspect for me is if I can easily tell the time! I know that sounds obvious, but one of my paramount design requirements is ensuring the readability of the watch.
I am not a fan of busy dials and hard to see hands. The dial is one of the most important features of a watch, simply because that is what one is looking at all the time. It is the watch’s first impression, and it has to stand out. I spend a lot of my design time creating interesting dials that offer character and depth, but are also clean and simplistic.
I’m also a believer in being able to tell the time in low light settings. I apply very generous amounts of luminous material (Swiss made SuperLumiNova lume) to the markers and handset so that one can see them easily, even at night.”
What is your creative process?
“Each watch is not a bespoke watch that a person designs individually. Rather, I custom create the models as a combination of my design ideas, heavily influenced by Austin itself. So that means these are not “off the shelf” or homage pieces of some other watch brand. They are uniquely specific to DuFrane, and hopefully remind the wearer of Austin.”
Is there a specific thing that continually inspires you?
“What keeps my inspiration going is the amazing DuFrane watch family. I simply have incredible customers and I so enjoy connecting and getting to know them. Most of my customers end up buying several pieces and keep me posted on some of their adventures with their trusted DuFrane on their wrist. I have one particular customer that has purchased every single watch model I’ve made. I am so honored to have such amazing fans.”
In the age of the smart watch, what would you say about the timelessness of a traditional watch?
“Slow down. Take a breath. Relax. Enjoy. These are things that mechanical watches remind me to do. I absolutely don’t NEED a watch, but I find the artistry, creativity and ingenuity of watches pull me back to a simpler time.
Knowing what goes into a mechanical watch furthers this. There are 100 or so tiny, precise parts that go into a mechanical movement, but they are powered by human interaction. Whether it is a manual winding watch that one has to turn each morning to keep it powered, or an automatic mechanical that powers itself by the daily movements of one’s arm, the watch still needs us to work. I love that connection.”
What are your hopes for the future of your philanthropy, Project Grow?
“For every watch that is sold, I donate five tree plantings to One Tree Planted. At the end of each quarter, I post a survey on Instagram asking my followers to choose what location globally we should plant these trees. I am so thankful to have such an amazing watch family (customer base and fans) that help DuFrane give back to our amazing planet. I simply hope to continue growing the brand, and this will organically drive more donations to plant trees. I’d love to look back one day and see our community planted 50k trees or more.”
What inspires your personal style?
“My wife enjoys it when I take a little extra time to match my watch to my outfit. ‘Black strap or brown, the dial color can’t clash with my boots, and should I go rose gold today or brushed steel?’ I always notice what watch someone is wearing, both in person or in TV/movies, so I guess that’s why I put more effort into that decision.”
Overall, do you have any favorite creations?
“In terms of DuFrane models, that is a bit like picking one’s favorite kid!”
A Houston native and Texas Longhorn, Katie Kismet uses glass to make jewelry and home décor. The luminosity and creative challenges surrounding glass, along with being a natural material, sparked a passion and curiosity for Kismet after taking a glass-making class while traveling internationally. Today with no two pieces the same, each of her creations is created in upwards of 20 hours.
You’ve turned your Austin-based brand into a worldwide sensation. Can you tell us more about this expansion?
“It’s so exciting! It’s fantastic to have supporters sprinkled around the world. Most recently I was thrilled to send a Black Diamond bolo tie to Milan. I love the idea of someone in a European fashion capital wearing a bolo tie I made with my own two hands here in Austin, Texas.”
What influences your personal style?
“I’m influenced by modern design — the Bauhaus, the Memphis Group, pop art — all of which resonate with me, in part, due to the precision of form. Bringing specific design outcomes to the medium of kiln-fired glass is sort of asking for trouble (or at least more work), but that’s part of the challenge I enjoy. I also love nerding out on the dash of science involved as well as the unexpected nature of glass jewelry.”
How does your jewelry making incorporate into your own style?
“It’s sort of inseparable. When I got into glass, I found I enjoyed working small and in the applied arts, which lead to jewelry. With a beginner’s mindset, I exploded with ideas of what I wanted to wear but didn’t see those ideas being made, so I set out to make them myself. I appreciate minimalism and play with color and contrast, I love a great pop-art moment, and I enjoy playing with style.
My closet is fairly eclectic; sort of a ‘Who do I want to be today?’ scene. For me, accessories are similar: some days are “pop-of-red stud earring” days and some days are “bolo tie in my necklace stack” days.”
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to add more creative accessories to their wardrobe?
