Bucks County native Denise Brownlee graduated from Moore’s Fashion Design program in 1994 and has been slowly building her career, culminating in the launch of her own fashion collection.
Brownlee has more than 20 years of industry experience working for national retailers such as Foxcroft Clothing in New York City and most recently as a designer for QVC. In 2014, seeking to fill a void in the bridal wear market, Brownlee launched Sikihara, a collection of bridal and social occasion separates inspired by her mother, a seamstress who honed her skills in Japan.
Surprisingly, there are no wedding dresses in the collection. “My purpose was to design and create a unique line of bridal separates as an alternative to the traditional wedding gown.”
Typically, brides spend thousands of dollars on elaborate dresses, only to wear them once and pack them away, never to be worn again, Brownlee said. With her line, she offers brides a more practical, but still beautiful, option.
“My brand is all about separates,” Brownlee said. “The bride can create her own unique look and then utilize the pieces later on for any other social occasion, or pair them with the clothes she already has in her closet.”
Brownlee launched her Spring 2016 collection, her second collection, earlier this month and it will soon be sold through retailers. Her designs range in price from $200 to $700, and are made with silk or silk blend, a typical wedding dress material. Her separates include pants, jackets, skirts and suits, as well as one tunic per season that can be worn as a tunic or a dress.
Besides the practicality and comfort of wearing separates, Brownlee said she designed her collection to be “pro-women” and to support same-sex marriage.
“My designs are for the contemporary woman who defines life on her own terms and doesn’t follow so-called social norms,” she said. “I’ve been questioned about why I offer my pieces in both black and white, and that is because sometimes a woman marrying another woman will request a black suit. For me, it’s all about utilizing the pieces and being more versatile.”
While her first collection featured black and white bridal-wear, Brownlee’s spring collection expanded to include more colors and separates for social occasions, such as rehearsal dinners, baby showers or office parties. She works out of her office in Yardley, PA and a showroom in New York City.
"I’m expecting be in stores by early next year, and will participate in fashion shows throughout the season," she said.
Having her own clothing line has been a dream of Brownlee’s since childhood. Her mother exposed her to fabrics and fashion and she developed an enthusiasm for innovative design.
“My mother would design clothes with me and make clothes for me,” she said. “I decided in my early 20s that I would name my brand Sikihara, my mother’s maiden name, in her honor.”
Hard work made Sikihara a reality. With no business background, Brownlee attended seminars in New York City, worked with a consultant and did a lot of research on her own. Her knowledge of the industry and the relationships she built over the years, as well as her education at Moore, helped build the company off the ground.
“Having a seamstress for a mother, I knew that fashion was the direction I wanted to go,” she said. “Moore’s fashion courses came highly recommended. I feel like I learned all the skills I needed while attending the college. Moore taught me how to communicate visually in my designs as well as with people or potential buyers.”