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Meet Tatiana Shabelnik

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tatiana Shabelnik.

Tatiana, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Minsk, Belarus, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Love for art came very early in my life. I started drawing and painting at the age of 6. Becoming a fashion designer was not a random decision. Fashion has been my biggest dream since I was a child. However, I never talked about it until about spring 2013. We all have dreams but not always can make them reality. I decided that it is better to pursue my dream late than never. Looking at where I am now, I believe things happened at the right time for the right reason. I do not regret that my fashion career did not begin when I was sixteen. I grew up with my mother and grandmother who were immensely talented in sewing, knitting, crocheting, or any other handcraft you can name. They even made rugs. My grandmother could knit elaborate patterns without any patterns, as she did not even know how to read. It was a natural talent. My mom worked full time as a physicist at the Academy of Sciences in Minsk. To make an extra income, she completed a two-year course in sewing where she learned how to sew to perfection and build patterns from scratch. I remember her coming home every day from work. After dinner she would sit behind sewing machine until midnight making clothes for extra income. I grew up around fashion magazines and books. I knew the feel of fabric from a very early age and could easily distinguish natural fibers from synthetic or chemically produced. My grandmother taught me how to knit at the age of seven, and I learned how to sew when I was a teenager. I started sketching my own outfits when I was a child, and my mom was the one who implemented my crazy ideas. Ironically she continues successfully doing it now. Every season I give her a project to create a dress for the runway. Without her I would never be where I am now. She is my idol and my biggest inspiration.

I do not have formal fashion education or fashion degrees beyond four courses that I took at OTIS College of Art and Design. I consider myself a natural born artist. Prior to coming to United States, I taught Library and Information Science at theBelarusian University of Culture. In 1994, I was awarded a scholarship from USIA – United States government – to study for my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science at Louisiana State University. I then worked for four years at the Michigan Technological University as a librarian and web manager. Later on, I spent more than a decade working as Web manager for Whittier College and as adjunct librarian for Rio Hondo College. For the past five years I have been working full time as Web interactive services manager at Claremont McKenna College. I literally can say that I have never worked outside of the world of academia, except for my fashion filled evenings and weekends.

In June 2013, I flew to my home country of Belarus with two bags full of fabric and leather with the goal that in one month I would produce my first collection. Coincidentally exactly the same time Mamont Avant-garde festival took place in Minsk, and I was invited by the producer to show my collection on June 17th. This was the beginning of my fashion career and my first in life fashion show. I launched a line of women’s clothing called CONTRAST, interplay of bold colors and contrasting textures in leather, silk-chiffons, and Belarusian linen.

Later on in the fall of 2013 I competed at RAWards, and was chosen to be one of three finalists for Designer of the Year in Los Angeles. In September I was very pleasantly surprised by Los Angeles Times coverage. Nika Soon-Shiong, who was an intern at that time at LA Times, interviewed me in person and wrote a feature.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
If you do not have challenge in your work, if you do not have to overcome obstacles, what is the point? I am always up for a challenge. My whole life has been full of challenges and overcoming them. Challenge is what really drives you to success and motivates. A lack of financial means and a lack of time to devote to fashion are my major struggles. When you have a full time job and only evenings and weekends are left for pursuing your passion, you always feel as you are running out of time. Finding balance is the key.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Tatiana Shabelnik story. Tell us more about the business.
The name of my line is “CONTRAST.” I consider myself a child of the world. I design for different cultures, races, and nationalities. Fashion and glamour unite all cultures and races. I always make sure that I represent all races and nationalities through my models on world runways as well as fashion editorials. I continue working with natural fibers such as silks and chiffons; I love the flow and feel of light fabrics. It is also a reflection of freedom for me. In my work, I have tried to contrast contemporary Los Angeles glitz and glamour with a vivid ancestral past in rural Belarus.

My heritage culture is very important to me. As you look at my designs, you will see that they are rooted in the styles of Belorussian folk dresses from my youth with a modern twist. I provide a cosmopolitan, playful blend of colors and textures inspired by my fearless personality. When people wear my clothes, I hope they will feel a connection with people everywhere; that we are all citizens of the world. I feel that I belong to the category, as Franca Sozzani called it, “Globalallure.” She has said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I agree with that. I want my admirers to feel unique, independent, and free from any limitations dictated by the customs of different countries. I want them to make a statement when they wear my clothing and jewelry.

My collection is inspired by my tremendous passion for travel and learning about other cultures. Bold bright colors and shapes as well as color-blocking elements derive from my long-time admiration for the work of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and Belorussian-French artist Marc Chagall.

I am working on building my brand, doing everything myself with a very limited budget, and putting endless hours after my full-time job at the college. Even though it is very busy now, I think it is important to enjoy the moment, enjoy the process of creating art. My years of experience in web design, graphic design, photography and public relations, as well as string communication and networking skills help me tremendously in running my business. I appreciate immensely help from all my friends who assisted me with various fashion projects as well as helped in difficult moments in my life. My friends are my angles. Always make sure you see your dream very clearly and surround yourself with positive people.

In addition to clothing, I also designs jewelry to complement and accentuate my clothing. With a range of colors and designs, my jewelry is meant to inspire—much in the same way that Chagall and Kandinsky have inspired me. My jewelry, like my clothing designs, is meant to be more than simple merchandise: it is art to be worn and celebrated in daily life.

I have been published in many international magazines including VOGUE UK, GLAMOUR UK, GQ UK, House of Coco, and TATLER UK. Featured in the Los Angeles Times, Whittier Daily News, Elements magazine, Magazine MADAME (Dubai),Elegant MagazineOBSCURAEEn Vie (Japan)Dreamingless (UK), and several other publications, I believe in soaring high with my personal style statement. My collections have been seen on the runways in Los Angeles, London, Dubai, Vancouver, Minsk and Orange County.

As for global charity work, I am very proud and honored to be one of the Elephantasia designers. The Elephantasia Project is a collaborative effort between different international designers in hopes of raising awareness and funds to protect African elephants. As part of Elephantasia, my dresses were on the runways at Vancouver and London Fashion Week. One of the dresses was commissioned by Dr. Kirstin Johnson, the Director of African wildlife foundation for the TUSK BALL hosted by Prince Charles in London. Project was recently covered twice by the UK VOGUE and by the New York Times.

In addition to fashion, one of my big passions is community service. I have been a member of Rotary Club of Pico Rivera since 2006, and served as president from 2010-11. In January 2011, I represented Rotary District 5300 and Rotary International at the Pasadena Rose Parade.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I do not believe in luck. I believe in hard work, persistence and clearly seeing my goals and my dreams.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Sara Ishag, Anna Asia, Christina Wen, Natalie Oden, Elena Nesterova, Maksim Leonov, Max Aria, Tatiana Shabelnik, Ernie Tyler, Trinidad De Leon, Kenney Bohorquez, Pedro Curiel, T & R Accessories, Lupe Moreno, Aurora Galarda, Carina Tafulu, Bethy Mireles, Viktorija Pashuta, Waatani Norris, Anna Sevilla, Vastie Castellanos, Daniel Pham, Bojidar Chkorev, Hannah and Leah Stacey, Jackie AliXander, Jordan Anthony Swain, ludmila Kovalevskaia, Tiffany Nicole Brevard, Q’orianka Kilcher, Jacqueline Depaul, Marceline Orallo, Sonia Quezada, Philippe Monomro, Alexandria Morrow , Sara Kristine Sutherland, Alexander Julian Veach, Annabella Gutman, Melaina Brill, Alejandro Rey, Nayelli Castaneda, Adeeb Hkowrani, Era Kayln.

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