“Do it! Getting dressed is an opportunity for self-expression, levity and joy. Trends move so fast these days that it’s freeing because you can take inspiration from almost any look or decade and make it work for you. Think about some key characteristics of your style and let that guide you. Pick and choose what you feel great in but be open to occasionally trying something a bit outside your comfort zone.
The flexibility and lower-stakes nature of accessories make them an excellent way to get creative with your style. An unexpected necklace or a stunner of a statement ring can instantly elevate any white tee and jeans situation. I also love shopping second-hand because it’s a way to try ‘new-to-you’ that’s gentler on the environment and (often) less expensive.”
What’s this year’s spring line and/or upcoming summer line?
“I’m so excited about what’s on tap for Katie Kismet this year. I’ll be leaning into bolo tie and hatband territory with a new metal base that will enable the glass piece to be styled multiple ways: hatband, bolo tie, pendant and more.
I’m also experimenting with a new glass technique that will give me more options and specificity in shape than ever before, which is incredibly exciting. With this technique, I’ll be exploring the concept of treasures and amulets — objects we imbue with meaning and find important to wear or have close.”
What are your giving-back projects?
“My ‘Every Purchase Gives’ program means that every checkout at KatieKismet.com sends 3% to Global Fund for Women, a non-profit which is a global champion for the human rights of women and girls.
My ‘Glass Giving Garden Project’ also supports Global Fund for Women, but through a community art experiment of sorts. I make glass flowers out of my own recycled household glass, then ‘plant’ them around Austin with a little note. If you find one and tag @katiekismet in a photo on social media, I’ll send $5 to Global Fund for Women. Finders are welcome to take the flower home with them or leave it for someone else to discover!”
Wild Flower Swimwear
A true believer that “things happen for a reason, and everything happens in its own time” – Laura Branson started her swimwear line at the beginning of the pandemic. Geared toward classic and timeless designs, Wild Flower swimwear has a trendy feel without going out of style quickly. A mother of three and a native Texan, Branson takes pride in ensuring long-lasting, durable quality of garments, with a subtle tribute to some Texas culture sprinkled throughout her brand.
What is your inspiration in creating this swimwear line?
“I have been obsessed with swimwear since I was young. I remember fawning over the new styles that were released at Miami Swim Week from my favorite designers and figuring out which pieces I absolutely had to own from each season, then plotting out lake days or pool parties or trips based on my new suits. It might sound weird but that’s what I love!
My personal passion for swimwear bloomed into a business idea when it dawned on me that high-quality, classic, timeless styles, were largely disappearing to make way for fashion trends that are hip within the moment. I can’t tell you how hard it is to find classic colors and designs out there.”
What makes your swimwear stand out in terms of quality?
“It starts with fabric. Not all fabric is created equally! I’m constantly scouring suppliers of new fabrics and experimenting with them. Rest assured that once it makes it into production, you are going to have a piece that feels great and will hold up, wear after wear. Each piece is hand made in L.A., then inspected and packed here in Austin.
Also, most Wild Flower Swimwear suits features reversible fabric. Both sides are made of the same high-quality material so you can mix and match or wear the pieces as a set.”
With designs to fit a variety of body types, is there a success story that stands out the most?
“Every time a customer tags me on social media wearing my suits, I do a happy dance. It is a dream come true to see women on vacation, enjoying life and wearing my designs!”
The swimwear branding includes a lot of Texas-themed branding. What inspired the love for wildflowers?
“First and foremost, I’m obsessed with flowers. I also wanted the company name to be a play on words. Wild Flower just felt right. All pieces in the collection are named after a native Texas wildflower. I hope Ladybird would be proud!
Also, when you look at the marketplace for swimsuits, it is so common to see the almost standardized branding from California, Hawaii and even Bali-based brands – everything is palm trees and tropics. Bali is great, but I wanted to bring a little bit of sun to shine on water life on this part of the world and country! It’s something everyone from Tesla to Facebook has figured out – and it’s about time people start recognizing the sense of style that belongs uniquely here.”
How do you work to ensure people feel confident and beautiful in your designs?
“I put a lot of effort and thought into each piece. For example, one of my tops, the SUNDROP, has boning and underwire with a removable necktie for the girls that are bigger up top. But the beauty of that top is that someone who is smaller can also still wear it and it will look just as beautiful.
I think next year I will also offer men’s swimsuits too, which I am very excited about (I get a lot of requests!). I feel like guys don’t have as many options as the girls do with swimwear, and I would like to add some options for them.”
Do you currently have any giving back initiatives?
“Access to affordable home birthing options has long been an important side project of mine and something that I hope to turn into an actual organized initiative at some point down the road. Currently I give back in this way through donations in the local midwifery and doula communities. The goal is for more women to have access to these options.”