The Modern Muse of the Day: Karen

Karen Soka

  • Hello what’s your name and what do you do?

My full name is Karen J De Freitas- Fraser. I am the Designer and Creative Director of the Brand Soka and Charles & Olive.

Professionally I also work under the name of Josephine De Freitas.  It is my second name but I use it specifically when it comes to my artwork and styling work.

I’m also the Founding Director of The Kevin Squared Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation, dedicated to bringing innovative methods to alleviating challenges of cancer warriors in the Caribbean.

By day I’m also a teacher (pays my student loans).

  • How do stay motivated? Do you have a mantra that you tell yourself regularly? 
I listen to so many podcasts, from the Bodega boys to the Friendzone, Soul Sessions to Daymond John. I’m inspired by listening to people’ stories.  I also try to read as much as I can, from the Alchemist, to history books or I try to teach myself things on business and marketing. New ideas come in the process of not knowing and trying to know.
Most importantly  I try to surround myself with like-minded people. I think your tribe is key, especially when you’re struggling.  It’s from your hunger and passion that you will push each other.
Motivation is great to have, comparatively easy to find but discipline is more important to have.Discipline gets you through especially when you have no motivation to do anything. Its the habit of doing things, failing and learning from your failure
  • What are you passionate about? 
Too many things honestly. I’m generally curious, so I always want to try new things and sometimes I always have to check myself to stay focused! I want to do everything.
Music is a huge passion for me, it drives my mood and my headphones are always in. I kinda wish I was more involved in it. I once toyed with the idea of being a DJ.
Even though I’m more of an introvert, I’m really interested in people and behavior, History and culture. I was either going to be Historian or a designer. Most of my collections are based on research of culture but I focus on telling the stories of Caribbean people. We have built nations in the background, so I’m working to bring us to the forefront.
And of course, I just like to create. There is something spiritual about the process of thinking something, sketching it out, and creating it with your hands.  Maybe it is a God complex. 
  •  What made you create your business? Why did you start?
After returning home to the Caribbean after college, there was simply no jobs for the creative person here. It’s either you work in the tourism field or you work for the Government. So I couldn’t just apply to be a designer at any company. So I had to create My own lane for myself.
  •  What made you do it,  what was the idea?
When I developed my brand, I wanted to speak to and for a female that I think is being ignored by most designer brands. I want to dress women who don’t fit into the Eurocentric idea of beauty.
My woman is bodacious, She is unapologetic in showing off her curves. She is a young female of diverse backgrounds. She is anomalous, and she assimilates well in this concrete jungle but still holds her own, being aware of her roots.

 

  • Tell us about your journey. What were the biggest challenges you ever faced?
After graduating from high school, I didn’t have the funds to go directly to college. So in the meantime, I worked as a French teacher, I also was a self-taught designer.  I began to produce my own fashion show at the time.  I knew I needed to know my craft to be the best designer I could be, so I saved money to go to Parsons the New school of design. 
I took every opportunity I could while living in New York . I first interned as a stylist at Bullett Magazine . I was a design intern at Alice and Olivia , Yigal Azrouel , Bibhu Mohapatra and Zac Posen . I began to work as a freelance stylist for photographers around New York . Then I graduated, I couldn’t find a job in time. I  then returned to Saint -Vincent to serve out my bond, which placed me back as a teacher here.
I started Soka in 2015, after producing my thesis collection, and worked on growing it out of the Caribbean. I have been featured on Vogue.com , Haarpers Bazaar Serbia , Ellements Magazine and seen on the runway of Brooklyn Fashion week and Bermuda Fashion Festival. I have dressed Shiona Turini, Nailiah Blackman and Dej Loaf.
The same year, I  was named one of the top 10 best Caribbean designers and 2 years later, won the  Karib Nation; designer award of innovation and excellence.
In 2016 I launched Charles + Olive, the brother to Soka.
In 2018, I launched my online store Sokanow , working to make Soka more accessible.
In the Caribbean, fashion still isn’t seen as a viable industry, so a lot of infrastructures and financial backing is missing.  I do everything by myself, from production to marketing to PR. Even though it’s draining, It’s forcing me to understand this business inside out.
 
In 2012 and 2016, I lost both my cousin and uncle to different forms of Cancer. Dealing with this loss and the frustration of dealing with health care, I wanted to help families; especially because of the lack of oncology in the Caribbean.  Then I formed The Kevin Squared Foundation in 2018.
  • What is inspiring you?
Right now, I’m really into the growth of entrepreneurs, especially of the female persuasion. I see a lot of my peers setting up their own thing, quitting their 9-5’s and going after they want.  That is really inspiring to me.
  • How do you think having a strong personal brand can help your business?

In my case, they’re so many great designers out here. It’s my story that makes me stand out. I honestly have to work more on my personal brand because I get so caught up in building the brand of Soka or the charity, that I leave myself in the shadows.

But I think if someone can connect with the person, their product is so much easier to swallow.
It’s like that for me and a lot of my favorite brands, the persona alone sells me on their merchandise, it’s more being  part of a community. Especially with social media,  a lot of barriers are being stripped back and you feel you are winning with the person and you personally are adding to their success . (proud member of the Bodega Hive)

In my case, they’re so many great designers out here. It’s my story that makes me stand out.
  • What is your message for the ModernMuses community?
Accept your failures, as it is more valuable than succeeding. I struggle a lot with self-doubt. So when I feel like I failed, I have to take a step back and look at the situation in its totality. Internalize it, meditate, think of a new game plan and keep it moving.
Also, belief in self is key. Most times, people around don’t understand your dream, so you have to rely on what your vision is, no one else will see it and that’s ok.  Despite what people might say; You’re really not crazy.
Most times, people around don’t understand your dream, so you have to rely on what your vision is, no one else will see it and that’s ok.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
I see myself running a successful international designer brand, on the level of Stella Jean and Alexander Wang.  I see Solange wearing my pieces. My company will also base its production out of the Caribbean, developing infrastructure here.
I see Soka supporting artisans and craftsmen here in the region. I also want to support the arts and fashion here, ability to hire up & coming designers from the region here, developing a scholarship program for aspiring designers through the brand. With The Kevin Squared Foundation, I want to establish an oncology centre in Saint Vincent and train doctors and nurses in oncology.
I’m also working on a book. By then it would be published, along with the blog I am writing.
  • Where can we connect with you?

You can view my website: www.madebysoka.com  and purchase merch from my store: https://sokanow.myshopify.com .

My instagram : officiallysoka .

My twitter/facebook/ youtube : madebysoka.

Or email me directly at madebysoka@gmail.com

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. This is one of my close personal friends and I must say she is quite the inspiration to watch and follow. Her pieces are phenomenal and the energy she puts into her peace’s are truly shown and I can’t wait to see her take over the fashion space not only in the Caribbean but also the world!

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