Talent Profiles

StylePortfolios: JoAnn (Santoro) Lieberman

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View JoAnn’s portfolio at StylePortfolios.com

What is your employment status?
JL: Freelance/own label

What is your official job title?
JL: Freelance textile designer/ small business owner

Please summarize your professional career in 1 to 3 sentences; what should everyone know about you?
JL: I’ve served as a textile artist, art studio manager, print stylist and color coordinator primarily in the woman’s apparel industry for 35+ years, for both textile studios and manufacturers such as Young Stuff Apparel and Liz Claiborne in NYC and Carole Little in Los Angeles. I continue to create prints and graphics as a freelance artist and also shifted my focus on creating pet wear and accessories for dogs.

Describe what you do?
JL: After turning to freelancing as a print and pattern designer in 2008, I also wanted to try my hand at designing sweaters for dogs. I created six alpaca sweaters, traveled to South America and had them hand crocheted by Fair Trade artisans in Lima, Peru. I went on to add fabric harnesses and matching leashes, bandannas and accessories for pets which I created myself I’ve always loved mixing patterns and vintage trims and, given my background in fashion and textiles, I still create mood boards, research current trends and print shows to create pattern collections but now I also use the same process for my pet wear business.

Why did you choose to be a designer?
JL: I never really cultivated the notion to become a fashion designer. My mother taught me how to sew, knit and crochet and I made wacky, multi-printed mini-skirts, bell bottom pants and bulky mixed patterned scarves and hats, but was always more enamored with pattern and color than with silhouettes. The creative foundation was always there and just grew over the years. I learned a lot on the job, took classes and just observed.

What steps did you take to become a designer?
JL: I studied fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City in the mid 1960’s. It was a time when conceptual art, abstract expressionism and pop art were altering views of traditional art forms and I wanted to be part of that. It was also a time of increased consumerism by my generation, so although I thought I wanted to be a fine artist, fashion was shifting toward the youth culture, rock and roll and abandoning traditional values. It was an exciting period when youthful self-expression was a positive quality especially encouraged by the fashion establishment and so, it felt like the right choice for my own self expression. 40 years later, I’m still excited by current culture and especially technology.

What is the best/most challenging part of your job?
JL: I’m a chronic perfectionist so the most challenging part of my job was always deciding when a design was finished. If it weren’t for deadlines and time restraints which I’ve had to force myself to adhere to in the professional apparel world, I’d be completely undisciplined and rework a design a dozen times because I love getting lost in the process of creating and experimenting.

If you weren’t a designer what would you be?
JL: I’d run an animal sanctuary.

What do you like about what you do?
JL: The challenge of creating something beautiful out nothing but an idea, then taking that idea , maneuvering and manipulating it shaping it into a wearable item. Being absorbed in color and pattern has an amazing Zen-like effect and for me to experience that on a daily basis really makes work fulfilling. I still get excited when I see my designs in stores or catalogs, or when someone posts a picture of their pet wearing my sweater or harness vest.

What’s a common misconception people have about what you do?
JL: Designing for dogs is frivolous and silly. I don’t think so, but I’d rather spend my time with someone who loves dogs and cares enough to have fun with them, let them wear sweaters to keep warm, and don’t pass judgement on others who feel differently. The world needs a dose of cuteness from time to time.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JL: Still absorbed in art, design and music with my dog at my feet. My career has been very fulfilling over the years and I’ve achieved most of my goals to my satisfaction. Now it’s all about enjoying it.

What sparked your interest in design?
JL: In the late 1960’s I worked as a sport shirt designer for an Oleg Cassini licensee in New York and shopped textile design studios for original prints and yarn dyed stripes. It was a time in fashion when prints for menswear was an exploding trend and I loved the idea of maybe designing the prints myself. After the birth of my first child, I took a textile design class at Parsons, and went on to apprentice at several textile studios in New York City. It was there that I observed and perfected the process of creating original artwork, hand painted pattern repeats, cohesive coordinates and collections and accurate color matching.

How has your work evolved since you began your career?
JL: I continue to develop hand painted pattern concepts but manipulate them in Photoshop & Illustrator, which opened up a whole new way of creating art that I’m consistently excited by. I can also quickly create my dog harnesses and leashes using Photoshop & illustrator templates I developed although I still carry a sketchbook to jot down quick sketch ideas. Trim, button, swatch and accessory libraries are fabulous for trying out different embellishments and print combinations. All in all, CAD speeds up the design process which wasn’t possible 40 years ago when I first started out.

Are there any types of clothing/footwear/accessories that you avoid wearing?
JL: No. I wear anything and everything I want proudly.

What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work?
JL: Travel. I have the opportunity to occasionally join my husband when he’s invited to speak at film festivals around the world. While there, I make sure to scour museums, flea markets boutiques and fabric shops for new ideas.

What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your career?
JL: Always stay current. It’s easy to stay current no matter what your age as long as you maintain an inquisitive mind. There’s always something more to be learned.

Are you superstitious or do you have any rules you live by?
JL: Always maintain a sense of humor.

What’s your motto?
JL: You are the master of your own destiny.


JoAnn Lieberman is a versatile, multi-disciplined freelance artist specializing in pattern and surface design development utilizing traditional hand paint techniques and CAD for women’s fashion, children’s wear, pet wear, stationery, home goods, concepts & trends.

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Chris Kidd is the owner of StyleCareers.com, StylePortfolios.com, StyleDispatch.com, FashionCareerFairs.com and MayoroftheMall.com.