Maker of the Month: Yemisi Sanni

Yemisi Sanni, owner of Stylenspire, designs Afro-Contemporary women’s clothing. Although her company is only 19 months old, Sanni is a seasoned seamstress of 20 years. She thrives on designing custom pieces and her client’s reactions to them.

The Plan

What piqued your initial interest in designing your product(s)? I started blogging in the summer of 2013 narrating fashion and style stories. Some of the fashion pieces that I styled were my own designs, and I got a lot of inquiries as to how others could acquire those designs. People were fascinated by my choice of fabric, and their interests in owning the designs led me to consider starting up Stylenspire clothing. The demand was there; I knew that I was ready and able to meet that demand and possibly create my own niche in the design world.

What principles do you use when designing? I launched Stylenspire clothing with the intention to offer unique hand-tailored women’s clothing in contemporary designs made from traditional African fabrics. The use of traditional African fabrics is also a means to educate people on the fashion aspect of the African culture and to inspire them to embrace and celebrate individuality. Since inception, the temptation to wander off this course has risen, influenced by people’s opinion on what you should and should not be doing. The influence of popular opinion can be a deterrent to maintaining founding principles for small businesses, such as mine, especially at the early stage when we seek and pursue growth. To stay true to this concept, I have had to maintain the celebration of culture through the use of the fabrics. But the artist I am allows me the freedom to also explore and use other modern and organic materials to keep my designs unique and fashionably present.

The demand was there; I knew that I was ready and able to meet that demand and possibly create my own niche in the design world.

Who and/or what influence your design style? How would you describe your design aesthetics and values? My design style is influenced by a combination of self (who I am as a creative and fashion enthusiast), my experiences and interactions with people, places and art. At my core, I am a traditional Yoruba girl with the vibe of a Westernized individual who loves old world charm and classic elegance with a new age edginess. Somehow, each of these is a persona translated into the designs I create.

What comes first for you, the design materials or the design concept? Often, the design materials come first. Fabrics were my first love and I am still enamored by them. Once I have the fabric, mostly the Ankara wax or Lace fabrics, the inspiration is heightened and there is a flow for creating. Sometimes, I may have an idea of a design before I acquire the fabric to create that piece.

The Process

Could you describe the process of creating a piece – from conception to finish? The creative process as well as material selection and labor process, too? My bestseller design is the Ankara print ADARA Maxi skirt. The design process begins with selecting in which Ankara print I would be making the skirt. Sometimes I would select two patterns/colors of the fabric to create a mixed print pattern. The ADARA Maxi skirt is cut in a full circle pattern so I will start with doing the math of the measurement of the skirt size equal to the amount of the fabric I will need. Once I have the right ratio, I will begin with folding the fabric, with the help of my iron, into a square. Depending on the width of the fabric, I may have to sew/join fabric together to create the right square before I can start cutting. Getting the right equation to make sure that I have the right square is just as important as missing an inch or two. It can adversely affect the flow of the skirt if the circle is not cut right. The next step after the square is to fold and iron the square into a triangle. I then measure out a pendant shape from the triangle and cut it out at the top to make the waist and at the bottom to create the flow of the circle. Then comes measuring and cutting out the pockets and the waistband. The cutting process usually takes three to four hours depending on the skirt size and if I am trying to uniquely re-create a pattern within the skirt. Sewing can also take another three hours as I work with a “stitch and iron” as you go process. The labor of creating this design is split two ways: the first half is the cutting and the other half is the sewing. The cutting process is the most intense part of the labor as your mind is constantly calculating the numbers in terms of the size of the garment you want to create and making sure you have the right numbers/size.

What is your favorite tool, and why? I have two favorites: my scissors and my iron. They are both highly important tools for me to have. The cutting process is the principal part of the design process and a great pair of scissors starts the job right. Then I have to have an iron to help me navigate the cutting and to press out the seams in the stitching process.

Describe a piece you’ve created that you are most proud of. What was special about it? My very first piece that I made is still the piece that I am most proud of. I made it several years ago at the age of 14 for a family soiree. It was an Ankara print sheath midi dress with no sleeves inspired by a black spaghetti strap sheath dress worn by the cover model of a vogue magazine. I loved everything about my dress; the simplicity of the straight cut nicely offset by the bold color and print of the Ankara fabric. I got laughed at a lot at that family gathering by my siblings and cousins, but that did not affect or dim my joy. I felt like the belle of the ball who achieved her royal state of dress as a result of her creative ingenuity.

Describe the commissioning process. What are the best and worst aspects about doing commissions? I enjoy doing commissions, as long as it is not a rush order. I love getting to learn other women’s style aesthetics as well as getting a glimpse of their personality from our conversation, which leads up to choosing the design and weighing on the fabric choices to match the design. I am yet to meet a woman that has/does not feel elated and extra special at having an outfit designed just for her. Personally, I find the opportunity to be able to be a part of that experience with them humbling and an honor.

The Product

What advice you would give to aspiring designers like yourself? Trust in your talent; value your creativity and never forget the reason you started designing or loose the joy of the process.

What is one thing that the creative/design community can do in Indianapolis to help grow an audience for custom or handcrafted work? To continue to build awareness for the consumers and enthusiast through organizing socials and networking events that highlights the presence of makers and custom designers in our community.

Dream commission/client? Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama. She is everything a true Stylenspiration can be.

What makes your work different from anyone else’s? Me. That it is my handiwork, that it is a piece I created makes each designed piece different in a stand out fashion. You may have many colorful fishes in the tank, but there is a reason why one of them is a gold fish.

What’s your most rewarding memory in your business? The “I just love it” and the “oh, how it fits perfectly” and the “I just felt so beautiful” comments and feedback I get from my clients makes what I do really rewarding.

You may have many colorful fishes in the tank, but there is a reason why one of them is a gold fish.

Follow Stylenspire on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Follow #Stylenspiration to keep up with us on updates and  special sale alerts. Clients can shop online at stylenspire.com or contact Sanni directly by email at yemi@stylenspire.com.

All photos taken by Aubrey Smith.
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