Sathya Balakumar and Heather Green work in the bridal industry, so calling them a match made in heaven may be playing on a pun, but it couldn’t be more accurate. The two refer to themselves as the “Lakum Duo,” because their vision for the brand is the same: they are set on establishing a high-fashion company that infuses heritage with modernity, without the intimidation factor that often follows couture.
SWAAY sat down with the Lakum founders to talk about their latest collection, setting out on their own and what designing for the “non-traditional” bride means to them.
What is your inspiration for this new collection, Elemental 2.0?
Sathya Balakumar: “Our story is about sleek, clean silhouettes, and then we pepper them with beautiful embroideries. For this collection, I wanted to go back to the techniques, the tailoring, the structure, very simple, sophisticated foundation pieces and then build off of that. The elemental pieces of the collection are the basic pieces that we grow from, and those are the silhouettes that last for a lifetime.”
Heather Green: “We built off our original Elemental collection, and a lot of it was actually inspired by the brides that are coming into the store. We get to be educated on the floor by the women shopping from us.”
Lakum founders, Heather Green and Sathya Balakumar, at their Elemental 2.0 launch party.
What sets Lakum apart from other bridal boutiques?
HG: “We come from high fashion. I think that's clear in our direction and the way that we approach everything. We don't approach it from the bridal world. We will still do markets, we are still going to show October. We did a runway show last year and it was cool, it was an introduction for us, but what really makes Lakum is the two of us."
SB: “Some of the more traditional boutiques are like a factory. You’re in and out in 60 minutes, barely see the whole collection. It's a very unemotional experience.”
HG: “Our role in this world is to create beautiful gowns or pieces that make you feel beautiful and like your best self. That’s what we strive for.”
How did you develop the concept for your brand?
HG: “When we came together to create Lakum, we knew we wanted to do something in bridal, but in a way that would shake up the industry and cater to the modern woman. We spoke to friends and friends of friends who had been recently married to find out about their shopping experience, and how they selected their wedding gown. In essence, what we discovered is that most women selected a look they thought they SHOULD wear as opposed to a look that allowed them to feel like themselves while walking down the aisle. We created Lakum to give the woman who is utterly self aware the opportunity to be her authentic self on her wedding day and throughout her entire wedding weekend.”
What inspired you to start your own brand, and what continues to drive you?
HG: “I worked at Marni and then I went on to work at Miguelina, and for me it wasn't the right fit. I ended up turning into a corporate sales person. I originally worked for small brands where there was creativity, actual communication and relationships with the people I was working with. So now, the stores that carry us are our friends. We get to build this relationship and have this be our shared vision. We just want to do this for us. Once we decided that, which was around year two and a half, we opened the store. We’ve been here about a year and a half now. We decided that we’re going to work one-on-one and that’s the feedback that we’re going to listen to, instead of anyone else. It’s hard, going out on your own. It’s a big deal. But we have a lot of gratitude. We call ourselves the Lakum duo because even though we're different in many ways, the vision for the brand is exactly the same.”
Where were you located before your Brooklyn showroom?
HG: “We've actually always been in Brooklyn. Our origins are in Cobble Hill, but prior to this space, we were located just down the street. When we began to get requests from brides from across the country to come and make appointments with us to shop the line, we realized we needed a true retail location. We were so fortunate to find this gorgeous loft space with a roof deck just a few blocks away. So we now have a Lakum Boutique, the first of many we hope.”
Did you have any challenges finding investors for your very first collection?
HG: “We know how to stretch a penny and relied solely on our own financing as well as small gift from our family to create the first collection. We are one of the small businesses out there who can say we are fully owned by the founders.”
What makes a Lakum bride?
SB: “It’s the modern bride. She’s in control of this, it's now her vision. It's not like the industry or society telling her that she needs to wear a long, traditional, corseted white gown. She wants to wear something that’s gorgeous and beautifully made that she can wear again and again.”
HG: “Yes! Totally her. We have plenty of city hall brides, same-sex brides, women who just don’t want to wear dresses. Separates have been a huge part of our business. Now, it’s 50/50 between gowns and separates. We have some beautiful suiting, and it’s becoming one of the hottest things we have…We never know what our brides are going to gravitate towards. For appointments, brides can bring as many people as they want, but what’s very cool is a lot of our brides come solo. She's utterly self-aware.”
SB: “She doesn’t need the feedback. She just knows what she wants.”
What are you working on next?
SB: “The next collection that I'm working on, the theme is 'non-linear.' The path to love is not a linear path, that’s what I’m envisioning. I'm trying to work out elements that go against the grain, whether that's going to be brought from texture or fabric. I always look at what’s working in the collection and I talk to Heather. It’s about marrying the concepts that I’m thinking about to what we need to enhance what we already have.”
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."