A survivor and dreamer with a heart of gold
by Maria Trajano
“I am blessed. I am empowered. I am strong.” These are the words I first see when I walk into Karnna Fashion Lab, a modern and stylish fashion consulting firm in Pompano Beach. A bold, polished woman comes out to greet me, and I am immediately struck by the positive and bright energy that radiates from her. The woman is Karina Gomez-Herrera, owner of Karnna Fashion Lab and founder of Designers and Creative Teams Against Domestic Violence. She gives me a quick but fulfilling tour of the “lab” where her work is done: her charming dressing rooms, impeccable production area, and chic office equipped with a wall full of cum laude diplomas from numerous institutions. She walks me to her swank meeting room where we sit down, and I can already tell there is a complexity about her that is going to make this a very interesting hour and a half.
Karina Gomez-Herrera has a story to tell, and she hopes her title and position in her business can give her the platform to change the world. Currently, the 49-year-old businesswoman is the founder and CEO of Karnna Fashion Lab, where she serves as a designer, consultant, producer, and networking resource in the South Florida fashion industry for a diverse number of clients. However, this wasn’t always her career. She started where anyone would: at the very beginning.
An immigrant from Venezuela, Karina spent 14 years as a fashion designer with one of Venezuela’s biggest fashion companies, Marshal USA, who brought her to the United States in 1998 to expand. From New York to Miami, she attended fashion shows, researched trends and exposed herself to information on American soil that proved to make her essential to the business. However, with a young toddler to raise and the inability to constantly travel, Karina decided to make the United States her home and relocated to sunny Miami, Florida. This is where Karina had an important realization that unconditionally transformed her and made her the dynamic person I couldn’t snap out of listening to.
Karina is a survivor of domestic violence, both physical and verbal. She explained that “victim” is no longer the term used to describe her, as she is proud of how she overcame and survived the abuse. It takes strength, confidence and faith to exit toxic relationships, all of which Karina demonstrates with poise. After finding the strength to leave the negative behind her, Karina blossomed like a flower and was en route to creating a new life for herself and her son. Upon relocation and exiting a harmful environment, she noticed that the manufacturing industry in South Florida was plummeting rather than booming. Factories were closing and companies were outsourcing, and since her company was one of them, and was returning to Venezuela, she found herself out of a job.
Once again, Karina found herself at the bottom. Working as an assistant to a pattern-maker at Ivory International, she began learning the business of the American fashion industry from the ground up. Having the ability to be both teacher and student, she taught herself communication strategies, industrial approaches, cultural education, overseas knowledge, tailoring massive productions, producing from scratch, and technological computer programs such as Gerber computerized pattern-making. With her commitment, determination and habit of always finishing what she started, Karina grew an enormous amount at that same company. In eight years, she became one of their most prized designers, designing for the likes of Babies “R” Us, Target, JCPenney, Sears and many others.
An avid learner and observer, Karina knows how to be successful by staying ahead of the industry. She explained to me that she has always gravitated towards fashion and creativity, and had a passion for it, even as a young girl. At 4 years old, she was cutting pictures out of newspapers and gluing together outfits. She was sewing dresses for her Barbies, and with her mother, she could create almost anything out of an old ripped sleeve or a single button. Just like the adult Karina, 8-year-old Karina refused to leave the room until her project was done — the kind of determination necessary to prevail in the fashion industry today.
That same determination was needed to emotionally heal from the trouble she had endured from domestic abuse. If there’s one thing she learned from conquering the abuse, it’s that the snap to reality leads you to pursue your dreams. She credits a lot of her recovery to a very fond friend and trainer, Teocrito “Teo” Brito, who enlightened her and built her back up into the strong woman she once was. With his help, she was able to respect herself once again, as well as respect her own boundaries. She’s always had a dream, but it had been difficult to grasp because of her strained marriage. Karina knew she could never let anything come between her and her dream again. And nothing ever did.
She dreamed a dream
Karina went on to pursue numerous ventures and even better: a bigger career. She graduated from The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and earned her masters at Miami International University of Art & Design. Truth be told, I thought at this point her story was inspiring and great just as it was. However, as she continued telling her story, I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface of this amazingly complex and compelling woman, and was tempted to call Point! Publications and ask how they managed to get me an interview with Superwoman herself.
To begin with, it was obvious to me that Karina has to do everything her own way to make sure it is done right. But, is it possible to do everything? For Karina, it is. There isn’t a challenge she can’t conquer and the word “no” doesn’t seem to exist in her vocabulary. She remembers that when she was working with Marshal USA, she was constantly being lectured for always saying “yes” to the customer.
