Fashion Moment

Vice President Kamala Harris' great-nieces

Vice President Kamala Harris' great-nieces, Amara, 4, and Leela, 2, in their iloveplum jackets at the inauguration (Photo courtesy Meena Harris)

Cold Spring resident sketched inauguration jackets

Susan Trotiner-Conway, who lives in Cold Spring, is the director of production for iloveplum, a Brooklyn-based girls’ clothing maker. Her illustrations of two jackets created in homage to those worn as children by Vice President Kamala Harris and her sister, Maya Harris, were selected by Maya’s daughter, Meena, for her two daughters — the vice president’s great-nieces — to wear to the Jan. 20 inauguration in Washington, D.C. 

Susan Trotiner-Conway

Susan Trotiner-Conway

How did this fashion moment happen?
We keep a running list of people and brands we should collaborate with. Working with influencers is key right now. A few weeks before the inauguration, the girls [Amara, 4, and Leela, 2] came up during on one of our weekly chats — we sent a lot of samples to generate social media mentions. We sent a package to Meena, and she posted a photo on Instagram of Amara in one of our tutus. 

While brainstorming about the inauguration, we looked at all sorts of historical pictures and came across this photo of Kamala and her sister as children wearing matching leopard coats. We were planning on making dresses until we saw the photograph. We thought, “How great would that be for Meena to dress them in a way that calls back to their [Kamala and Maya’s] childhood?” The head of iloveplum, Alexia Canza-Williams, messaged Meena, and we made a presentation with the photo and my illustrations of the girls wearing the coats. Meena replied, “Yes, as long as they’re warm!” 

We knew they had to be soft and cozy, so we lined the hood with [faux] fur. We weren’t sure how many other people had reached out — there are so many more famous brands, and Meena is part of the scene. We couldn’t imagine she would pick us. We thought, “We’re a women-only startup but there must be others offering more.”

photo that inspired coats

The original jackets, worn by the Kamala Harris (front, center) and her sister Maya, in an undated family photo

Making the jackets on such short notice must have been a whirlwind.
It was. Normally we would have reached out months in advance, but for this, we did the sketches and got them to her right away. We worked so hard getting the fabric in the San Francisco and Oakland area [where Canza-Williams lives]. It ended up coming from Hobby Lobby, after Alexia searched everywhere. Our design director, Sydney Hawes, was sewing the last button on in a FedEx parking lot minutes before it was closing. It was such a happy moment, so tangible, to see all the work completed.

Did you know for sure they would be worn?
We had no idea. We weren’t sure if they were going to bring the children to the Capitol, considering what had happened two weeks before. We all got up at 5 a.m. to watch the news. There was a lot of: “Did you see them? Are they there?” We spotted Meena getting out of the car, wearing green, and we saw one little leopard-coated arm! Actually, I didn’t even see that because I was trying to watch everything at once.

harris with amara

Vice-President Kamala Harris at the inauguration with her great-niece Amara, who is wearing a coat made by iloveplum. (Photo courtesy Meena Harris)

And now, everyone wants one …
It’s crazy. We had a huge amount of press. I was getting messages like, “Is it OK if Harper’s Bazaar uses your sketches?” Um… yes… We put 10 of the coats for sale on the website after people kept asking about it. When they sold out in a day, we decided to make 100, which sold out by the end of the second day. We’re going to lots of Hobby Lobbys now. We’re delivering the fabric to a coat factory next week. They do beautiful work. It feels a little like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — that old-fashioned garment industry flavor before everything moved overseas.

That whole week brought such positive energy, especially after a long year full of shipping delays — COVID made my job difficult. But this has given us a new fire. It was powerful moment of history.

How did you get started in the industry?
I went to FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology]. I had a hard time the first year. It was draining. In your second year, you choose a specialization and children’s wear was one of the choices. They do a big presentation to lure you in. The children’s wear person had an interesting balance, whereas the other people talked about how cutthroat their specialty was.

Final Illustration

Susan Trotiner-Conway’s illustration of the jackets (Image provided)

After graduation I worked for Kahn Lucas, a third-generation children’s wear company, and Pip & Joy, where I found my passion for sourcing and fabric marketing, and developed negotiation skills. Along the way I met Alexia, who was full of wild ideas. 

Last September, she convinced me and Sydney, an old friend of mine from FIT, to join her company. It was her spirit of being willing to try anything that we both admired. I work mostly on the production side; working with factories, building relationships with vendors. Going to the great Asian fabric markets is my favorite part of the job.

2 thoughts on “Fashion Moment

  1. Truly love the inauguration coats, the creativity and the exciting story. However, sourcing fabric from Hobby Lobby seems like a huge misstep for iloveplum, particularly for this client and administration, given the company’s history. [via Facebook]

    • Editor’s note: In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Hobby Lobby’s owners, who are evangelical Christians, not to provide contraceptive health coverage for their employees because of their personal beliefs.