Miki Gotoh Balances Fashion Design with Business

Miki Gotoh was named Costume Couture Designer of the Year at the Highball Halloween event in the Short North in 2009. Less ambitious students might have made the win their swan song, but not Gotoh.

Since then, the 30-something Columbus resident has finished design school, continued producing womenswear for a local boutique, and landed a job with a major retailer.

In May, Gotoh graduated from Columbus College of Art & Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in fashion design. However, that isn’t the first degree she has earned; she also has a bachelor’s in financial management from The Ohio State University.

“I was working in insurance after I graduated from OSU and I thought to myself, ‘Paper Pusher just isn’t going to cut it for the rest of my life,” Gotoh says. “‘If I could do anything I wanted, with no constraints, what would I do?’  My answer was ‘Become the creative director of a luxury goods brand.’ Well, I believe that we don’t have any constraints.  The only things holding me back were things I perceived as constraints.  If you really want to do something, you should do it.  It’s not that easy, but it’s just that easy! So I went back to school to pursue my dream.”

That was five years ago. And judging by the compliments from Gotoh’s mentor and former professor, Nina Bagley, her decision was the right one.

“Creative,” “talented,” “quick,” and “timely,” were among several positive adjectives Bagley, professor of pattern making at CCAD, offered up about Gotoh.

Additionally, “she listens to the customer,” Bagley says. “She doesn’t just do what she thinks is best.”

Gotoh also is “very good at hustling and going after the jobs, and all the competition,” Bagley says.

In fact, it was Gotoh’s enterprising spirit that helped her land a design gig for Milk Bar, a clothing shop located at 765-A N. High St. in Columbus. (website)

“I went to a contest held at Milk Bar, called ‘Scion Fashion Feud,’ as a spectator.  The contest features two local designers who are each given a bag of unknown materials, a live model, and one hour to construct a garment for his or her model. I jokingly asked Kareem Jackson, co-owner of Milk Bar, ‘What happens if one of the contestants doesn’t show?’ and my girlfriend replied, ‘Then you call Miki!’

“Well, it just so happened that for the second scheduled feud, one of the contestants dropped out. Kareem contacted my girlfriend to ask if I wanted to participate in the second feud and, of course, I accepted!  I won the second contest, which qualified me to the final round −versus the winner of the first feud− and won that as well.  So I called Kareem afterwards and asked him if he would consider selling a similar design to the one I designed for fashion feud in his store, and he said, ‘Yeah, sure!’”

When designing her eponymous line for Milk Bar, Gotoh says she keeps both the customer and the shop’s aesthetic in mind.

“I always go for a flattering silhouette with a surprising detail that sets the design apart from other ready-to-wear pieces,” she continues. “This season, I tried my hand at leather mixed with linen and double faced cotton.

Her “three-of-a-kind” pieces (each design is available in just one extra small, one small, and one medium) for Milk Bar are priced between $70 and $200.

“Miki’s pieces are always unique, interesting, and very well made,” says Eric Hayes, co-owner of Milk Bar. “[Miki is] truly a legit designer. She takes time to really create collections rather than random pieces. I truly respect her design aesthetic and her eye for trends.”

In the design phase, “Usually I feel inspired by a person in my life,” Gotoh says. “If I’m feeling nostalgic, I may design something ‘80s influenced. Or if I’m feeling sad, the designs come out a little somber. I try to sketch out some details and then I either begin patternmaking or draping, or both. Sometimes I make up to 30 muslin rough drafts and sometimes it only takes one before I go to the real fabric. I consult my girlfriends a lot on color, trim and overall aesthetic, and then I go to production.”

Gotoh says the kind of women who wear her clothes are not afraid to express their individuality.

“I hate when girls will only wear designer brands and they don’t even know anything about the designer. They just see other people wearing it, so they want it.  I’m all about what looks good to me and what makes me feel good. If I like it, I’m wearing it, whether it costs $5,000 or $2.99. I like to think that women who are strong enough to do what they want to do will be attracted to my line.”

Just last week, Gotoh was hired as a technical designer at Cacique, Lane Bryant’s intimate apparel brand, and she is very excited by the challenges it presents.

“I’ve always struggled between the analytical/mathematical side of my brain and the creative one, and tech design appears to be the best balance between the two.  I get to take someone’s two dimensional vision and turn it into a three dimensional garment, while adhering to the specs and measurements of ‘our girl,’ the Lane Bryant customer.  It’s a match made in heaven!”

Gotoh’s fans need not worry, though; she will continue designing for Milk Bar while working at Cacique, as their merchandise does not directly compete.