The fashion sense of Trina Turk: Recently seen on “The Apprentice!”

By Ivy Dai
Staff Writer

Pasadena Star-News, December 27, 2006

Clothing designer Trina Turk seemed to have a firmly ingrained fashion sense by age 4. To save money, her mom would sometimes dress the young Turk in inexpensive clothes that struck the youngster as unflattering.

“I drove my mom crazy about what I would and would not wear,” Turk said. “She was fed up with me, so she said, you choose the fabric and the patterns. And then she made my clothes. I was very excited about this.”

When Turk turned 11, her mom taught her to sew. And that’s when the world of fashion opened up.

“I knew I wanted to be a designer, even before I knew what it meant,” Turk said. “A lot of my friends experienced angst over what they would do with their lives, but I never worried about that. I always knew what I was going to do.”

She studied apparel design at the University of Washington in Seattle, and worked for 12 years in the fashion industry, doing design and merchandising for companies as varied as Brittania Jeans, Ocean Pacific, Anne Cole and Bum Equipment.

But Turk had long wanted her own clothing line, so 11 years ago, she quit her job and launched herself into business.

It wasn’t an easy road. Her colleagues thought she was crazy, and predicted that she would go bankrupt. Turk didn’t let anything discourage her.

“I was working out of my car mostly, and a spare room in my apartment,” said Turk, 45. “My parents took out a home equity loan on their house, and so did my husband’s parents. We put about $65-70,000 into (the business) in the beginning.”

Her husband, fashion photographer Jonathan Skow, was employed at the time, so he supported both of them.

Turk knew how to design, but didn’t know the first thing about the business side of the fashion world. She created her patterns, but they weren’t production ready. She knew enough to know she needed help, so she called on her former co-worker at Anne Cole, Lyne Lee. Lee worked for Turk on a freelance basis, and ended up investing money in the company. They are now business partners.

The business opened in October 1995 and didn’t turn a profit for four years. In 2000, the company was pulling in $5 million a year.

The Alhambra-based designer and CEO now has stores in Palm Springs, Los Angeles and New York City. In its 11th year, the company makes $30 million a year and has 85 employees.

Trina Turk headquarters are tucked away on the west side of Alhambra, in an industrial area that’s only minutes from downtown Los Angeles and the garment district.

The airy and minimalist space is quiet and relaxed. For a recent interview, Turk wore trends of the moment: a white dress shirt, black pencil skirt, wide black belt and high, round-toe suede pumps.

The San Francisco native has lived all over California, and currently makes her home in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.

The relaxed L.A. style is definitely reflected in her work.

Turk is known for her use of bold, colorful prints packed into retro-mod designs. The look of her clothing line is bright and carefree, yet sophisticated. She gravitates to graphic patterns, and is enamored with the optimism and simple silhouettes of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Patterned fabric is a signature element, Turk said. Yet not every woman can pull off these daring pieces, she said.

“To wear our patterns, you have to have a certain amount of self-confidence,” Turk said. “It’s pretty bold. You have to be able to wear the print, so it doesn’t wear you.”

The look of the Orient also finds its way into her designs every season. Turk credits her interest in that to her mother, who is Japanese; her father is of European descent.

Inspiration can come from a piece of a kimono as well as a vintage garment.

Turk is adding a mens’ clothing line, which she plans to market to major department stores such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s along with her women’s line. Her clothing and accessories can be found in boutiques throughout Los Angeles, including Kitson, a hip store on Robertson Boulevard on the West Side.

Turk sets her own hours and said she usually does yoga or pilates in the morning, arriving at her Alhambra office at 10. Then she puts in a nine-hour day, and occasionally works on weekends.

“I make sure everything is cohesive, and one clear impression,” Turk said. “The day-to-day problems are my least favorite it bogs you down.” Life is one big design project for Turk, and she hopes to bring her bold yet feminine aesthetic to home furnishings one day.

“I love graphic and interior design, but don’t know much about it, so I get to learn more,” she said.

For now, she indulges her love of architecture and interior design to her stores.

Many fashion students tell her they want to start their own lines as soon as they graduate, but Turk advises them to work for others before they strike out on their own.

“What got me to start was the idea of retiring and thinking, what would have it been like to start my own company?” Turk said. “I knew I didn’t want to be in the position of wondering. So I went ahead and found out.

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