We’re bringing back Desk Side, our column in which we visit the workspaces of some of our favorite fashion and beauty creatives to get the scoop on what’s inspiring them right now.
The morning I’m scheduled to arrive at Alejandra Alonso Rojas‘s studio is notable for two reasons. The first, much more insignificant one is that it’s the Friday of one of those long, gray January weeks that may as well have stretched on for months. The second, however, is what’s really exciting: It’s Rojas’s son’s first birthday, and he joins us at the office before he and Rojas head out for some celebratory fun.
Parked on a quiet Soho block that could almost be considered TriBeCa, Rojas’s studio is the kind of cozy that extends beyond physical space. It is intimate — Rojas’s son is never quite far out of view — but it is Soho, after all. This was intentional on Rojas’s part: After working out of her home for the last four years, Rojas and her five-person team wanted to maintain that same versatile, familial atmosphere, only in a more official office setting. Food and tea are not the only thing prepared in the full kitchen, for example: Every piece of fabric is hand-dyed then cooked on-site, evidence of which is seen with the stack of industrial pots that sits on the stovetop.
Every inch of the space is meticulous, with a finely curated selection of art that visitors like myself could very likely spend hours poring over before even addressing the actual clothing. The designer’s more passionate consumers may know that Rojas moonlights in vintage furniture reupholstery, and every seat in the house has been refurbished accordingly, including some with fabric from the brand’s own archive.
The aesthetics, as Rojas tells me over tea, are not to be overlooked. “There’s so much that’s more management-focused in the office that you also need things to keep you motivated and inspired,” she says, “instead of just… deadlines and all that.”
Days before her Fall 2020 presentation at New York Fashion Week, Rojas gave me a tour of her very-her Soho studio, peppering in everything from grade-A career wisdom to under-the-radar neighborhood recommendations along the way. Read on for the highlights.
Your offices are located in Soho. What do you like best about the neighborhood?
We ran the company out of my apartment on Greene Street for four years. When Alonso was born, I wanted an office space. But I wanted something that was close to the house so I could run home and come back if I needed to. When you have your own business, having some structure like that really gives you peace of mind. I’m much more relaxed day to day, too.
Actually, one of my best friends lives downstairs — literally downstairs. He invited us to dinner at his place a couple of years ago and I was like, I love the building. It’s an old printer building that has these high ceilings. There’s a lot of artists — some people have been living or working here for more than 20 years.
I just wanted something homey for the team — to have a kitchen, to just feel like a house. The only requirement was that it was a living-working space, so I actually custom-made a Murphy bed. [Laughs] It looks like a beautiful closet, but it’s a Murphy bed.
Is there a local spot where you and your team always go for coffee, or a lunch place where you’re the regulars?
I love Chillhouse. It just opened and it’s huge. I haven’t gotten a manicure or any of the beauty stuff, but people say it’s really nice. I love this great place called Pi Bakerie on Broome Street. Then there’s Sunrise Mart, the Japanese grocery and market, also on Broome. Mooncake Foods is right there, and Lupe’s East LA Kitchen, we adore that one. I love the area, it’s quiet and nice.
What are some things you love in this space?
I love the high ceilings; there’s really nice light, too. I love the homey aspect of it. I love the fact that we have a kitchen because we love eating and we all bring our own food. We can cook if we need to, but we also cook all the fabrics when we hand-dye.
What’s the most random thing about the space?
The neighbors, in a good way. [Laughs] They’re really fun. We have photographers on both sides of us; people will invite you over to see their studios.
What’s the current soundtrack in the studio?
Actually, I adore music, but when I’m working, I prefer silence. I feel like if there’s music in the background, people can’t really concentrate. I love music when we’re in market appointments — that’s nice — or if I’m doing patterns or I’m sketching. But if I’m in the day to day and I need to really concentrate, I can’t work with music.
Who is a really exciting person you’ve had here?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found yourself doing in this space?
[Laughs] Probably putting together a Murphy bed.
If we opened your desk drawers right now, what would we find?
Can I tell you the truth? The truth is that since I was young, I’ve always had a beautiful desk. But I always studied on the floor or painted on the kitchen table, just random places. I’m kind of a free spirit in that way. So you wouldn’t really find any desk drawers. I’ve never really had a desktop computer — that’s why I love laptops, so you can move around.
In my office, though, you’d definitely find very fine pencils, which I love to sketch with. They need to be really fine, so they almost break every time you start sketching. But I build up the heaviness because I love doing watercolors over them and the pencil doesn’t melt with the water.
