An exclusive interview with the founders of GOCA, Chicago based fashion label and the first featured designer in the Fashion Industry Mixer series.
GOCA is a women’s luxury clothing label that emphasizes the importance of duality. Each of one of the collections focuses on an obscure truth and attempts to bring that obscurity into clarity. The overall focus of the label is to open the audience to the idea that perception is reality, and that not everything has a solidified perspective, but that all goods may also be evils, and that all truths may even be lies.
Interview with Gordana Rasic
Gordana, I am aware that you are in school for pre-med… How does fashion and pre-med coincide? What prompted you to get into fashion?
Gordana Rasic: With pre-med, I take many courses that look at various scenarios and require a critical analysis to derive a solution. It is that “puzzle” perspective that interests me, and brings together these very different worlds. Doctors, specifically those specializing in neurobiology, have set “puzzle pieces” lying in front of them, and it is up to those doctors to put together the pieces for the desired image. That applies for fashion. I see that I have various “puzzle pieces” or fabric, set in front of me. And it is up to my imagination and understanding of fashion to put together the pieces for the desired design. But oddly enough, I did not enter fashion because of that striving passion and desire. I continue it now for my passion and duties as an artist to speak for the people, but originally, this career path was truly sudden. I began this because my grandmother used to design, and before I could even show her my first collection, she sadly passed away.
“I see that I have various “puzzle pieces” or fabric, set in front of me. And it is up to my imagination and understanding of fashion to put together the pieces for the desired design.”
Was it hard breaking into the fashion industry?
Gordana: Yes, very much indeed. The difficulty was not so much in having faith in your work, but getting others to have faith in your work. At times, before even a staff was implemented, I remember emailing ten different magazine/fashion resources for a feature or collaboration. I received only one response. That was a “No Thank You.”
What hurdles and trials you had to face, and perhaps still facing, while getting your label off the ground?
Gordana: I would say some key trials and hurdles would be financially being able to support travel and production costs. While Omar and I have side jobs to bring income into the situation, we do have school and family that provide obstacles for us needing to overcome. We want to serve as artists of Chicago and want to do it by supporting ourselves. So yes, financially, it was very difficult to start up the label and receive the credit we desired.
“It is our duty as artists that keep us pushing through difficult times.”
What keeps you going?
Gordana: It is our duty as artists that keep us pushing through difficult times. This is a career path that truly makes me happy and alleviates my stress. Nothing else can grant me the same pleasure as seeing a client wearing one of my gowns, radiating internal beauty and confidence. It is an image I grandly cherish and continue to work hard after. It is also that, I want the clothes to inspire generations. I want the audience to obtain something from the collection, knowledge, questions, answers, wisdom, beauty or just an overall respect for the fashion industry. That is what motivates me the most.
What were the breakthrough points of GOCA?
Gordana: The breakthrough point of GOCA would be the RAW Artist Showcase. It was not until that showcase that we were able to meet the wonderful photographer, Kirsten Miccoli and have her shoot our campaign. It was the combination of being featured in Chicago and having campaign prints that legitimized and accredited the label with more respect and demand. Yet there were many grand and kind souls that aided us on our journey, but I feel that it was these two points that allowed us to meet such amazing people.
What’s in the name? How did you come up with GOCA? What does it stand for?
Gordana: GOCA originally was a nickname for “Gordana” in Serbia. I thought it was concise and that it had an appealing sound when the name was said. But I wasn’t in love with it. Not until I realized that there are two ways to pronounce it, and I loved both methods. (Goat-za or Go-kah) The idea that no one truly knows how to pronounce the name excites me. I don’t want people to know the proper pronunciation. I want them to explore and pick which version they like. After all, this label is a message for the people, so why not provide room for their voice to be invested into it as well.
Tell me about the ‘GOCA woman’. Who are you designing for?
Gordana: The GOCA woman is a woman who is inviting, yet warning. Beautiful, yet ugly. Smart, yet foolish. She is a woman that is multi-faceted and that no phrase can be created to justly describe her. She is a combination of opposites that makes you ponder. You cannot determine if you despise her or are infatuated with her. She possesses so many dimensions, that one look, one conversation, one hand shake from her is not enough. You want to know more and explore the adventures she has journeyed across.
“My goal is expose to society that perception is reality, and that there is always duality embedded in our thoughts, actions and lives.”
Where do you find your inspirations?
Gordana: The inspirations for the collections are found in our every day lives. My goal is expose to society that perception is reality, and that there is always duality embedded in our thoughts, actions and lives. I believe that the best conversation I have had, has often been with myself. And it is during those evaluative and self-reflective conversations, that I come across duality in a specific scenario. I pull and pull and pull once more, until I find this truth that I discovered, can be presented to the audience as a message and ensure that we all can learn from it.
What inspired your Fall collection?
Gordana: My father’s battle with cancer inspired the Fall/Winter Collection (2011): Anatomy of the Human Soul. He was struggling with difficulties in his abdominal region and remarked how valuable these organs are, when not so long ago, he invested no value to them. I began thinking of what I considered a vital organ and began to realize that much of what I valued, those body parts were not physically vital to the body. But they were vital in societal terms, and had a more soulful vitality. And that is where the collection was born: In efforts of redefining the term “vital organ” into societal and soulful means than just physical means.
