Opening a business is a feat in itself, but opening up a business during a pandemic is certainly something that most people would shy away from—but for Madelange Laroche being a fashion designer has always been her dream even as a young girl, and not even COVID-19 could stop it.
Laroche currently resides in the City of Brotherly Love but grew up in Haiti, where her first love to design was harnessed through her family.
“I’ve been making clothes since I was very young,” says Laroche. “I remember when I was 7, I’d pick up fabric from the floor of my sister’s sewing and I would make my doll’s clothes. When I was 12 years old my first sewing lesson from my mom, it was only one day, but I never stopped sewing. Back in my country of Haiti, I would offer to help sew for bridal parties, and that stuck with me—wedding dresses, flower girls, everything.”
That love grew, and once Laroche came to the United States at the age of 21, she decided to make her dream of advancing in that career path more of a reality, but there were some obstacles that stood in her way. After heading down to the Sunshine State and attending The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale for Fashion Design, the young designer had to put it all on hold due to a language barrier.
“It was really hard for me to continue because of my English. I was told to drop out and get more English before coming back,” explains Laroche. “While I was taking more English classes, my plan then changed to come to New York and go to The Fashion Institute of Technology— that was one of my dreams. So I moved to New York in a little basement apartment and went to community college.”
After some advice from family and friends, Laroche decided to fold on fashion for the time being and instead got her degree in nursing and has worked in the field for over a decade now. Soon after making that decision, she moved from The Big Apple to Philadelphia, and the path that she thought was cut short began to unravel and display more possibilities.
While still working on perfecting her skills from Haiti, to Florida, to New York, to Pennsylvania, Laroche then attended the Moore College of Art here in Philadelphia and graduated in 2017 with a degree in Fashion Design. Following her graduation, Laroche was selected as a member of Philadelphia’s renowned Fashion Incubator program in 2018, where she perfected her skills in design and business in a workshop-centric space with other like-minded designers and entrepreneurs.
“Shoutout to Philly Fashion Incubator, without their help support and knowledge I would not have been able to do what I do today,” says Laroche.
According to their official website, the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator’s mission is to nurture emerging fashion entrepreneurs from Philadelphia design schools and the local fashion community. By connecting them to the global fashion network and encouraging them to expand and retain their businesses in Philadelphia, the Incubator contributes to the region’s economic development.
However, with sights set on 2020 to finally open her boutique, the pandemic did throw a wrench in plans. But, the shutdown actually provided more of a source of inspiration and motivation for the designer.
“To open my studio was always something that was in the back of my head,” explains Laroche. “I was working towards everything and I felt like 2020 was the year for us to open. But when COVID-19 hit, it was very hard for me. It wasn’t like a dream failed, I knew I could always do it, but I thought maybe I should wait. When I was talking to one of my brothers, he said, if I was you I would take the time while the country is down to look for everything you need to open yourself. I said but people are closed… he said yes, people who were here before you are closed, but if you find a place, you’re going to open.”
Taking her brother’s advice into considerations, Laroche opened her boutique, Madelange Laroche Bridal Design Studio, this past month on Nov. 7 after finding a space in the summer in Elkins Park. The space is what Laroche calls “a one-stop-shop for brides” with everything from ready-to-wear bridal dresses, dresses for the bridal party, flower girls and mother of the bride, plus all of the accessories needed from champagne glasses to flower baskets. But the customizable portion is really what Laroche has placed her focus on. Having her own dream come to fruition, she wants to do the same for brides to be. There will also be strict guidelines in place including limiting appointments and mask wearing to help keep everyone safe and healthy.
“You’ll come here to get your childhood dream. For my customer, we design together, I’ve got your idea, a vision and we can put it on paper. I opened the store not because I just want to open, I opened it with everybody in mind. I customized my store to serve the needs of other people in Philadelphia,” says Laroche. “Personally, it doesn’t feel real. I still don’t believe I’m doing it. I’m a little scared, but I have faith. Everything will work.”
For more information, visit madelangecouture.com.