You’d find black pens — the same color pen, always. You’d also find a lot of art supplies — a bunch of sketching pads, watercolors, tracing paper — and then books: art books, fashion books, pattern-making books, tailoring books. And probably knitting needles and yarn, as well.
I have drawers, but I leave them closed. I don’t even know what’s in there. I need to have things where I can see them on shelves.
How have you made this space your own?
That was really hard because the space is not huge. We needed a place to hand-dye, and then we needed a showroom space. We needed an office to have design meetings or for sales. And then we needed a place for my production team. So it was really hard to maneuver everything. I was literally seven months pregnant, blocking the floors with tape to make sure everything fit.
All the furniture is vintage. I have a piece from, I think, Florida, and then the desk came from Utah. All these chairs got reupholstered. I found that lamp at a flea market. It was a work of love. It’s a small space and you can’t really fit a bunch of stuff in here, so I wanted every piece to feel dear to me.
One thing my dad told me when I was little is that you should always be a little uncomfortable because that would make you grow. There’s something nice about readjusting and not taking everything for granted, like you might by having a 4,000-square-foot space from the get-go. I want to see the brand grow, and then the space will grow as the brand grows.
What’s your typical workday like here?
I don’t feel like every day is the same. We could be in the kitchen dyeing fabrics with flowers or running around Midtown. Maybe we’re drafting a pattern or finishing up a final piece at the pattern-making table. I like to begin every morning talking to each person in the company to make sure things are up and running. That really helps the communication between all of us — managing that everything is going well, that every style is perfectly done. We’re lucky to have all of our factories in Midtown, so it’s great to be able to just go there and talk to them. Last-minute things are handled quickly. I don’t have to be waiting for a shipment.
Then I sit down and I answer my 200 emails. [Laughs]
Tell me about your inspiration boards — are they constantly being updated or do they tend to evolve just once per season?
We actually custom-made the boards ourselves because we couldn’t find something this big and I wanted fabric around them. It took us a couple weeks, but we figured it out.
The boards really change per season. They start blank, and then as we choose colors or fabrications — all my crazy ideas — we begin putting them up there. As we dye the yarns or the fabrics, the boards just keep growing. It’s a visual way of seeing the collection’s development. I don’t feel like I do something and it stays static. I’m just tweaking things around until the end.
If we grow and have a bigger office, I’d love a room with a big, giant couch and an entire padded wall that can be the inspiration board, and maybe a little spot with a computer if we need it.
What has surprised you most about having your own business?
That there’s so many things that are unexpected, every single day. And even when you think it’s handled, there’s always something new. You need to be open to it and embrace it and try to find a positive solution rather than block yourself because then I don’t think you can work in this industry.
What or who has been the biggest influence in your career so far?
My main inspiration is the women of my family. It took me years to realize it, but that was my biggest training, just growing up with them and learning from them and learning what a modern woman is. They loved fashion and loved to dress up, and even now, years later, I keep realizing how modern they were at the time. There was always something so functional about how they dressed. I learned so much from them about what women like to wear from the moment they wake up in the morning to when they have an event later at night.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope we’re in that room with that gigantic couch. [Laughs] That would be so fun. I mean, I’m so happy right now that I feel like if things are slow and steady, if we keep growing, I’d be happy in 10 years doing exactly what I’m doing right now. I’d love to be doing the same thing.
And then, of course, I’d love for the brand to grow more internationally, to grow in brand awareness, but to still keep the essence of the brand — to not just think about the brand, but what good the brand could do, socially and environmentally, as well.
What’s one new thing you’re obsessed with right now?
Who would your dream customer be?
That’s so hard. I could think of so many examples, but I think my ideal customer is that mother and woman I’m describing. When I think of my dream customer, I think of someone who has a lot of years to go with the brand. Honestly, this is going to sound weird, but I don’t think my ideal customer is someone who just comes in and buys an entire rack of clothes. My ideal customer is someone who starts with a few pieces and keeps building out that closet, who keeps being engaged with the brand as something they love. Maybe they’re in their thirties and they could afford a few pieces a year right now. But as they grow professionally and grow in life, the brand really becomes a go-to, a no-brainer. They come here for, I don’t know, an evening dress, or just to get sweaters. Someone who buys pieces knowing the fit is going to be perfect. They already know their size. That’s who my dream customer would be.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.