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Austin Fashion Innovators on the Cutting Edge of Style

Four fashion innovators behind groundbreaking digital ventures that focus on style, sustainability and shopping

Kaki Gaines / Edit/Mode

Jessica Thompson / AUDIENCE

Kaki Gaines is a wardrobe stylist and founder of Edit/Mode, a fashion marketplace that offers stylist-selected pieces and provides a unique way for shoppers to zero in on flattering items that suit their taste and lifestyle.

“I am especially drawn to how styling merges fashion with psychology,” Gaines says. “I have always had an inherent interest in both topics, so personal styling was a very fitting way for me to combine them.”

Edit/Mode’s Kaki Gaines

The site uses a series of refining filters—such as body type and the occasion an outfit is for—so women can narrow their range of options. “Thinking through everything psychologically that goes into choosing an outfit for a certain situation has always been fascinating to me,” Gaines adds.

In launching Edit/Mode, Gaines enlisted Jessica Thompson’s expertise to cultivate an identity for the site. In one example of her contribution, the art director and founder of branding agency AUDIENCE commissioned an illustrator to create figure drawings to represent body types, adding a softness and human touch to the digital space.

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Thompson says the experience of shopping with Edit/Mode “helps women develop an understanding of why certain pieces work for them, how to shop smarter, how to buy less and still have a wardrobe that feels interesting and full of options.”

Jessica Thompson of AUDIENCE

The innovation lies in the intention—to give women ownership, understanding and assurance in what they wear and how it defines their style. Over time, those who utilize Edit/Mode’s selection tools find that they are more fluent in shopping, so much so that their personal narrative—laced with confidence—shines through in every piece they put on.

Says Gaines: “I really appreciate that I can constantly be surrounded by beautiful objects while also helping women feel great in what they wear.”

Lana Ashby Rowder / Selfie Stylist

Being voted “best dressed” of her “teeny tiny” high school’s graduating class in Giltner, Nebraska, didn’t immediately propel Lana Ashby Rowder into a career as a stylist. But, she says, “I’ve always loved fashion.” After graduating from nursing school in 2009, Rowder moved to Austin to work at St. David’s Medical Center. By 2015, the married mother of two was spending her days off styling friends and family. “My passion lies in helping people,” she says.

In February, Rowder—who now works as a school nurse and COVID-19 vaccinator in between finishing her certification as a personal stylist with the New York Institute of Art and Design—launched her non-gender-specific mobile app, Selfie Stylist, which allows her to interact with users, providing styling advice with the option for a video chat that might include wardrobe editing and outfit curation.

The next time you’re in need of feedback about what to wear for an important job interview, photo shoot or first date, simply upload five images of yourself “in your best outfits” to Selfie Stylist. Within 15 minutes, Rowder will respond. The app is free to download; a selfie session is just $10, and video chats are priced at $25 during a soft-launch special.

“I really got into this when my friends and I started having kids,” she says. “We all felt a bit uncomfortable in our new bodies, and the clothes we used to wear didn’t quite suit our new lifestyle. The app was created so that everyone could have the help of an expert, at an affordable price. When we look good, we feel good.”

Chelsey Nordyke / Series

At 28, Chelsey Nordyke’s background in fashion reads like that of an industry veteran: In 2014, the native Austinite and self-taught designer launched the label Spire, a collection of minimalist silk basics that netted her an award at the line’s Austin Fashion Week debut. Two years later, she landed an e-commerce job with Outdoor Voices while continuing to work on Spire.

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Shortly after the debut of her second collection, Nordyke hit pause to regroup. “I started realizing the environmental impact of producing new garments. The fashion industry continues to manufacture without necessarily thinking about where clothing and waste materials end up. The product pileup I was seeing in the closets of my favorite social media accounts made me think: Why don’t we just connect this excess to their audiences? If you purchase secondhand items, you’re helping to reduce material consumption and landfill waste, as well as save money.”

From her desire to reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint came Series, Nordyke’s tightly curated online resale platform. She partners with local designers as well as sartorially savvy celebrities, content creators and stylists to provide shoppers with exclusive access to items pulled from their closets. Giving back is also essential to Series’ ethos. Nordyke and her partners have donated funds to favorite charities, including Planned Parenthood and the Know Your Rights Camp. In 2020, she partnered with style site Who What Wear to give 100 percent of proceeds to the Movement for Black Lives and the California Fire Foundation.

Nordyke says storytelling is really what’s at the heart of her business: “We’re reselling garments that have been pre-loved by their first owners and encouraging customers to give them a second life.”

Loriza Ibarra / reFIND

While consumerism, competition and fashion fashion have wreaked havoc on people and the planet, there is a growing bevy of brands and savvy shoppers looking to reverse course without forgoing impeccable design and fabulous style.

ReFIND founder Loriza Ibarra hopes to connect the two with an app that serves as a virtual marketplace where sustainable fashion brands and customers can build meaningful relationships while fostering equitable production practices and reducing waste.

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“I believe sustainability is an intentional mindset that revolves around how we choose to contribute to consumerism. I believe it is about being intentional about where we put our dollars because it runs much deeper than the item at hand,” Ibarra says. “We have the power to create positive demand and influence change by changing the way we use our resources and consume. That begins with what we buy, who we are purchasing from and deciphering when it is actually necessary.”

Fueled by her passion for building community as a means for positive impact, Ibarra is hard at work on the launch of the app. Her focus now is on fundraising, building a following of users interested in sustainability and intentional shopping, and hearing from them about their fashion values.

Brands that qualify based on their sustainable practices will be able to share immersive shopping experiences like 3D designs and sizing tools on reFIND, while users seeking designs that align with their values will have myriad options at their fingertips.

The app, scheduled for a beta launch in June, will also present advanced findings and data that are meaningful and digestible, so the community is empowered to make informed decisions while shopping. Through education, ingenuity and transparency, Ibarra hopes reFIND will provide an atmosphere that allows brands and customers to grow together—stylishly.