FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl

This post is a little different than my typical travel fare…I’ve interviewed a fellow female entrepreneur named Erika, who founded RareDirndl.com.  On her website, she offers some of the most beautiful, hand-made dirndls offered in the U.S. (read: NOT China!!).  Translation: if you’re looking for a unique, kick-ass dirndl for Oktoberfest: look no further!!  Erika is an award-winning designer who has traveled the world to further her fashion journey, & after she reached out to me last year ~ we decided to collaborate on this interview post, where I’ll be asking her 9 questions about her life & business. 

***Note: All photos in this post were provided by Erika, unless otherwise noted.

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl, Girl Who Travels the World

Meet awesome female entrepreneur Erika, from Rare Dirndl!

Viva Oktoberfest & Prost!

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl

Q: Rare Dirndl was created out of your realization that there was a need in the U.S. market for high-quality, innovative dirndls. As you say, “There was a glaringly obvious lack of anything fresh, modern, or edgy in the American dirndl market. German dirndl designers were worlds ahead of us and that’s not acceptable in my eyes!” My question is, are you still one of the only authentic & original dirndl-creators in the U.S.? And if so, why do you think more have not stepped into the market?

A: When I started in 2010, there were really just two other manufacturers in the U.S. They’d been in business long before I came onto the scene, & in my opinion, their designs reflected it… but they had their niche. Since then, there are still only those two that I know of, still rocking their older tried-and-true designs!  However one of them, Ersnt Licht (who I send everyone to for Lederhosen) has started creating more modern designs, & carrying fresh designs from German brands as well. They keep me on my toes 😉

I don’t think I’m seeing any other smaller dirndl designers come onto the market because starting a small niche fashion line is scary AF. I would venture to say that most designers assume that it’s too small of a niche to make any profit. 

Q: It seems to me that one of your biggest “dirndl competitors” would be dirndls offered on Amazon, that are likely made in China : ) What makes your dirndls so much different, & what are the main reasons to spend more money on your product?

A. YES!  In recent years, more & more manufacturers are selling on Amazon.  Some are out of China…most are out of Pakistan. (Quick side note: pretty much all reasonably priced Lederhosen come from Pakistan. They’re made in factories that specialize in leather goods for motorcycle lines…so they really know their stuff when it comes to leather.  Dirndls…not so much.)  The difference is in the quality, fit, & ethical business practices. Amazon is selling the “fast fashion” version of dirndls.  You’ll wear it 1-3 times before it starts looking ragged.  These dirndls are cranked out by folks who can’t be paid much if you’re paying for a dress that costs $99 or less. My average fabric costs are higher than that. Their fabrics are less than stellar, & fit is hit-or-miss.  There are a lot of little details inside our designs that make the dirndl fit better, feel more comfortable and oh yeah…everyone who touches these products gets paid a proper wage! 

Q: If someone bought one of your dirndls that is NOT custom (aka one of 34 unique designs!), what are the chances they’d run into someone at Oktoberfest in Germany wearing the SAME dirndl?!

A: Not very likely, but it’s not impossible. Four of my customers wore the Belize dirndl to Oktoberfest this past year, & two ran into each other!  They took the cutest photo together & bonded over having the same dirndl.  So it clearly didn’t evoke that feeling of dread when you see someone in your outfit.  That being said, when I create a design…if there are 50 pieces made, that’s a lot for me (usually around 10-20), so take that amount of dirndls for the entire U.S. population; chances are you won’t run into a dirndl twin!

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl, Girl Who Travels the World

If you buy one of Erika’s dirndls, the chances that you’ll run into someone with the SAME dirndl at Oktoberfest are about….1 in a MILLION!!

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl

Q: Your dirndl designs are unique & beautiful ~ where do you get inspiration in creating them? Does one of the designs have a particularly funny or interesting origin story? And is any design your personal favorite, or do you have one that you’d love to wear to Oktoberfest personally?

A: I find inspiration all over! But to be super truthful, most of it comes from the fabrics & from what is missing in my inventory. If the racks are looking pretty dark…time to design some brighter dirndls!

Funny inspiration… My second collection in 2011 was inspired by the TV show “Stargate Atlantis.”  This was probably the MOST fun collection to design & curate, & I loved every piece.  I still wear one of them on a regular basis.  My favorite dirndl, aka the one I’ve worn most often is: “The Raven.”  It was inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, & it has all sorts of creepy motifs on the bodice: skulls, ravens, potion bottles, frogs, etc. I don’t know why, but I just love that one. And it was a best seller in 2014 as well! 

Q: How many times have you been to Oktoberfest?! Do members of your family visit every year?

A: Ahhhh…my most dreaded question.  I, Erika the dirndl maker, have never ever been to Oktoberfest in Munich. Members of my family have gone, but I have not.  I’ve been to Munich many times, but never for Oktoberfest!  Yes, it’s definitely on my list…but right now I have a two-year old, my husband just had changed careers, & so my priorities are more here than there. 

