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Tara Suarez, designer at Iscream, shares her rainbow of expertise.
In Fifth Grade, Tara Suarez wrote her future self a letter as part of a class project. In the letter, she asked whether she had enrolled in art school, and if she still had plans of becoming a designer. When the “time-capsule letters” were finally mailed upon her senior year of high school, Suarez proudly confirmed all her younger ambitions were still on track. Always intending on becoming a designer, Suarez attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a double major in graphic design and advertising. She was hired right out of college by the kids’ lifestyle brand Iscream where she began her dream career as a designer at the brand’s headquarters in Corlandt Manor, New York (about 45 minutes north of New York City). The 110,000-square-foot facility houses the label’s parent company Mines Press Inc.’s printing factory, as well as the Iscream warehouse.
Established in 2007, Iscream has transformed an explosion of color into a line of smile-inducing products for all ages. Started as a collection of lenticular journals, the company has grown to offer everything from pillows and bags to apparel and keychains. With experience designing for the Iscream customer since the brand’s launch, Suarez remarks “Our customer lives for products that make ordinary a little more extraordinary.”
What is most rewarding about being a designer? My daughter is 11, so I see many of her friends wearing our backpacks or T-shirts. It’s so fun to say, ‘Hey, did you know I drew that?’ Just to see how excited they get is very fun and rewarding. We’ve even been on vacation, and my daughter exclaims, ‘Mom, those are your pillows!’ It’s those kind of moments that make you want to keep creating more.
What is the biggest challenge of your job? Coming up with fun ideas every day. You always have to be ready to be creative and to think ahead. The team is constantly forecasting what kids are going to want before the next season hits. Luckily, it’s a small group of us that design, so it’s like a little family. We’re always bouncing ideas off of each other—if you’re not creative one day, somebody else is. We launch new items every four months, so we’re always moving.
Where do you draw inspiration? We really have our own style, so if we stray too much and follow big fashion trends, it can backfire. However, we always keep an eye out for what’s hot now, and then change it to make it our own. It’s important to note what colors are out there, so the runway remains influential for us. We also gain a lot of insight from taking our own kids shopping. Once we find a particular print that works, it typically carries over much of the collection. For instance, if a print does well in the pillow category, we will be inclined to use it in a plush pant or a backpack pattern.
What are your forecasted trends for 2017? When we first started, it seemed that kids were really drawn to the food and candy lines. That is still a big part of our collection, but we’ve expanded to go beyond that now. We have a great line of embroidered pillows and even some items for boys. The boys will love our new junk food line—think potato chips, sodas and pizza. Plus, we did a cool sports line. We also designed a new patchwork story because kids are all about the patches right now, not to mention emoticons are still hot.
Are emojis a new perennial, or do you see them fading soon? Honestly, emoticons don’t seem to be going anywhere. I think what happens is the older kids fade out around the 14-year-old mark, but you know a whole new group of the eight- and nine-year-olds are just starting to use their iPhones with emoticons.
Any specific colorways that are a must for Fall ’17? This year’s focus on patches makes for a good blue story—mostly gray patches on a dark denim. However, we always offer several different colorways because everybody likes something different—that’s what makes the world go ’round! We try to make everyone happy while still maintaining our bright, fun, vibrant voice.
What product has performed exceptionally well over the last few seasons? I’d have to say our initial pillows that we launched a few years ago were outstanding. We worked really hard on those to pick great patterns—a candy theme. We offered all the letters in the alphabet. Kids loved them, plus they made great gifts for birthday parties or Christmas. We even used the print on our micro-bead pillows, which ultimately led to scented options. Today kids love that their chocolate chip cookie pillow smells like a real chocolate chip cookie.
How was business in 2016? Really great. We designed a lot of new product, always looking ahead. We also have a lot of key accounts coming to us. It’s always a great thing to have them come to you.
Anything in the pipeline this year? For 2017, we also have a great new line of bags. One of the trend sites we follow said tactile and mixed fabrics are going to be in, so we incorporated that into our line with fur. Some of the furry bags even had the emoticon faces embroidered on them. In addition, we have a line of clear bags coming out for the beach or sleepovers.
What’s your New Year’s resolution? Just to keep working hard and having fun along the way. If you have fun and avoid overthinking, you will make everybody happy by doing what makes you happy. In that case, work isn’t work and things just come easy.