Several months ago I mentioned I would write a post about the challenges I’ve faced in the 10 years of designing my collection Alyssa Nicole. I just turned 27 and I’ve had this draft written for 8 months now, revising & editing over and over – hoping to get the words just right. When it comes to difficult topics, it’s really hard to get the words “just right”, so below are my thoughts on culture as I continue to pursue the “American Dream” as a Latina living in Silicon Valley.
My Soul Is Fed With Needle & Thread
Working in the fashion industry has been an incredibly eye opening experience. I think sometimes we forget the amount of physical labor that goes into producing a garment between patterning, cutting, sewing. I have so much respect for people that do this for a living, because it truly is labor intensive work.
I started by designing a collection from scrap fabric I purchased with the money I earned working part time in high school to building my brand. I always dreamed of designing dresses for women all over the world, but to have it become a reality is surreal. I design, create, manifest the vision, but it’s my clients who truly are at the heart of the brand Alyssa Nicole.
My job as a designer is to make women feel confident with what they already have, not to make them feel like they need more or that they are not enough. I’m merely designing pieces of your wardrobe. I am not selling an aspirational lifestyle, I believe your world is what you make of it, and I’m happy to design a collection tailored to fit your world. As a designer, it is a challenge, to design – not for yourself – but for others. I live to design beautiful dresses for my clients even if it means I have to handcraft every single dress myself.
When I compare myself to other young designers, I have to remind myself that I have to work 100 times harder to pursue my dream because I have a lot less – without connections in the fashion industry or funding to support the line, this has forced me to work much harder.
My grandparents moved to America from Mexico as migrant field workers, my parents had to work labor intensive jobs, picking berries in fields or working on farms early in their lives. My mother worked hard and made sure I had more then what I needed every day, so I’m grateful for that.
I am a Latina, the question surrounding my ethnicity never ends. I never think about the freckles on my face or color of my skin. Often times complete strangers approach me with “What are you?”. I am always shocked at the audacity of one human to ask another human “what they are”. I am Mexican American, my parents and I born and raised in Central California. I identify as a “California Girl”, with family that migrated to US in pursuit of the American Dream, this is what it means to be “All American”.
While growing up in the Central Valley, traumatic events during my youth have shaped my perspective and help me to empathize. Perspective seems to be an ongoing theme in my adult life, I live in the seediest neighborhood of one of the most expensive cities in the world, San Francisco. The issue of homelessness and drug use in Soma has escalated. I commute to work in Marin, where it seems that most residents drive Porsche’s and Tesla’s. On my commute home, the heartbreaking sight of people sleeping on the street outside my apartment, using drugs. There have been times where I was sexually harassed for several blocks on my way to get groceries in my neighborhood, and worse – mugged with my purse stolen right out of my hands.
Work Work Work
I wake up in the mornings to finish my orders, commute to my full time job in web, come home, and keep working. Work longer hours on the weekends, start designing a new collection, and begin the process all over in a couple months. Exhausted from 2 years working full time and designing every single day. If I have to cut, sew, pattern every single dress order in my shop for the next 10 years, I would, because the women wearing my collection are what give me life.
In all aspects of my career – from design school, to working in corporate, to industry events I’ve been bullied by mean girls. This is a time where so many women are coming together to support each other in causes from sexual assault, harassment in the work place, racism, and addressing the gender wage gap. Women who purposely try to keep other women down in the workplace is unacceptable. We are a sisterhood, we should respect one another, encourage one another, and celebrate successes together. Most opportunities and success I’ve had in design were presented to me by other women, I’m lucky to have a support system of empowering and inspiring female mentors. My learnings from these experiences have helped me to define the future of leadership and culture for building a successful team for Alyssa Nicole.
Escape Into Fashion
I’ve struggled a lot in the past 10 years, when I started my line I was looking for an escape and design kept me busy. Fashion serves most as a form of fantasy, as it should. I had been struggling internally because I had experienced trauma from sexual assault/abuse. This, above all, has been the most difficult challenge in my lifetime. This ultimately led me to getting involved in physical and verbally abusive relationships for several years. It was a weight on my shoulders that got heavier as the years went on. Last year I finally came forward with what happened and I was incredibly anxious, sad, the worst I’ve felt in many years. Two months later the #MeToo movement had begun, ironically fueled by a tweet from the woman I was named after. I knew that facing trauma would be difficult, but I had no idea that I’d be facing it every time I went to social media to market my brand for an entire year.
I spent 6 months with days where I literally woke up with tears just streaming down my face, unable to stop them and struggling to keep it together so I wouldn’t cry on my commute or at my desk at work. Nothing made me feel better, I just kept on my routine of working, designing, making dinner every day and taking time to have lunch by myself. I still have days when I struggle from what happened to me. It affects little aspects of my life like crossing a street with strangers, how I connect with my family, in my relationships, and in friendships.
I think that if I have learned anything from my experiences it is simply stated in this quote by Maya Angelou:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
I believe a lot of the driving force behind my ambition and determination to succeed as a designer was a direct result of all of my experiences. In Silicon Valley success is measured by the amount of investment dollars you’ve raised, your title at work, a feature in Forbes, the neighborhood you live in. I don’t believe success is any of these things, but I do feel successful in having opportunity to bring beauty into the lives of other women through my design. I have had the courage to pursue my dream by remaining optimistic, even when things are hard. I know I will continue to face many challenges in my life, good and bad. I will treat every one I meet with respect and kindness, because kindness goes a long way. I do believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We can accomplish anything we set our minds to if we believe in ourselves. I’m looking forward to another 10 years of designing & daydreaming. xo, Alyssa Nicole