“I do wish I understood that fashion, though much of it is art, a grand portion of it is business.”
What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were starting out?
Gordana: I do wish I understood that fashion, though much of it is art, a grand portion of it is business. One must see the importance in business etiquette, documentations and just overall the interworking between people and establishing that professional relationship. If people see that you are beginning and grateful for things that more experienced people often aren’t left in trance of awe, then someone may see that as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the situation.
What are your future goals and aspirations for GOCA?
Gordana: For GOCA, I strive for one day, the label to be a household name. Not for a specific trend or financial status, but for the fact that we are a label that strives to reincarnate the fashion industry as a world of art. That designers are not the celebrities, but that we are representatives for the people. I live, I dream and I experience so that I may be able to tell a story to the people about a truth we may not know about.
Who is behind GOCA?
Gordana: Omar Villalobos and I are the main players behind GOCA. It is quite rare to find someone that not only do you appreciate their work, but also that you enjoy working with them. And that is something special that I share with Omar, and I feel, could with no one else. We both lack professional education and training in the fashion realm, but what we do possess is our drive, passion and work ethic. That is something we greatly respect from one another.
Interview with Omar Villalobos
I hear you started in film and switched to fashion. What influenced you to change?
Omar Villalobos: I’ve always had a desire for fashion, being that my mother was a seamstress at a young age, so it wasn’t like my passion for it came out of the blue. I took some film courses in high school and fell in love with such intricate form of art – I easily spent hours in front of the computer editing, criticizing movies, and so forth. However, when I actually enrolled into the film program at Columbia, I realized that film was a form of art much different than what meets the eye. Film did not only require beautiful visuals, but it also required lots of detailed thinking, meticulous planning, and a lot of time. During the year, my love for film was dying – don’t get me wrong I love every bit of it – but I couldn’t see film as my lifelong career. I was nervous to switch into fashion, since I had never really studied it, but that was the only other form of art I loved. Therefore, I took it upon myself to establish my name here in the Chicago fashion scene before starting my fashion courses at Columbia – which I’ll be starting this Fall. From what I’ve done, I can honestly tell you that I absolutely love every bit of fashion – I breath, read, live fashion. It makes me happy.
How did you get involved with GOCA?
Omar: I met Gordana Rasic at a friend’s get-together. That was the first time meeting each other, and within minutes, we got along great. We spoke about our interests and hobbies, and that’s when fashion came up. She told me she was a designer and I told her I was studying Fashion Marketing, so we agreed to collaborate – thinking nothing of it. However, we spent one weekend together and I must say that’s when we really hit it off. She took time into her designs while I helped critic them, she scheduled meetings while I planned collaborations, and she created while I made sure to stay informed about amazing opportunities. And here we are today – we both work well together, and we like to be referred as GOCA. Not individually, not just her, not just me–we’re GOCA. It took the both of us to create this fashion label.
You operate on virtually no budget. What are your marketing tactics for the company?
Omar: We have some mechanics that we stand by. Mechanics that set us different from other businesses, fashion labels, whatever the case is. Now of course I won’t say what those are, but what I will say is that we like to give everything our 100%. We don’t deliver half of what’s expected from us, we deliver all of what’s expected. We’re a womenswear line that strives to empower women for who they are, and not for how they look. Our pieces make one feel beautiful no matter what the circumstance. Every woman is a GOCA image to our fashion label – no one is left behind. Soon enough we’ll have a menswear line, so stay tuned!
What is your typical day like?
Omar: Wow, there is no typical day for GOCA – seriously. I’m always running around, catching this meeting or that one, pretty much staying on top of things. But a usual day: wake up at 6AM, read Chicago Tribune, Red Eye, WWD, and so forth–staying connected about issues in your community and the world is very important, since some of those issues are what inspires many designers–while also replying or sending out emails. Around 9AM, I go to school. Around 12PM, I’m running around the city meeting with clients, designers, writers, and potential collaborations. At times, I’m assisting at shoots by being that creative eye, such as styling, creative directing, and so forth. Around 8PM, I come home and check my email once again, and write articles for my blog or magazines I work for. Around 10PM, you catch me doing homework (blah!), and by 12AM I’m usually in bed.
What’s your advice for people interested in fashion PR or those switching to the fashion industry?
Omar: My best advice is to love it. A lot of people ask me the same question and my answer is always the same. In order for you to be good at what you do, you must love it and love it hard. Fashion isn’t just a career, it’s a lifestyle – a lifestyle that requires more than an hour shift to fulfill. Fashion is constantly changing and updating, so you have to make sure you stay on top of things. Also, read your magazines, learn your designers, and always take a little time to go crazy and be creative. Don’t feel restricted about anything (not even your age), fashion is what you make of it. You are your own designer, your own brand, your own person – so never let anyone tell you how to draw this or draw that. Your hunger and determination for fashion will take you very far.