My grandparents had roots in fashion and textiles. My parents did not. So how did I know I wanted to build a fashion business myself? To be honest, I don't think I knew-knew until recently, but here is how it all went down…
When I was twelve years old, I would walk to the Detroit Public Library with my two best friends every week. There I would check out 5 fashion related magazines every week: Vogue, Elle, Seventeen, Sassy and Glamour. My family was lower income in those days so we could never afford to buy these magazines. It didn’t matter to me. I would take the magazines home and peruse them a hundred times, looking for clothing that I found striking. I would then sketch outfits inspired by the glossy photos, unknowingly designing fashion of my own. Always statement. Always stand out.
Early fashion school creation
My love for fashion started in those years, when I realized clothing was a choice. It was not just putting garments on one’s body but self-expression as a form of art. Even after I went to college and pursued a “practical” computer science degree, my love of fashion continued. Since I continued to not have a lot of money, thrift shops and outdoor markets were where I found unique clothing and put together outfits that no one had ever seen. I received endless compliments from strangers on the street about my outfits. The number of times I was asked, “I love your outfit. Where did you get that?” is countless. I’m not bragging, this whole story as a point. Keep reading.
People used to ask me all the time when I was going to do something “real” with fashion, especially after I obsessively watched every season of Project Runway. I always laughed and shook my head. Who was I, someone with ZERO qualifications, going to do with fashion? So I knew how to sketch dresses and put together a decent looking outfit. So what? I didn’t even know how to sew!
During my entire twenties, I laughed off these comments from friends and co-workers. Yet those voices stayed with me and one day once I was comfortably settled into a computer science job, I said, what the heck. I told my major Imposter Syndrome to "hold on for a second" and then I walked into the fashion academy near my apartment (yes, the one I’d passed a zillion times and peeked in through the windows like a total creep) and inquired about taking an intro class. For a friend, of course.
Walking a charity show runway in one of my creations
To my surprise, the fashion school people didn’t ask me (or my imaginary friend) to pass any tests, sew something right there on the spot or show any certifications. They didn’t even point dramatically and say, “YOU! YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!”
They just happily took my money and gave me a start date, asking me to bring my sewing machine and serger. Yikes. I had no sewing machine. I didn't actually know what a serger was. I carefully wrote down the list of things to bring and hightailed it home to look stuff up on Wikipedia.
And then I started at New York Fashion Academy. Tuesday and Thursday evenings and all day Saturdays. Almost 20 hours a week! Lots of interesting chaos followed such as me learning to sew by hiring someone from a fabric store, then stabbing and burning myself as well as lopping off a huge chunk of my hair but I did it. We had lots of challenging projects in fashion school such as learning to duplicate our favorite garments as well as creating a 12 item collection. To my surprise, many of the challenges I found…easy! So much 3D visualization and logical thinking. So much engineering!
Fashion == Engineering (mostly)
I scoured Seattle, Portland and New York for the most interesting fabric I could find. I did all of the assignments. I wore my creations everywhere. I walked lots of runways. Everyone else in my class were planning to start their own line upon graduation. When asked, I said that I was too. I even had the name picked out: Prima Dona, yet…
None of the pieces I made were things I absolutely couldn't live without. Nothing was *that* special. The fabric was fine. The silhouettes were okay. Nothing was particularly statement. I just wasn't convinced there was a market fit PLUS I had a great day job that I didn't want to take away from unless I 100% believed in my vision.
So I put the dream on hold in 2013. I honestly thought fashion school was a fun experiment and nothing would come of it…until one day when I got on a plane to Lagos, Nigeria in 2016…
(to be continued)
Lesson Learned: There are not many real "tests" in the real world. Often, if you just show up, you've made significant progress. Don't imposter syndrome yourself before you even get there!
Dona is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer to Prima Dona, the world's first ethically made bespoke fashion line for women. To learn more about us, visit us here: https://primadonastudios.com/