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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New York Fashion Week beckons for Spokane designer Sofia Mantoni

LO Boutique owner Sofia Mantoni is among 10 new designers selected by a New York-based boutique to showcase their work during New York Fashion Week next month. Mantoni is also an architect and speaks three languages. Here, she stands in her shop at 11921 N. Division St. in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Sofia Mantoni believes fashion design is about helping people look and feel confident.

“I think everybody has their own style and that your clothes should reflect that,” the Spokane resident said. “The more aligned you are between your outer and internal self, the better you perform in whatever it is you do.”

Mantoni, an architect and owner of LO Boutique in north Spokane, is among 10 independent designers selected from hundreds of applicants worldwide by Flying Solo – a New York-based boutique operated by a collective of fashion designers – to participate in its runway show at Pier 59 Studios during New York Fashion Week.

Mantoni is showcasing eight runway looks in Flying Solo’s Feb. 8 fashion show alongside the collective’s established designers. She will also participate in meet-and-greet events and interviews with fashion magazines such as Vogue, Nylon and Marie Claire.

“I’m looking forward to having a good time and taking advantage of all the opportunities there,” Mantoni said. “I’m very excited about this. It was really a surprise for me.”

Mantoni found out about Flying Solo’s “Ones to Watch” competition through watching an interview with a designer. She decided to look up the collective for more information.

Mantoni’s husband and business partner, Sergio, also encouraged her to apply for the competition. The application process required Mantoni to send in pictures and sketches of her garment designs.

Flying Solo launched its “Ones to Watch” competition seven years ago. This year, the competition drew about 200 applicants whose designs were reviewed by a panel of industry experts, said Elizabeth Solomeina, the cooperative’s founder.

“Sofia’s designs are unique. They are very wearable, and we believe they are relevant,” Solomeina said. “We believe there is editorial appeal for the pieces and there is definitely potential (for the pieces) to be noticed by press and for editorial photo shoots.”

Mantoni, who grew up in Argentina, has has always loved design – whether it be creating homes, furniture or clothing.

“I am a design freak. I am this person that needs to design everything. I’ve been like that since I can recall,” she said, adding she learned to sew as a child. “I’ve (designed) houses, furniture and cutlery, so clothes wasn’t an exception for me.”

Mantoni balanced her work as an architect with creating clothing for herself, friends, family and others.

If she couldn’t find a garment in a store, she would create it.

“People started asking, ‘Where did you get that? And I said, ‘I made it,’” said Mantoni, adding Sergio suggested fashion design could be a viable business.

The Mantonis and their five children moved to Park City, Utah, four years ago in search of more opportunities. They launched an online clothing business but wanted to expand it to a brick-and-mortar store in a midsized city.

The Mantonis visited the Pacific Northwest and fell in love with the area. The couple purchased a home in north Spokane and opened LO Boutique at 11921 N. Division St. in October.

Mantoni creates statement pieces – like fur vests – and minimalistic garments with subtle embellishments that have universal appeal. The garments are featured in exclusive lines with limited runs.

“You’ll probably see two pieces of each size and when that is sold out, it’s sold out. We are going to have to create a new piece,” she said. “With blue jeans, it could be an exception, but the rest of the pieces are pretty unique.”

Mantoni said it takes about six months to create a complete garment line and when identifying trends for the upcoming season, she relies on her intuition.

“For instance, I didn’t like leopard print. I thought it was cheap. But, I suddenly started to like it and when that happens – it’s kind of before it’s going to go on trend,” she said. “The same thing happens with colors and styles.”

Mantoni is part of a U.S. fashion design industry that is expected to generate more than $2.5 billion in 2020, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm.

Not New York, but …

Washington is among five states with the highest concentration of jobs in fashion design, trailing New York, California, Oregon and Maine, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The fashion industry in the Pacific Northwest might not be as robust as New York or Los Angeles – both of which have garment districts – but it’s growing. Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama and REI are headquartered in Seattle as well as couture designer Luly Yang, who created a uniform collection for Alaska Airlines in 2018.

Fashion design can be a tough industry to break into because of competition and fast-changing trends. But, it’s possible for designers – through persistence, careful budgeting and connections with bloggers and social media influencers – to create buzz for their fashion brands, said Jaeil Lee, professor and chair of the apparel design and merchandising program at Seattle Pacific University.

Seattle Pacific University, along with Seattle Central College and Washington State University, offer degree programs in apparel design.

The stigma that fashion designers need to be based in New York to gain exposure for their work doesn’t necessarily carry weight anymore, said Margaret King, regional director for The Fashion Group International of Seattle, a nonprofit consisting of fashion industry professionals.

“We still have a very vibrant design community. Do we necessarily go for national contests? Not always,” she said. “But our organization, Fashion Group International, does hold a Rising Star (awards) program every year in New York, and they look for talent all over America and help them with funds to do collections and get them in front of buyers.”

The organization also has a program that pairs young designers with mentors to prepare them for careers in the fashion industry.

Mantoni’s goal is to expand her fashion brand to Seattle, Boston, New York and Vancouver, B. C. – in no particular order.

“I’m looking forward to opening more stores in cities that are bigger and getting the brand to what we dreamed it would be – a great brand with stores all over the world,” she said. “That’s what we really want. Why not dream big?”