Alumna takes talents to national level with high-end gowns

By University Communications
October 27, 2016
A strapless duchess satin column gown in claret is part of Caroline Hayden’s fall-winter 2016 collection. Photo by Michael Haug. Styling and creative direction by Hollie Mae Schultz.

Photo: A strapless duchess satin column gown in claret is part of
Caroline Hayden’s fall-winter 2016 collection. Photo by Michael Haug.
Styling and creative direction by Hollie Mae Schultz.


In 2015 when she turned 35 and after 13 years of making custom bridal gowns, Caroline Hayden decided it was time. “It was now or never. If I don’t try to make it happen now, it may never happen,” she told herself.

“It” was her dream — to become a nationally known women’s wear designer.

She took the plunge, and after releasing her debut collection in February the UW-Stout apparel design and development alumna is seeing success come together a few stitches at a time.

For example, Hayden saw buyers excited about her 2016 fall-winter designs when she met with them in New York; she received encouraging emails from stylists interested in using her garments for their celebrity clients and in their photo shoots; Hayden’s gowns twice have been used in Harper’s Bazaar magazine shoots for online articles; her 22-piece collection of gowns and separates were for sale on Moda Operandi, a leading fashion website; and the collection was featured in Minnesota Monthly magazine.

Caroline HaydenIn September, her spring-summer 2017 collection was presented during private appointments in New York.

“The research I did said that if I could just survive the first collection then I could have an opportunity to learn the ropes and start seeing a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. That’s exactly what’s happening,” said Hayden, a 2003 graduate. “The feedback has been very positive.

“I went into it knowing it’s very difficult. I’m going up against very wealthy and well-known designer brands. It’s an uphill battle for sure. The whole experience has been very emotional.”

Hayden’s first collection can be seen at her website. She designs for the modern, fashion-conscious bride with high-end fabric and detailed embroidery. Her gowns, also evening gowns, accentuate the female figure but aren’t revealing, what she calls a “seamless extension of the woman.

“I base most of my designs on the shape of the garment and how it’s going to make the woman feel,” she said. “It just feels like the clothing is giving you a hug and comforting you.”

The average cost of a Caroline Hayden gown from her ready-to-wear collection is $4,100. The average cost of a custom bridal gown, her original business for 13 years, is $5,000. She sells her custom gowns, including a fitting with the bride, through the White Room in downtown Minneapolis.

All of her designs are made in the U.S. The fabric comes from the U.S., the United Kingdom and India.

“It’s the first time in my career I’m happy to charge that much because I know what I’m doing and my time is worth that now,” said Hayden, who is married and has a son, 3.

A vest and ball skirt in silk white are part of Caroline Hayden’s fall-winter 2016 collection.

Hayden, who has no employees and a small office in her father-in-law’s car dealership, didn’t let geography get in the way of her decision to sell her designs nationally. She lives in Crookston, Minn., population 8,000, in the northwest corner of the state far from fashion hot spots.

She grew up in nearby Perham, Minn., where she learned about fabric and entrepreneurship at her mother’s Bay Window quilt shop, named one of the top 10 quilt shops in America by Better Homes and Gardens.

At UW-Stout, she learned valuable lessons that she uses every day as a designer and developed the confidence she needed to open her own business. Her senior project, a bridal collection in shades of white, won Best in Show and the Designer’s Choice Award in the annual Silhouettes Fashion Show on campus.

“That’s the first time in my life I thought I was any good at it,” she said.

One of those gowns was chosen as a national finalist at a fashion show in Chicago. “I flew there and got to see one of my gowns on a runway. That moment gave me the encouragement to continue designing.”

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Photos

Middle Photo: Caroline Hayden

Bottom Photo: A vest and ball skirt in silk white are part of Caroline Hayden’s fall-winter 2016 collection. Photo by Michael Haug. Styling and creative direction by Hollie Mae Schultz.