INTERVIEW WITH YULIYA RAQUEL OF BOOTSTRAPFASHION
There’s a new clothing mecca around town, and it’s not fit to made, it’s made to fit.
Yuliya Raquel, formerly of IGIGI, has set out on her own once again, and this time she’s created not just a singular line of clothing, but she’s opened a virtual marketplace for bespoke clothing and accessories…even shoes!
Her new venture, called BootstrapFashion, gives consumers the ability to design fashion items in a completely custom way. It also allows designers, seamstresses, and small business owners such as fabric manufactures to become entrepreneurs, all of whom are connected by this single platform.
Tell me about how you became a fashion designer.
I was born and raised in the Ukraine, and learned how to sew when I was 5 years old. It was an extraordinary experience, because I felt that I could create something beautiful, which in turn made me feel beautiful. That became my driving force. I started designing my clothing as a hobby, but with a dream of becoming a fashion designer.
I moved to the US in 1991, when I was 16. There was this overabundance of clothes on the market and I was disillusioned as I saw that the market was overwhelmed with designers. So, I decided to change paths and become a doctor instead.
I really liked the medical field but I found myself sketching dresses. I was studying to become a podiatry surgeon. I interned with a wonderful doctor, and took all of the classes, but during the class I found myself still sketching dresses.
Three years passed, and I realized that the medical field was not for me. I needed to find myself, and so I dropped out of school which completely broke my parents, and especially my grandparents’ hearts. One day after lots of soul searching, I realized that I wanted to be a fashion designer.
How did you come to that realization?
I knew I wanted to be independent and an entrepreneur, I just didn’t know how that was going to play out. My friend had founded this auction house for antiques. I was sewing on the side, but I was under the impression that people who sewed their own clothing were labeled as ‘poor’ and so I was a little bit embarrassed about it. You have to understand that when my family left the Ukraine, we had to leave everything we had behind, and we came to the U.S. with very little money, and were poor.
It was during that time, that I would start to sew my own clothing, which resembled the designs in Paris and the like, but I never told anyone that I had made the clothes.
So, one day, I was working at my friend’s auction house, and I was wearing this little pin-stripe suit with a lace-lined bodice with a halter neck, that I had made for myself. After the show, I had about 15-20 women who came up to me and said ‘Oh my God. Where did you get that?’
It was the first time that I admitted that I had made the outfit myself. I was embarrassed. But they were so excited, and urged me to make them clothes.
That night, I woke up in the middle of the night, with a distinct clarity of what I wanted to do. I knew then that I was going to be a fashion designer. I had nothing. I didn’t even have a proper sewing machine. I had an old singer sewing machine from the 1940’s that my grandfather had given me. I knew I had the talent and the skill, but I needed the money.
What happened once you had this epiphany?
I enrolled in a class that was part of Landmark Education, and it was a turning point for me. I called up my friend, and told him that he would become my 50/50 partner, that I needed a sewing machine and some fabric to get started, and he said ‘I’m in!’ I bought a $400 sewing machine and some fabric and began sketching out some designs.
At some point, you began designing clothing for larger women. What made that happen?
I had gone shopping with my mom and we were looking for some fabric. I ran into one of my friend’s mothers, who was looking for some fabric to make a dress to wear to her daughter’s wedding. She was a size 18, and she couldn’t find anything that looked good on her. I told her that I’d just opened up my first couture studio, and she became my first client. The dress that I designed for her was a total couture piece. Everyone was just wowing over it and she was the star of the show.
So, your business model, essentially ‘fashion for all’, took off from there?
In 1999, I went dress shopping with my Mom, who at the time she was a size 24. There was absolutely nothing in the store that was attractive for her. I was spending so much time making clothing to fulfill customer orders that I had no time to even make a dress for my Mom. But, we couldn’t find anything cute in her size, in any of the stores.
