Kari Dahlen, Fashion Designer

“I have always had a passion for anything creative,” said Kari Dahlen, who owns her own local fashion clothing line, Style by Kari.

Kari’s Resumé

  • Fashion designer
  • Entrepreneur
  • Mother

About Kari

“I have always had a passion for anything creative,” said Kari Dahlen, who owns her own local fashion clothing line, Style by Kari. The local fashion designer discovered her love for the craft when she began sewing garments with her mother, discovering her niche in utilizing sustainability in her work while creating outfits with a vintage-style flair. Together, they made elastic skirts and pillowcases, and when Kari knew she could make garments with fabric she already had in her house, she never wanted to stop—and to this day, “sustainable” is at the core of all of her projects.

Kari is a true entrepreneur at heart; although she took up Apparel Studies at NDSU for two years, most of her experience and success has come from being an independent designer as well as being a part of local and regional fashion shows, including Minneapolis Fashion Week shows, and was one of the first in the NDSU FABO Fashion Shows when they started in 2002. “I’m a lover of all colors and would definitely be considered a maximalist,” Kari said, not afraid to dive into a variety of textures and colors. “Although, when I was younger, my grunge phase took on a life of its own. There was almost no color, but lots of chains. So I’m making up for it now.” But even today, her work takes on a unique life of its own, each piece with its own unique personality, almost as if tailored specifically for one person—which is often the case. Kari loves being commissioned to design pieces for local fashion enthusiasts and loves to blend her unique twists of fashion with the most elegant designs.

One of the main things she loves about being a maximalist is that she can mix some classic styles (monochromatic, simple silhouettes, or neutrals) with bright colors, prints, or textures. With just a bit of color, she believes you can get the best of both worlds. Her work is the perfect example of that, with styles that range from bold, classic colors to soft, yet vibrant textures. Take a look at some of our favorite pieces Kari has designed, and see why she is making a fashion statement in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Photo by Josiah Kopp

Kari’s Work Process, Featured Projects, & More

Kari showed off some of her favorite recent projects, including a quilt-turned-poncho, which is one of the more out-of-the-box projects she has recently completed. The classic, plaid dress with the accent waist belt feels almost like something you’d see Emily Blunt donning in the American pioneer thriller, “The English.” And the red dresses are a perfect balance of vintage, classy, and modern— perfect for any date night or party.

Did You Know?
Kari loves designing custom pieces for local shoppers. Need a new dress for date night or that upcoming holiday party? Contact Kari at [email protected] to get started!

Photo by Dammel Photographic Works

When choosing a starting point in your process, many designers may start with textures or patterns, but for Kari, it always starts with color. From there, she will look at a print and see how she can incorporate that into something with sustainable fabric. She has also taken part in some vintage embroidery after being inspired by the shape of it and how it could work on a collar or cuff.

Photo by Josiah Kopp

“I’m also inspired by the movement of the fabric or the texture I can manipulate the fabric into,” she said. “I enjoy creating pleats, gathers, and ruffles. It’s important to see how a garment hangs on a hanger as well as on the body. If it stands out in the closet, you are more interested in wearing it.”

Photo by Dammel Photographic Works

Being a plant lover, this terra-cotta-colored dress is one of Kari’s favorite pieces. “I had leftover fabric from making some bridesmaids dresses and of course, I had to make something flowy and girly with it,” she said. “The stretch velvet is flattering on every body shape and hangs so beautifully. The long sleeves make the high slit and wrap comfortable without showing too much skin.”

Photo provided by Kari Dahlen

For Minneapolis Fall Fashion Week in 2022, Kari created a mini collection with a fall emerald color story. “I was on a walk with my dog one fall day and I saw a tree that had a purple leaf and it had just started turning brown,” she shared. “The blend of those two colors inspired me—I’m constantly on the lookout for how color can be used.”

Photo provided by Kari Dahlen

She also incorporated pieces from her friend’s garments, who was on a weight loss journey, and gave some old pieces new life. She created a dress with a pair of yellow denim jeans to make the bodice with a flowy stripe colorful skirt.

Kari’s 3 Favorite Local Places to Shop For Clothes1.

