(This was a profile for my magazine journalism class.)
Lauryn Ilasco, a high school senior from Northern California, racked over 90,000 Twitter favorites on a picture of her prom dress that she designed and sewed herself. Ilasco, 17, is not your average idea of the basic teenager. A self-taught fashion designer and stylist, she was designing her own clothes and establishing an online fashion business, before she could even legally obtain a driver’s license.
For members of Generation Z, this ability to turn a hobby into a career or business at a young age, isn’t far-fetched. Taking advantage of all the digital age has to offer, ambitious young teen artists are using their expertise in social media to catapult themselves into the industry and get a jumpstart on their future.
Ilasco got her start in fashion at a young age. At just eight years old, she learned to sew after her mother enrolled her into a summer sewing program. Though she took a short break after the program, as she entered her teenage years, Ilasco found herself motivated to sew again.
“I took a break because I was very discouraged by how bad I was at sewing,” she explains. “But at [the age of] 13, I [had] the biggest urge to make my own clothes, because the clothes I wanted were either too expensive or the stores I went to weren’t selling what I wanted.”
Social media started playing a role in her life when she entered middle school. While many of the users in her age group were using Instagram to share VSCO cam filtered selfies or stalk their favorite celebrities, Ilasco was using it strategically to gain inspiration and spark her creative side.
“I’d see a shirt I like [on Instagram] but couldn’t find a shirt in real life that resembles it, so I’d think ‘Oh I have to just make my own’.”
With increasing buzz, she launched her own blog and established her digital persona, Love, Laur. This blog became a space for her to showcase her designs and styling abilities, and even shed light on those who typically go unseen in mainstream media.
“My blog was my early take on costume design,” Ilasco explains. “I would read books, where the characters are predominantly white and I would take their characteristics and turn it into clothing. I would think ‘how can I convey them through clothes?’”
In 2018, Ilasco published a blog post where she reimagined Molly Ringwald’s character from Sixteen Candles, by featuring an Asian-American model and including other touches of Asian culture. Ilasco turned the iconic pink dress worn in the movie into a modern, pastel flowy tube top and incorporated a basket bag Ilasco got from a night market in Vietnam, into the look.
Providing representation for girls of color has always been a major drive behind her designs and photoshoots. “I want girls who are underrepresented to wear my clothes,” Ilasco states.
She also aims to design clothes that make girls feel confident and seen. Describing her own aesthetic as “street wear meets minimal,” she hopes that those who wear her clothing will feel empowered, while also still comfortable.
“I want the people who wear my clothes to carry themselves with ease,” she explains. “I want them to be 100 percent them.”
Earlier this year, Ilasco designed and sewed her own dress for prom, inspired by a dress from Dior’s spring 2017 collection. She received thousands of retweets, over 90,000 likes and hundreds of compliments from people all over the world, praising her design skills and even begging Ilasco to start her own prom dress business.
But with digital hype, comes critics.
High school is notoriously known as as an unkind time for everyone, but with the internet being so open and with the ability to reach thousands of people around the world in a single post, dealing with negativity is a more prominent issue than ever.
After her Dior-inspired prom dress went viral on Twitter, Ilasco also faced harsh comments.
“I posted my prom dress on Twitter and that kind of blew up but it also got a lot of hate. I got comments saying stuff like ‘you didn’t design that’, because I took inspiration from Dior,” she recalls.
Though receiving negative comments is an inevitable part of being vulnerable and open on the internet, Ilasco remains unphased by them. “I figured I really like what I’m doing and there’s always going to be haters no matter what. You just have to deal with it,” she smiles.
On the flip side, the internet gave Ilasco a chance to publicize her work, establish her voice and even connect her to
other budding young creatives.
Freelance videographer Dakota Lim, 17, collaborated with Ilasco to promote an air puffer vest that the fashion designer had created. He also filmed a video with her for his video series, In Creative Conversation, where he interviews other artists from the Bay Area and discusses their creative processes and projects.
The collaboration bloomed from Instagram, with the pair being fans of each other’s work. Lim praises the internet for the connections he’s made and the space it has given him to share his creative endeavors.
“Social media is the center of many young artists. It directly allows the world to see your work [and] it’s an extremely powerful networking tool,” Lim says. “Its allowed us to see that it’s possible to find something we are passionate about and make a career out of it.”
Ilasco’s strong digital presence also propelled her to open her very own online shop. It sold out within a day.
“It was kind of mind-blowing,” she describes of her experience watching the shop completely sell out. “I was looking at my emails and seeing ‘sold’ after ‘sold’ messages from Big Cartel and all of a sudden the whole shop just sold out within a day. It was crazy.”
Ilasco sold tube tops on her online store, but she also does commission pieces on the side. She’s currently working on making her pieces more sustainable. For a commission piece, she created a patchwork denim tube top, made up of scraps from pairs of thrifted jeans.
After volunteering at a school in a rural area of Cambodia, Ilasco realized she wanted to use her platform to benefit others.
“I learned that there’s a lot of girls out there not getting the right education that fall into sex trafficking. The girls [get] taken to other parts of Asia by older men and their families no longer hear back from them, ” she explains.“ I learned all this through traveling and now I want to give back.”
She currently works with the Bay Area non-profit organization Pacific Links Foundation, which empowers women in Vietnam, Laos and other surrounding countries who have been a victim of sex-trafficking and donates her proceeds from her online shop.
In the future, Ilasco plans to go to college to study costume design. She also hopes to continue to give back to others, design for those who are underrepresented and practice sustainable fashion.
Ilasco’s on the right path. She’s proof that with the right tools, drive and a distinct online persona, success and empowerment through art is possible. For members of Generation Z, breaking into the creative world is an attainable feat, even if you’re just a teenager in high school.