The Crimson White

UA alum to be featured in Vancouver fashion week

Photo courtesy of Caroline Ruder

Christina Ausley

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By Christina Ausley | Staff Writer

Four years ago Caroline Ruder sat on the floor of her sorority house bedroom dreaming of becoming a designer. She was armed with nothing more than a needle, some thread and a couple rolls of fabric. 

Now, no more than four years later, she is preparing to fly her collection across the continent for Vancouver Fashion Week, where thousands of notable eyes will view and cover her completed work. Ruder, a 2016 UA graduate and fashion guru, has now turned her dreams into reality.

“Honestly, I didn’t even have a sewing machine yet and I didn’t know how to hand-sew either,” Ruder said. “I just woke up one day, decided I wanted to do this and I worked my butt off until it happened, no matter what.”

A marketing major with a specialization in entrepreneurship, Ruder found herself fighting an internal battle skimming through nothing more than a stack of business cards following a routine UA career fair.

“Initially I wasn’t thinking fashion, it was just marketing or accounting, so I figured okay I’ll get some semi-creative marketing or business internship and go from there,” Ruder said. “Then the fair came along and I’m walking around and I became extremely overwhelmed with the honest truth that I didn’t want to do any of these things, and I immediately feared I had messed up my entire college experience and education.”

Ruder did what many conflicted college juniors would do and called her ultimate go-to: her mom. 

“She asked me two simple questions, the first of which was what one thing I wanted to do with my life, and in a split second I knew fashion,” Ruder said. “Then she asked me how I was going to make it happen, and I started piecing things together, both the puzzle of my dream and the physical scraps of fabric.”

Simultaneously completing her Master’s in Fine Arts degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and running her full-time line “Caroline Ann Designs,” Ruder has challenged herself since the day she decided to make her dream a reality, regardless of her experience or uncertainty. 

“I had never put any kind of garment together before, but I just sat there on my floor and taught myself how to hand-sew my first ever piece and when it was finished I just thought ‘Okay, I’d wear this in public,’” Ruder said. “And then my roommate came in and she just said the simplest idea yet greatest metaphor that I’ve carried with me since in stating ‘You’re making something usable and wearable and cool from something that, just a few days ago, was nothing.'”

That roommate of two years was Drew Hartt, Ruder’s friend and fellow UA graduate. 

“Our tiny room was a mess as fabric and thread was all over the floor after she made her first piece,” Hartt said. “Yet, she had created the first piece that would lead to where she is, a beautifully successful designer, working incredibly hard to follow her dream.” 

So, Ruder began wearing her pieces to chapter meetings. After receiving lots of positive feedback and custom orders, she developed her client base and social media presence. In preparing her portfolio and applying to SCAD, she locked herself in night after night until she succeeded in her pieces.

“I just learned on the fly and pushed myself to try more and more new things that were required in the portfolio because I didn’t want to be one of those people who don’t follow through with these crazy ideas our mind comes up with,” Ruder said. “And then I had my portfolio ready, and I hit send.”

In February of that year, Ruder came one step closer to her dream as she received her congratulatory acceptance from SCAD.

“It was incredibly validating when I realized that this thing I had taken a huge risk on to pursue, something that could’ve completely fell through, turned out to be amazing,” she said. 

Ruder was never just about simple patterns and materials, however. Within a year at SCAD she was creating a red-carpet fundraising gala dress for Georgia Pacific, entirely out of napkins. 

“My marketing experience kicked in, I pitched my idea, they gave me the job and before I knew it my mom was helping me transport this huge napkin dress to the gala,” Ruder said.

Sure enough, the dress received an immense amount of positive attention and feedback. Now, she carries her signature in unconventional materials through the Vancouver line she currently has underway.

“This collection is really about taking random things beyond fabric, even like cheap gold cupcake tins, and transforming them into something beautiful,” Ruder said. “So going along with that concept, my collection highlights the transformative qualities of women, what they go through and how they develop into something really quite stunning.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Ruder, however, as she has worked to push her dream into the realm of possibility.

“In the beginning I had a hard time reconciling how my brain works, because I can have this great methodical and strategic left brain for business, but a super right brain creative side, and I was always shifting back and forth figuring myself out,” Ruder said. “It took me being honest with myself about what I truly wanted to do and giving myself permission to take on what seemed like such a distant dream to make things happen.”

Over time, Ruder allowed her passions within accounting, marketing and business to compliment her work, though her first love remains fashion. 

“Caroline has truly found her niche and calling designing clothes and it’s beautiful to watch happen,” said Camilla Grier, a UA graduate, sixth grade teacher, friend of Ruder and frequent client. “The first piece she ever made for someone was a black velvet hand-sewn dress for a black-tie Christmas party for my family, and it was so incredible I now have three other dresses.”

In the hopes of one day owning her own fashion line and business, Ruder continues to motivate other young artists, musicians and students to follow their true love throughout and beyond the college experience, no matter what it may be.

“Tons of people grow up saying they want to do something big or they have these wild dreams, but how many people actually go and do it, or even put the work in for it?” Ruder said. “Just go for it. If you’re really passionate about something, just sit down and figure out how to do it, because half the battle is simply putting the work in.”

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UA alum to be featured in Vancouver fashion week