1. Gathering’s Collective

“The curated pieces in this shop have the best vintage vibe. Definitely check them out if you are in the mood for something special!”

2. Revolver

“You’ll always find me at the back of this store trying on all the dresses or looking at the vintage lace undergarments that are so feminine and delicate.”

3. Violet Vintage

“If you don’t follow them on their socials, you’re missing out. They have a great collection of girly dresses that flatter all sizes.”

Kari’s 5 Musts for Fashion

1. A Good Floral Dress

“You can layer it in the fall or winter with tights and a jacket or make it perfect for a summer day with gladiator sandals.”

2. Delicate Jewelry

“These pieces are easier to layer on and still feel carefree. Some of my favorite delicate jewelry pieces are my grandmother’s wedding ring, a small pair of gold diamond earrings, and a simple gold thin bangle bracelet.”

3. A Blazer

“This could be a fitted business style for dressing up jeans or a boyfriend-style blazer to layer with boots and a sweater. My favorite boyfriend blazers I found at the local thrift stores. “

4. A Statement Scarf

“I have multiple scarves that are just two yards of fabric that I’ve finished the edges on. It creates a big cowl and doubles as a shawl as well.”

5. Nude Heels

“They go with everything! I used to wear heels more often than flats. I remember when I used to wear flats, my feet would be sore—they feel more comfortable in heels.”

Kari’s Top 3 Places to Shop for Holiday Gifts

1. Zandbroz Variety

“This shop has been a part of my childhood and it’s always my go-to for something unique; especially greeting cards.”

2. Unglued

“Unglued is one of my favorites for gifts because not only does it have unique gifts, but you support local makers when you buy here.”

3. Baker Garden & Gift

“Not only do I always find amazing gift ideas at Baker, but I walk out with a new plant too. It’s a win-win!”

Photo by Josiah Kopp

Q&A with Kari

One of the main hallmarks of your work is using sustainable and upcycled materials. Tell me about this approach and why it’s meaningful to you.

Not only do I absolutely love working with unique sustainable materials, but knowing that I’m lessening the amount brought into landfills is the reason I do it. Plus, who doesn’t love a one-of-a-kind piece that no one else has? Or a piece that was hand embroidered by someone and can be shown off instead of tucked in a drawer.

Speaking of materials, what have you really been enjoying using, and what’s been inspiring you lately?

Embroidered tablecloths are my jam. I love incorporating edges or trims as a sleeve, cuff, or hem. It makes a statement!

What’s been the most out-of-the-box or unique project you’ve worked on yet? How did it challenge and ultimately make you a better designer?

One of my friends had lost a bunch of weight and was selling her old clothes. I bought a couple of them and turned them into new special pieces. Using a pair of her mustard-colored jeans as a bodice for a dress and then having her model in it for me—that really made my heart full.

As a mother, how do your children inspire your creative journey?

Being a mom definitely adds to my creative side. My boys help me to see the little things at their level; flowers, buildings, and hidden gems. They really like to be around me when I’m designing too, and sometimes they even design with me.

How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as feminine, girly, or ladylike. I love color and floral prints around my house as much as my wardrobe. I also prefer to wear a dress instead of jeans or leggings; I feel most myself when I’m in a dress. I did have a grunge phase in middle school that was pretty intense with lots of black. Baggy pants, dog collars, spikey hair—I guess I’ve been through all fashion fads.

How do you approach a new project with a fresh mindset — what would you say is unique about your workflow?

When I am starting a collection, I often let the fabric speak to me. Whether it be a vintage tablecloth or supplemental fabric from a bolt at a store. I design the garment in a way that will show off the uniqueness of the vintage fabric or let the flow of the fabric lead me. I’ve made a couple of pieces that have multiple vintage pieces included in them and some other classic styles that only have one special aspect. Looking at both types of designs, I really like it when one single piece of sustainable fabric is the star.

What notable trends are you playing into right now?

I am enjoying using more fabric, without it looking too heavy. This can be with pleats, gathers, or layering. Adding these aspects to a garment also provides texture, which is fun to incorporate.

How to Support Kari

Instagram | @stylebykari
[email protected]


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