Carleen Designer Kelsy Parkhouse On People, Community and Fashion



From her days as a Pratt student to now building her emerging contemporary brand Carleen while part-time teaching, designer Kelsy Parkhouse is always "trying to do better". Though after meeting the amiable designer, we’d like to think this line of thinking extends to much more than fashion. 

But if we're talking specifics, this is what Kelsy told us in response to our question regarding any of her upcoming design resolutions for the year ahead. (If you’re really wondering, look out for the inclusion of domestically-manufactured fabrics, along with more of her love-letter to denim, color, and patchwork). 

The creative is known for her careful attention to detail, fabrics, and penchant for vibrant palettes, all of which are contributing factors in shaping the aesthetic of her budding brand Carleen, who’s name was inspired by a shared middle name with her maternal grandmother. Furthermore, people in general also play a huge factor in Kelsy’s day to day. “The most important thing by far has just been to surround myself with good people,” she explained in our interview, “I spend a lot of time working, it might as well be with people I like!”

Sure enough, we took an immediate liking to Kelsy and her dynamic workspace during our recent visit. We got a sense of what makes the designer creatively tick, and chatted with her about Carleen’s growth, community and how she’s learned to balance all that comes with being an emerging designer. Discover our interview with Kelsy below and head over to The Style Line to catch an exclusive second part of this story featuring  more of her personal style.

Please introduce yourself!

I’m a born and raised Californian currently living and working in Brooklyn with my boyfriend Derrick and our dog, Poppy. My main side hustle while growing Carleen is teaching, which I also really enjoy.


What role do people and community play for Carleen as a brand?

Brand Assembly has been such a champion for Carleen and participating in their LA tradeshow has been really fun. I’ve found tradeshows to be such a good place to bond with other designers and forge new partnerships, and Hillary and her team are great at fostering an environment that supports us. That sense of community is really important when you’re facing challenges; it makes a huge difference to be able to reach out to someone who has dealt with something similar and get their perspective! 


Here at Brand Assembly we want to build a space that’s accessible to the Garment District and more up and coming neighborhoods that are frequented by emerging and contemporary designers. With that in mind talk to us about Brooklyn.

I live and do most of my work in Brooklyn and I love everything about it- except the 35 minute commute into the Garment District! And out-of-town visitors think you’re way off the beaten path. I assume that I’m just going to have to come to them and meet them in Manhattan. I try to be really efficient with my trips into the city and knock out a bunch of errands all in a row. A good strategy can make it all work, and a good book can make the mid-day subway rides pretty enjoyable.

We’ve interviewed many of our contemporary designers who contend that a lot of their time is also spent on tending to other aspects of their business (PR, social media, etc.) What are your thoughts on this and do you enjoy dipping your toes into other aspects of your brand?

That is absolutely true. I remember being a student, meeting working independent designers and having them say, “I spend 10% of my time designing” and at the time I thought that was so depressing and discouraging; but I’ve found that keeping a finger in every element of my business is actually one of my favorite parts of having my own line. I’ve learned to like the non-design parts of the business a lot. I like problem solving and seeing results! 

You’re pretty well-known for your attention to detail when it comes to materials - which is great! But we’d like to know: do you have any design resolutions for the upcoming season/2016? 

I’m always trying to do better! One of my ongoing goals is to source more domestically-manufactured fabrics. All of my sewing is done in the U.S. but currently a lot of my fabrics are imported. I’ve been really into denim lately and that’s a great place to start. There are still a few American denim mills and I’m looking forward to working with them even more. 

Designers are up against a lot of critique, from editors, peers and even customers. But if you had to define your “best” piece what would it be and why? What advice do you have for the rest of the BA community of designers on how to work with feedback or criticism? 

I prefer to think of a collections vs. individual items, and I always hope that my most recent collection is the best yet! That said, I still turn back to my first collection and some of the standout pieces from that season to help me stay true to what Carleen is. For Spring '16 that showed through in one of our custom prints, a watercolor rendering of a quilt pattern, and in a simple sleeveless shell made of reclaimed vintage quilt pieces. I rely on my sales rep, Emily, for in-process feedback. I really welcome feedback and criticism but you don’t really present your work to the public until a collection is complete and then it usually feels like it’s too late for changes.

At Brand Assembly we’re really about making our work fun! Do you have any tips on doing this in your own endeavors? What's been fun for you lately?

The most important thing by far has just been to surround myself with good people. I spend a lot of time working, it might as well be with people I like! My showroom, my photographer, even most interns I hire are all people I enjoy being around. Outside of work I love a good flea market or a good meal and hanging out with my dog and my boyfriend around Brooklyn. I’m looking forward to beach weather and more outdoor bar time this summer! 

Can you share any milestones that have happened for you or something that's made you fall in love with fashion again? 

I don’t think I’ve ever really fallen out of love with fashion, it’s been important to me my whole life. Right now the milestones I have my eye on are all about sales, because that’s what sustains the business and allows me to do what I love and have it reach a lot of people. I love hearing from my friends when a dress or pair of jeans I designed makes them feel amazing, and I want to make many people that I’ve never met feel that way too! 

What do you assemble daily?

Denim, color, and patchwork are elements I return to again and again. And no matter how long I’ve lived in New York (over 10 years!) I’ll always be from California, and that tends to shine through somehow.