Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Alumna’s line goes from Shirt Shop to ‘Gossip Girl’

Lauren Leonard doesn’t even need to go to one of the 150 boutiques around the country that sell her collection to see the clothes she designed. All the Tuscaloosa native and 2006 Alabama graduate needs to do is turn on the TV.

“The first time I saw my clothes on television was on ‘Gossip Girl,’” Leonard said. “You know you’ve reached a certain level of success when you’re selling to so many stores, but there’s a whole legitimacy that people see you with when they see your clothes on a show like that.”

Leonard has lived in Atlanta, Ga., Nashville, Tenn., and most recently New York City, N.Y., to cultivate her clothing line, Leona. The collection has appeared on “Gossip Girl” and “90210.”

Leonard grew up in Tuscaloosa, attending Tuscaloosa County High School and then The University of Alabama. Her parents encouraged her to cultivate her artistic talents at a young age.

“My mother was always sewing clothes for us,” Leonard said. “She and my father both were very artistic, so that was a lot of our time spent together was doing art projects like painting and drawing. I knew how to use pastels and charcoal when I was like 5 years old. That really was my first love.”

OVERSET FOLLOWS:Leonard worked in local boutiques around town starting at age 16, where she learned about the business side of fashion.

“I started working at the Shirt Shop freshman year [of college],” Leonard said. “That’s when I really got into the buying process and helped build their women’s department and really sort of learned what it took to manage a budget and really analyzing what the customer is looking for and understanding how and why things perform on a retail level. It was a really important experience.”

The Shirt Shop went on to be the first boutique to carry Leona’s first collection, a gameday collection. They are now the only store that carries Leona’s gameday attire.

“We felt like with her talent and drive it would work,” Laura Spurlin, co-owner of The Shirt Shop, said. “I’ve never seen anyone except my husband work so hard. I just felt like it would be a winner. There were a few hits and a few misses, but we made money and she made money off of it so it worked.”

Spurlin said Leonard was important to the buying process at The Shirt Shop when she was a student at the University.

“She was obviously very up on fashion trends,” Spurlin said. “Her knowledge of so many aspects of the fashion industry helped us market. When you’re in this business it’s important to know all these trends.”

Leonard keeps in touch with the Spurlins at The Shirt Shop, often hosting trunk shows at the Tuscaloosa location.

“Local boutiques will always be the bread and butter of our business,” Leonard said. That’s where our customers are. The Shirt Shop, they really supported me when I was starting my business. We see them as an integral part of why we continue to grow and have these solid relationships with Leona customers that are wearing our clothes.”

Leonard majored in fashion design at the University and was a member of Phi Mu. Sue Parker, professor emerita in the department of clothing and textiles, said she is proud of Leonard’s success since she left the Capstone.

“As we teach there are certain students who stand out, who have a focus, and Lauren also was a person that she seemed to have a goal, a direction,” Parker said. “She knew that she would like to have her own line of garments.”

Leonard said she is thankful for her time spent in the University’s apparel design program, but did not create her first collection until after college in spring 2008. She chalks the rise in popularity amongst fashion-related majors up to the glamorous lifestyles portrayed on television.

“I think all of the television shows like Project Runway, Fashion Star, Rachel Zoe — all of these things have really shed light on the fashion industry, so it’s really becoming more popular for people to want to pursue the career that what seems like the very glamorous industry portrayed on television,” Leonard said.

Although Leonard moved to the fashion touchstone city, a paradigm of glamour, she stresses the real life struggles faced, as with any entrepreneurial endeavor.

“Of course there are aspects of the industry that are glamorous, especially with luxury brands,” Leonard said. “Fashion is a business like any other. We deal with the same issues as any other industry. Magazines, television, fashion labels, we are all doing the same thing: selling an aspirational lifestyle. I am very lucky in that I am truly passionate about all of the nitty-gritty details of the business. If I wasn’t, then there is no way I would’ve made it past my first year with a smile on my face.”

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