News

From garage to gold

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Christine Carlson and Alexander Dehaan remember the nights they sat in their garages, pajama-clad, sewing crystals onto blouses, vests and denim shirts. That was 14 years ago.

Today they operate a nationwide, Federal Way-based apparel company — Christine Alexander — and boast big-name customers and clothing collectors nationwide.

“We never got married because we never had time,” Dehaan said. “Everything we did, we did together.”

The Christine Alexander apparel company features clothing accented with genuine Swarovski crystals.

Carlson and Dehaan met while working as sales representatives for a clothing company in the 1980s. Their idea for creating crystal-accented clothing was born during a Caribbean cruise. Carlson was asked to model some outfits accented with studs and embroidery. The name of the Caribbean cruise was “Crystal Harmony.”

Carlson and and Dehaan thought, “Hey, we could do better than this.”

So they did. But they never dreamed of becoming so successful.

“We found there was a niche for something different in the souvenir industry,” Dehaan said.

Their creations are sold at 3,500 boutiques nationwide. They have a factory and an outlet store that sells overruns and imperfect clothes at a discount. They also run Christine’s Boutique, a store at Gateway Center in Federal Way.

In those early days, Carlson walked into boutiques wearing her crystal-accented clothes. And every time, she walked out with an order.

Within two years, they moved the business out of their garages and into a factory.

“We’ve always made a profit,” Dehaan said.

“We’re the only company in our (price) range authorized to use Swarovski tags,” he said. “We only use absolutely the best crystals. Our equivalent is very expensive and very proprietary.”

Christine Alexander markets to cruise lines, casinos, amusement parks, resorts, yacht clubs and Nordstrom, among others.

It boasts some big-name fans and customers. Hillary Clinton bought a shirt with an eagle design in Alaska several years ago. And Ivana Trump, ex-wife of developer Donald Trump, bought a custom-made outfit. An autographed photo of Ivana in the company’s lobby reads, “To Christine...Best wishes, Ivana.”

“The product’s very unique,” Carlson said. “A lot of women like it so much because they get a lot of compliments when they’re wearing them.”

The company has a team of artists –– all trained in Federal Way –– who create new designs for the crystals. Some popular designs include puppies, faces, and roses. The most popular are initials.

“We make our own designs,” Carlson said.

The company is also self-sufficient. Carlson and Dehaan have perfected their hot-fixing process, and machinist Paul Rolschau helps customize tools and machinery.

About 75 people work at the Christine Alexander factory and outlet store in Federal Way. The company plans to expand its market to Europe next year and introduce a new washable suede line, as well as jewelry.

“I just always loved clothes, and I have a good eye,” Carlson said.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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