I thought that tons of women must have the same problem, and it was this series of events that gave me the idea to begin the clothing line IGIGI. I interviewed tons of women, and found that there was nothing beautiful for plus-size women, and IGIGI was born. I was there for 13 years, and it became a huge success.
You had this brilliant idea with IGIGI, and now you have another with Bootstrap Fashion. Tell me about this new venture.
I had this vision of making the fashion design process fun, easy, accessible to everyone, and which would allow everyone to be successful. I had an idea of this software that would allow for designers to design the clothing, would allow for outsourcing of materials, and would allow for independent designers/seamstresses/material manufacturers to all have a chance to become successful.
What’s more, I wanted the consumers to be in the driver’s seat to get just what they want, and give designers the creative tools as well.
In a sense, isn’t this revolutionary for women of every size?
We created an online app, bootstrap fashion, click on the design center, and customize it to your size. So, this is a breakthrough for not only all women, but for all designers and entrepreneurs too.
We provide designers the tools, and then they are completely open sourced, they can find fabrics, seamstresses, everything.
This sounds as if you’re creating the opportunity for designers and seamstresses to be freelancers.
That’s exactly what it is. This is a one of a kind platform. Designers, Seamstresses, Tailors, Knitters, Fabric Wholesalers, Manufacturers…we’re creating a worldwide marketplace for them to build their businesses.
When do you go live?
We’ve been working round the clock, for about 2 years. We’re in beta testing now, just working out the bugs. We are self-funded, a huge undertaking. Everyone has told me it’s impossible, but that just fuels me more.
I love it when people tell me I can’t do things.
Exactly! Please tell me I can’t do something so I can definitely go and do it! My two daughters, who are now almost 7 and almost 9, are the ones who really have believed in me. I was sad when I left IGIGI, but my oldest daughter told me “Mommy, don’t be sad. You know who you are.” So, I really strive to be a good example for them. I want them to know that there is nothing impossible in this world.
I’ve found that that little bit of fear, is what lets you know you’re on the right track for change.
Absolutely! Fear is the best motivator. It’s what gives you the choice…do I stay here and let fear drive my life? Or, do I move forward and change my life?
How many designs have been created so far?
We are starting with 5 dress libraries, 10 more are coming, plus skirts and pants. Each library generates about 50,000 or more different designs. It’s just incredible.
How many people do you have helping you build this platform?
We have a multimillion dollar platform. We didn’t spend nearly that much money, because we didn’t have that much money. I didn’t have any graphic designers, so I had to learn all of that. I didn’t know how to code, so I went on the hunt for a young, hungry, brilliant person who was willing to work for nothing. It took me so much time, but I finally found him in India, and he is brilliant! So, everything visual you see is me, and everything back-end is our coder from India. He’s become like a family member. Every morning and evening on Skype, we’ve been chatting and working together to build this platform.
So, you’re not just giving designers and seamstresses’ jobs, but also coders as well who are helping to build this platform?
We’re supporting families, who wouldn’t have this opportunity otherwise.
Tell me about the Indiegogo campaign?
We’re nearing the finish line for the site launch, and starting a crowdfunding campaign, which will help raise money to keep our servers online, will allow us to be able to hire more developers, and eventually allow us to build the business to a point where we can open an official office.
What’s the link for people to donate?
Any interesting items to bid on during the campaign?
One of the unique packages available is a 2-hour consultation with me, which is perfect for any designer looking to create their own fashion label.
And how can people start designing or selling on Bootstrap Fashion?
They can go to the site, BootstrapFashion, and register for either a personal or business account. Right now, we have about 12 designers, so it’s absolutely getting in on the ground floor.
SHANNA SABET-DEMOTT is a freelance writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her husband George DeMott sings Italian arias in the shower, and Pop-Opera around the world. She has an 11 year old daughter who has survived 3 brain surgeries, and has shown her Mama the meaning of bravery at every turn. She is a lover of telling stories about food and life on her blogs, eatingoutvegas.com and stumblingbeauty.com