“They told me I didn’t have to say “yes” to everything, but I didn’t know how not to,” she said. “I really thought there was something wrong with me, a defect or something.”
Later on, Karina realized this wasn’t a blemish of any kind, but in fact, a blessing in disguise. After escaping her abuse, she learned to take all the things she believed were negative about her and turn them into her positives — which she credits as one of the best things she could have done for herself and her business.
Yes, yes, yes
By saying “yes” to every opportunity, Karina gained extensive experience within the fashion industry. She designed apparel — from MMA active gear to bulletproof vests for the army — through Point Blank Enterprise. Other companies called on her to do interior design work. Wanting to share as much knowledge as she could with those entering the field, she decided to return to The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale to teach several classes. She continuously shares her experiences in the fashion world in hopes that her students will learn vicariously through her. This is where her business began, where Karnna Fashion Lab was born merely as an idea, but a phenomenal one at that.
Karnna Fashion Lab serves as a consulting center for those aspiring to work in the fashion industry. They come to Karina for help, whether they want to produce a fashion line or design one. She meets with each client to determine their objectives and prioritize strategies. She takes the time to explore their preferences, and offers different options, making sure her developmental process is in sync with the client’s expectations. She then puts functional designs together: from her mind right onto the sketchbook.
She says she never fears not finding the right solution for her clients because she knows fear doesn’t allow her to move on and find an answer, and she knows God is always in charge. She highlights prayer and meditation as her main sources of encouragement and motivation, and as the reason for her developed intuition.
Sketching her artwork, putting together fabric, and measuring out every detail of every seam is therapy for Karina. When the client is satisfied with her designs and ready to execute a plan of action for their line, Karina single-handedly starts off the production in the U.S., emphasizing how important it is to keep companies and jobs here. She says this has worked well for her and her clients because it provides easy access to their work. She has built up a satisfied clientele, which has led to an increasing number of budding fashionistas enlisting her services.
Karnna Fashion Lab was born of a necessity — there was no way Karina could continue designing at home, with fabric on the dinner table and all over the apartment floor. Just a little over a year ago, she set out to find a location in which she could serve her clients in a healthy, upbeat environment and still have a place to work on her own designs. She dedicated herself every day during her lunch break to finding the perfect space, one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand on a sandwich. After driving along Powerline Road one evening, she decided on a very simple, bland office space that is now a glowing, vibrant, exclusive fashion empire. She designed the entire office from scratch, as well as the logo, because she wanted to make an impact with her style in South Florida.
“The industry in South Florida is good,” she said of fashion’s steady growth in Florida, “but it’s getting better. We’re making it better.”
Karina’s main goal with her company and associations in Broward County is to grow another fashion generation and provide them quality training in the field. She uses her time at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale to share her experiences, and she even gives tours of manufacturing facilities in Broward County so that her students can learn what it is like working in fashion production.
A heart of gold
This isn’t her only contribution to society. Karina’s passion and duty in life is to help and enlighten survivors of domestic violence through her foundation, Designers and Creative Teams Against Domestic Violence, which is part of her Empower for Success project. She attempts to provide these survivors a means by which they can find themselves again, regain control of their lives, and commit and dedicate themselves to a dream. Her strategy for success, which she also teaches her employees, is to plan, have an agenda, set a date, and work hard towards that goal. Karina teaches many who attend her foundation’s empowerment class how to heal, self-empower, lead, and not to blame — but to forgive.
In addition, she is constantly working and volunteering with the Women in Distress Foundation as well as the Hispanic Women of Distinction Foundation to bring about change in our community. It’s amazing how much someone can get done in 24 hours.
“Two hours, occasionally making it to six,” Karina responds, laughing, when I ask her how many hours she actually sleeps a day. “My goal is to eventually make it to eight.” I tell her to set a date.
I asked Karina what advice she has for young entrepreneurs with a dream, regardless of whether or not in fashion. Her main advice is to structure your ideas, take out a sheet of paper and a pencil and put a date to your dreams, split big projects into portions and start small, then go on to the bigger picture. Most importantly, she advises to stay humble throughout the entire process. Without being humble, one doesn’t leave room to learn new things. There are many endearing qualities about Karina that are worth taking note of. In three words, Karina describes herself as faithful, blessed and strong, and I couldn’t agree more. Her light inspires many, and it’s safe to say Karina Gomez-Herrera stitches together more than just fabric; she stitches together our community.