Carter and Powell reimagines denim for creative fashionistas

Photo courtesy: Carter & Powell
Photo courtesy: Carter & Powell

“Send us your denim and we give you back Picasso babe!” –@carterandpowell

Carter & Powell is Chicago’s first denim and soul brand completely dedicated to originality. Customers are encouraged to send their denim for distressing, patch working and painting for it to be transformed to wearable artwork and threaded with inspired strands.

The denim upcycling company is three years old but draws wisdom and savvy from the combined 11 years of experience between its partners.

Meet the owners of Carter & Powell’s customized denim and repair venture.

What is your background in fashion?
Carter: We both started from youth, I was interested in fashion and would sketch out designs. I created the school t-shirts for my graduating class. I was bit by the fashion bug and was began to dream of having my own line. Later down the line, I owned Haut Boutique. I sold the company after three years and then began working for Ralph Lauren which has really allowed me to stay involved in fashion.
Steven: I started out studying English, but ended up at Parsons studying fashion design. During this time, I was blessed to be mentored by Oswald Boateng and Nana Boateng.

What was the tipping point when you decided you were going to be a fashion designer?
Carter: For me it was when I designed a T-shirt and it sold out immediately. I realized it could be a viable business and I began to have an impact on local fashion.
Steven: When I single handedly made a vest for a school project. I fell in love with making garments by hand and knew it was for me. Fast forward to meeting each other at Ralph Lauren. The moment that created Carter and Powell, we were at 53rd street in a room with family and we created a jean for me that had creative influence from guys in the room. When I wore them out in public, it got a lot of attention, including from my mentors Oswald and Nana. They reached out to us and asked if we could do a particular jean for them. What we didn’t know was that it was being created for Terry Crews and then for Forest Whitaker. At that point, we had to figure how we were going to bring this mainstream.

What’s the worst fashion trend you ever bought into? Biggest fashion regret.
Steven: The worst one for me was the towel coat. It was the worst because I never thought something someone dries himself off with would be worn as a garment. It was super-hot, blazing (laughs)
Carter: I would say that I bought into the whole buying jeans three sizes larger than my waist size. All of that product fits you like a dress, it was not a proper fit. And people are attracted to a proper fit. The baggy jean, hoodie, Timberland look from the 90’s. You can be a size 30, but had a size 36.

What is the weirdest thing that inspires your work?
Carter: At Carter and Powell, it’s about the inspiration of the customer. It’s about what they want and working it into the fold which can be hard sometimes. One of our clients, their inspiration was “Ambition”. It was hard to express and we did not know how to approach it at first, but we were able to figure it out.

How do you go about selecting materials for the latest collection?
Steven: We go by forecasting, we watch out for trends and are inspired by African Heritage.
Carter: Our selection process also includes customer provided inventory. You can send us your jacket, jeans or shirts and we send you back art. It really allows us to create something unique and special based on the canvas that the customer provides.

Do you have any fashion collaborations coming up? What about commissions?
Steven: Yes, we have a fashion collaboration coming up with Leaders 1354. We also have a collaboration possibly with Zo from Fashion Geeks.
Carter: We are currently at the Silver Room in Hyde Park. We have some display pieces for customers to order custom pieces. Customers will be able to have something that is one of one.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Carter: “Style is a very personal matter” – Ralph Lauren. At Carter and Powell, we really embrace that by using their product they want. At Ralph, that culture is an underlying thing.

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received and put into action?
Carter: When we first started, we were told we should charge people $1K to modify their jeans. We got some feedback and had to go back to the drawing board and change direction. So, we did our first orders for free. After we did so many free orders, we realized what people were willing to pay and structured it around that. It was really about what the people wanted and not what people think you should charge.

What’s your favorite piece or collection? Why do you consider it a treasure?
Steven: The oxford shirt that we created for a client. The oxford is a classic piece historically driven to fame by Ralph Lauren. To modify a classic within the Carter and Powell format speaks volumes.
Carter: I like it too because we did this casually. We added our signature three dots and in the end, the moment verified that this was what we should be doing. It was natural and it was beautiful. It’s great because it can be dressed up or down.

What is the last place you traveled to? Did it spark anything in terms of fashion?
Steven: South of France – Saint-Tropez. It inspired color palettes, textures, and style. The beauty of the silhouette fit.

What do you like most about spring/summer fashion?
C/P: The colors, people get more creative in the summer time. The ladies dress more sexy and the guys lighten up the layers. Summer fashion always has a higher energy because people anticipate summer, especially coming from the Chicago winters.

What do you like most about fall fashion?
C/P: The use of textures and the layers, you get to wear scarves, jackets and accessories. Carter and Powell’s fall is really influence by the army fatigue jackets. We get to experiment with army fatigue, the trench coach and denim jackets. Really creating staple pieces.

What do you do to start your day on a positive note?
Carter: I mediate daily, listen to binaural beats and burn sage. I also take a few moments to reflect on things I’m grateful for.
Steven: Getting up early to go on a run to really get my mind and body aligned for the day.

If we entered your work studio, what would we find?
C/P: Whiskey, denim, paint and tons of tools. Sage and green. Music.

What would embarrass you the most?
Steven: What would embarrass us is putting the wrong inspiration request on someone’s pieces. It’s really important to us to incorporate things that make them feel the best when wearing the custom pieces.

What is your biggest fashion pet peeve?
Carter: Not dressing for your body type and being too match-y. I think that when you dress too match-y, you don’t have the contrast that is important to make things pleasing to the eye.
Steven: And when you wear clothes that don’t fit your body type, you have to keep readjusting it, it looks like you are having a fight with your clothes instead of a flow.

What excites you about the holiday season?
Carter: Disposable income. (laugh). People have a lot more money to spend to give art to their families and friends. We get to share more customer pieces with the world. It’s really all about the spirit of giving.

Every woman should own…
Steven: A Carter and Powell Jacket.

Every man should own…
Steven: A Carter and Powell outerwear piece. People deserve to have something custom, unique and one of one.

If you had an extra hour in a day, how would you spend it?
Carter:Reflecting on all of the things I am grateful for and preparing for the next day. At Carter and Powell, preparation is key to a smooth process.

Find them on Instagram: @carterandpowell

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