Designing Women—Four Naperville Area Women Share Their Style For Success

March 2015 View more

Meet four Naperville area women who are having an impact on the fashion and design industry. They are learning that having artistic skills is not enough—they also have to be self-sufficient business owners. Their talents may have taken them in different directions, but they all have three things in common— persistence, pedigree, and the passion to succeed.

SmallFeature0315nm sophia forero 3_800pxJewelry Designer Sophia Forero

For Greek-born Sophia Forero, jewelry is synonymous with culture and beauty. It was while writing her thesis on International Relations that she first studied African adornments. As she learned more, she became fascinated with the importance of jewelry in culture, from the gold coin vests worn by Greek women to show off their dowries, to Masai Indian women’s deep beaded collars where every color has a different meaning. Now, the Naperville-based artist is on a mission to make a collection of jewelry based on different world cultures. She’s set up a YouTube channel called Adorn the World and hopes to travel to learn more first hand.

“I want to meet indigenous jewelry makers from around the world,” said Forero.

Forero makes custom pieces and offers unique collections. The eclectic range includes everything from rings made of mosaic stones to leather and mink cuffs.
“I feel like I am on a crusade. I’m all about making women feel beautiful,” said Forero. “My collections are kind of like Oprah meets Dolce and Gabbana, they are very high-end. It’s all about taking care of yourself. You are not defined by anything but yourself. You define what beauty is. Whether you are great at being a mom, or a great jet setter, or an excellent friend, those are things that make you feel beautiful and with my jewelry you are enhancing what you already have,” said Forero.

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SmallFeature0315nm niala conte 1_800pxClothing Designer Niala Conte

Before launching her own line of classic clothes, Niala Conte went into the boutique business to find out what customers really wanted. As the owner of stores in Geneva and Lincoln Park, she launched her own collection last year.

“I’ve owned boutiques for five years and in that time have learned what my customers liked and listened to them before coming up with two collections,” said Conte. “I feel like it’s a timeless collection—very classic with a modern twist. There is no age barrier and I can make them in any size. I feel we can create anything for anyone. Nothing too edgy or too frilly, but something you can wear for a long time.”

Born in Trinidad, Conte worked in yacht insurance in Florida before meeting her husband.

“I was never one to take a risk,” she said. “I was single and insurance was the only thing I knew.”

When her husband suggested she open her own boutique, she took the plunge. “He’s always very supportive of me,” Conte added.

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SmallFeature0315nm tania jarvinen 2_800pxTextile Designer Tania Jarvinen

If you were to pick just one word to describe Tania Jarvinen, it would have to be ‘sisu’, the Finnish word for resilience. Although Jarvinen is only 50 percent Finnish, she says she is 100 percent sisu.

“Fins have sisu. They are very resilient, with a ton of grit and are not afraid of a challenge. In fact, they often look for challenges,” said the Naperville mother of four. “I work an obscene number of hours at different jobs so I can build up to a full-time focus on this and only this.”

‘This’ is a business selling bespoke high-end ties, scarves, and accessories using unique digital designs that Jarvinen creates herself.

“I am starting very small with simple products but my goal is to be a viable brand in high-end fashion,” said Jarvinen.

Jarvinen’s inspiration came from a collection of Hermes ties that her Finnish father wore. She comes from an entrepreneurial family and the idea of turning her art into textiles has taken her on an incredible journey around the world.

“I’m a pretty spiritual person and from the beginning I knew I had to network globally,” she said. Her fabrics are made in England and Italy and she has partners in Dubai and Switzerland.

“I had a feeling I would work in Dubai and in less than a year after I started I got a call from a company there. I didn’t seek it out, it came to me,” said Jarvinen. “I wasn’t ready but I thought I would meet with them. I have had so many great meetings, it totally changed things for me. It’s exciting to be open minded.”

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SmallFeature0315_nm jill roberts 1_800pxHandbag Designer Jill K

It’s all about natural textiles for Jill Roberts of Jill K Bags. “I just love the natural smell and raw edges of my hand-selected hides,” said Roberts. “I use every last piece to make my high-quality one-of-a-kind pieces.”

Roberts’ inspiration is the hides themselves. She’ll throw one on the ground and walk around it, thinking up ideas of what to make. Other times, she’ll repurpose vintage or faux furs, leather boots, and belts. She also dyes crocodile skins to make accessories like cuffs and bracelets.

Roberts has been working with textiles for 10 years, but has only recently taken her business to the next level.

“Last year, I went to Dallas where they really liked my Western flair,” said Roberts. “I really like to make one-of-a-kind specials, so you know it’s my bag when you see it. I make everything myself and ideally I want to sell wholesale to boutiques. I look for ideas from magazines and fashion designers, but everything I do is unique.”

Roberts began crafting in the 1980s, knitting her own felt. She’s self-taught and loves what she does. She works from her Wheaton home, where she has a studio. She admits to being a little shy, and says having the persona of Jill K after her middle name Katherine, helps boost her confidence.

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Photos by Robyn Sheldon