(***Note from Noelia: I would LOVE to go to your first Oktoberfest with you Erika ~ should the opportunity ever present itself!)

Q: It seems that representing German culture is extremely important to your company’s overall mission. When you hear the words, “German culture,” what exactly does that mean to you? What memories does it conjure up? And for someone like me, who is of German descent, but has little or no connection to German culture: how do you hope your designs & mission influence that connection?

Q&A with Erika from Rare Dirndl, Girl Who Travels the World, Erika + her Grandmother

A young Erika in 1991, with her “Oma.”

A: Yes: Heritage, tradition, family, culture…all values that I run Rare Dirndl on.  To me, “German Culture” doesn’t mean giant pretzels & liters of beer.  While fun, it’s so much more than that.  I know a lot about my ancestors who came to Chicago from German towns in former Yugoslavia, & honoring their hard-work & legacy is a major part of what I call “German Culture.”  Traditions like baking Christmas cookies as a family, laughing over a schnitzel or goulash dinner, or at the classic German phrases Oma used to say are all things that come back to me when I wear a dirndl, even if it’s covered in chains & spikes. For someone who has German roots, but didn’t grow up with a connection, I would hope that the dirndl is a gateway into discovering more. Something fun to kick off the curiosity or start traditions of your own.  Things like food & drink usually spark this, but I like to come at it with a different approach: through fashion!

Q: You’ve traveled to Ghana, West Africa, India, & Paris as part of your fashion adventures ~ even winning the trip to India as a prize for coming in 1st place at the AATCC 2009 C2C®/CITDA Design Competition.  How has travel influenced & shaped you, both as a woman & as a designer?

A: Travel is hands-down the easiest & most fun way to grow, learn, & get inspired!  In college, all my fellow fashion design students were studying abroad in London or Paris…but I saw the Ghana trip as an opportunity I could NOT pass up, & it really was the launching point for mydesire to learn more about clothing & textiles from my own heritage.  Their textile industry & the pride they take in their fabrics & clothing was something really new to me.  Upon my return, I wanted to research what my ancestors wore, how they made their clothes, etc. This led me down the path to combine my loves: fashion & German heritage, to start Rare Dirndl (of course after I did enough research to make sure it was a viable idea).

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl, Girl Who Travels the World

Erika’s gorgeous “Ghana” dirndl was inspired by fabrics from her travels to Africa…

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl

Q: There is much talk about body positivity & sizing that represents the very wide range of sizes that women come in! As a small business owner, how difficult is it to both offer & keep in inventory such a wide range of product(s)? Has this ever presented a particular challenge?

A: Figuring out what styles, & what sizes to carry is indeed a challenge.  And it wasn’t until the last few years that I really started working hard on developing better patterns for sizes 18-28.  In the early years, I just asked the woman who digitized & graded my patterns to size up. (Quick note: When patterns are made, they’re made by hand, on paper.  Then they’re digitized, put into the computer & graded, made into different sizes.)  This was NOT effective, because I was going from sample size 6 to 20…& those are totally different body types.  Since then, I’ve had all new patterns made, starting at size 18 ~ that are specifically designed for a curvier fit.  The dirndl is easily one of the most flattering dresses, because it hugs in all the right ways.  No matter what size, every girl deserves a dirndl that’s a great fit.

Back to your question about what to order.  It’s kind of a crap shoot.  You just don’t know.  So I really try to keep as many sizes in stock as I can.  Sitting on inventory is scary, though… but is part of the job, I suppose.

Q: Finally, what has been the most fulfilling part of being a female entrepreneur? In creating RareDirndl.com, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: The most fulfilling part is seeing that all the hard work & countless loooooooong hours have paid off, & I can now work a flexible schedule that allows me to be there for my son.  For the most part, I have the freedom to work when I need to, take random days off, & work from just about anywhere.  Knowing that I have this & that I built it this way is an awesome feeling. There’s also nothing quite like the thrill of seeing someone you don’t know wearing one of your designs at an event.  Some of my all-time favorite moments are when strangers come up to me & talk about how much they love my dirndl, & how it looks like one from this “amazing designer who creates the coolest dirndls. Her name is Erika ~you’ve got to check out her stuff!”  It’s happened on a few occasions & while super awkward in the moment, it’s my favorite. 

Lastly, I’m really proud that because of my business there are other women who can provide for their families. It’s a perk I didn’t expect, but really makes me happy.

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl, Girl Who Travels the World

Erika, putting the finishing touches on one of her designs.

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl

HUGE thank you to Erika from Rare Dirndl for answering all my questions!  Be sure to check out her website at RareDirndl.com, & if you’re looking for an authentic & close-to-custom dirndl as possible in the States, visit her website!!

FAQ with Erika from Rare Dirndl, Girl Who Travels the World