Welcome to our newest editorial initiative, Who What Wear Spotlight, where we’ll be using our editorial platform, social following, and ad inventory to turn the spotlight on small businesses that need our support now more than ever. Each week, we’ll be highlighting a new fashion or beauty company. If you own a small brand and would like to be considered for the program, please apply here.
Like many of the businesswomen we’ve featured in Who What Wear Spotlight, Karla Welch grew her brand out of a void she discovered in the market—in her case, during her work as a stylist. Her client Justin Bieber had taken to requesting extra-long T-shirts, and after some time of getting the exact fit he liked made for him, she realized she didn’t like the market options available to her either. And in 2017, x Karla was born, offering basics from tees, tanks, and sweatshirts (cropped and non-cropped); neon and neutral; tie-dyed and solid—all at affordable price points.
Welch’s foray into retail was in large part inspired by the days of her youth spent in her father’s menswear shop in British Columbia. She’d help run the cash register as young as 9 years old, but it was one of a series of jobs she held until beginning work as a stylist in L.A., where she moved to follow love in 2002.
After nearly two decades in the styling world, Welch has acquired quite the dossier of celebrity clientele. She uses that platform and role in the industry to make bold political statements, sometimes even recruiting her celebrity clients to be vehicles for raising awareness about causes such as #MeToo. In 2018, she dressed eight women in black for the Golden Globes to stand in solidarity with the victims of sexual assault in the workplace.
The discrimination plaguing the professional sphere and society at large have long been on Welch’s radar. She dresses her female celebrities in statement outfits by luxury designers, empowering them to embody the confidence and authority she wants them to exhibit to the world. She also makes sure her collaborations benefit impactful causes. The proceeds from her first capsule collection, made with Levi’s, went to Everytown, a nonprofit focused on gun control regulations and ending gun violence in America. Her most recent collaboration with Dockers is benefitting The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention nonprofit for LGBTQ+ youth.
And these days, Welch is using the extra time she has from sheltering in place to re-center and focus on her priorities. A lot of that time is spent continuing to use her platform to spread awareness about Black Lives Matter, reproductive rights, and DACA, while the good she sees in humanity propels her forward.
Read on for our full interview with Welch.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
Well, x Karla really started as a necessity because I needed to make a specific shirt for Justin [Bieber] that wasn’t in the marketplace. Then I realized the T-shirt I wanted wasn’t there, either—at least not at the price I wanted to spend. So that’s how we started. Now, we do collabs and basics, and all sorts of things are coming. Essentially, it’s always stuff I feel like I need and want to make a perfect wardrobe. And it is really a vehicle for my activism: We don’t do a collab that doesn’t include a hefty donation to a cause we believe in, and we give back monthly.
What inspired you to start your business?
I’ve always loved retail. I grew up working at my dad’s store, so in a way, I’ve always wanted a store. And as a stylist, I’ve never felt limited to one thing. This is me doing all sorts of stuff!
How have social-distancing and stay-at-home orders affected your business? How have your priorities shifted?
Well, we definitely have adjusted. Consumer spending is slowing, so we really want to make sure we stay sustainability-focused and make sure we don’t overproduce. I mean, honestly, I really have had proper time to refocus and develop a new strategy for where we are going and how we will continually do it in a meaningful way.
Some people are finding joy in getting dressed and doing their beauty routine, even if they have nowhere to go. What do you think fashion and beauty can offer people right now? What has it done for you?
I mean, I’d be lying if I said I’ve dressed up during this time, but my sweats are cute! I think we always need to dream and find joy in stuff we love—that is self-care!
Speaking of fashion, how would you describe your working-from-home style?
Beanie, comfy x Karla tee, Birks, and some cute pants (yes, sweats).
Aside from fashion and beauty, what are some things that are currently bringing you comfort?
Humans! We are seeing terrible, terrible things, but we are also seeing a huge positive uprising.
What are two to three of your favorite brands you like to support and why?
I am supporting Black-owned businesses right now. I’m obsessed with everything from Bephie’s Beauty Supply. Their tees are completely different than mine, and I love them! Pur Home cleaning supplies are also my jam. Then I’m just using my cash to support organizations.
What’s one fashion or beauty trend we shouldn’t sleep on and why?
Sunscreen. Trust me. I am seeing the results of tanning as a teen, and it’s not cute.