Spotlight: Zoey Washington, DIY Fashion Brand Creator
Zoey Washington’s SEWSQUAD is all about creating an inclusive line of DIY fashion to empower a young audience to find their own style and rock it. Her super-accessible designs can be made with or without a sewing machine, making them achievable for anyone.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I have always been drawn to visuals. As a tween and teen, I loved making small bags and using my very basic sewing skills to create tops or skirts. But it was my mother and grandmother who really understood that I was creative.
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I got involved in fashion at a very early age; I knew when I was 10 that I wanted to work in the industry. So since then I have been carrying around a sketchbook to capture any and every idea I’ve had about style. I think I really knew fashion was for me as an intern at Cosmopolitan magazine in high school. Then I realized that, for me, being creative wasn’t about being an amazing designer or sewer. It was more about creating my own personal style and helping others do the same.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly. I think some people have an easier time translating their vision, but it is most definitely something that people can learn.
How did you get started in fashion?
I started as an intern at Cosmopolitan magazine when I was in high school. And I have been in fashion ever since. My first job was at Marie Claire magazine. Since then I’ve worked as a stylist, editor, and writer for Vogue, InStyle, People Style Watch, Essence, and ELLE magazines.
After working as an accessories editor at ELLE, I switched to digital when I became the fashion director at Brit+Co. Fashion has always been a huge part of my life. Throughout my career I have always tried to tie in sewing and DIY projects; I feel like fashion can be somewhat intimidating, especially for young people. They see models and celebrities with impossible body types, stylists, and big budgets.
I think that is why I want to make fashion and finding your own style easier. So that everyone can realize that they already have what it takes to be creative with style.
What trends do you see in fashion today?
Right now there is a huge trend towards upcycling and sustainability. People view luxury differently now, and it is such a great development for our planet and — quite frankly — our budgets. The circular economy makes things like buying second hand, re-imagining old fashion buys, and sewing your own clothes more accessible and fun. It is really the heyday of personal style, which I love.
Tell us about Sew Squad. Who is your audience, and what do you hope to share with them?
SEWSQUAD is a DIY fashion brand for teens and tweens. We want to make creating your own style fun, easy, accessible and fashionable for a young audience who is often overlooked in the DIY/craft industries.
We started with a line of super simple trend-based sewing projects which we will continue to make every season. Our patterns don’t require a sewing machine. We will also launch products that think outside the box for DIY. It can be easier than ever before for teens and tweens to create their own looks with inspo from street style, runway looks, and fashion history.
What inspires your designs?
We like to look at a little bit of everything. From what bloggers and street style stars are wearing to what we see at events and even the runway. Our main goal is to make style more accessible. So for us it is really about understanding what people are wearing and how to make it easy to recreate and then make your own.
I think even though celebrity and runway fashion influences teens a lot, in the end, I want to encourage them to really use our products as a canvas to create something that is totally and uniquely their own.
How important is social media to your business model? How do you maximize it?
Social media is essential to our business model. Other than live events, that is really where our conversations with our customers begin. We can ask our followers anything. What they want in a sewing or DIY kit to what prints they are loving for spring. Because we are just starting out, we like to use our social to create a mood and a feeling associated with SEWSQUAD — one that is creative, fun, funny, and open-minded. This isn’t about perfecting the art of sewing. We are more about making it easier for you to try a trend and to make something your own.
You’re starting out with just a few sizes for your patterns. Do you have plans to design patterns for a more inclusive range of people?
Yes! When we launched we were really focused on getting junior sizing right. One of the first things we learned is that we don’t need to be held to strict sizing standards. Even though our first run would fit a women’s size 12, it is imperative that we offer more for our audience.
We want everyone to be able to use our products. So it has been really important for us to make sure that means making our sizing as inclusive as possible. We have reimagined our first line for a more extensive size range; we are including items that would work for boys and girls.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?
Oh I love this question! Hmmm, I think they would say that I am creative, thoughtful and that I like to add humor or levity to everything that I do. I don’t want to take anything too seriously, because that’s not what style is about. So for me, I want everything from our photoshoots to our product line and our website to have a feeling of ease, comfort, informality and humor.
Do you follow any blogs? Which ones? Why do they appeal to you?
I follow as much as I possibly can. I love everything from real fashion industry news on WWD to more light-hearted stories like anything that R. Eric Thomas writes for ELLE.com. For fashion, I look at a lot of Instagram including street style photography, photographer’s feeds and young Hollywood social handles. I prefer visuals with a sense of levity and color that make even the simplest item look high-end and special.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have one specific mentor but I do have a number of people in my life from different disciplines that mentor me through work and life. Karen Bokram, the publisher of Girls’ Life Magazine is someone I really look up to. She has been instrumental in helping SEWSQUAD get off the ground. My mother is an insanely successful business woman who has also helped shape my career. My mom, sister Jackie and my husband John are my biggest fans and most trusted allies. They always encourage me to think outside the box and remember that the sky’s the limit when it comes to your dreams.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home; I have a really cute home office that is a loft space in our home. It is airy and bright and makes me feel like a boss every time I sit at my desk. It is imperative for me to be surrounded by pretty things, which I know sounds ridiculous. But I need creativity and fanciness to be able to think creatively about being fancy.
How do you organize your stash of creative supplies?
I love organization. So I have a few long, white metal tables with file drawers that tuck neatly underneath that hold everything. I also have a designated space for packaging that I love. It that inspires me in a variety of favorite LL Bean totes. Otherwise, everything is grouped by type and color. I only write in black pen and I only draw with black sharpies.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I live by my black pens and markers. There is something about consistency and seeing the same markings no matter when I have created something. That really helps me think and see my ideas as timeless. I also NEED to have multiple monitors to work off of so that I can feel like I am manning the station at my “mega desk”, as I like to call it. I think having enough room to create is ideal and the best way to organize your thoughts is with space.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? What kind?
I usually listen to business podcasts throughout the week. How I Built This, Marketplace Radio, Second Life Podcast and Shopify Masters are some that I have on rotation weekly. Because I work from home and am not surrounded by coworkers, I need to hear people in a similar mindset. I love Mimi G’s Business Shet podcast as well. I keep those on rotation daily and pop in old episodes of Start Up as well to keep me going.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
At SEWSQUAD, we bridge fashion with DIY. We make it easy and relatable for a younger generation. Whether they are trying our fashion projects or testing out our no-sew line that is coming out soon, we make creating your own look easier for a teen or tween who wants to look unique and stylish.
SEWSQUAD is a judgement-free zone. Someone who has never DIY’d can feel inspired to have a hand in creating their own look. To empower a teen who loves to sew to make the latest trend work for her own style. We speak to teens about this space in a way that is original, relatable, and trend-driven. That is often lacking in the DIY space.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Our biggest challenge has been to create quickly. We want to continue to make SEWSQUAD something special and unique for teens that offers trend-based products. But it can be challenging to create, produce, and source everything with a tight turn around. With our new 2020 plan all of that has been easier.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Our site is fun, playful, and approachable — just like us. We will be adding some really exciting content very soon. And we can’t wait for people to see it – it will really help us build out our SEWSQUAD universe. We want people to visit the site and get inspired and say “Oh wow, I am so glad someone is finally doing something like this” as they look through our products. And we want to inspire our customers as they scroll through the site. So they get excited about the idea of creating something for themselves. Eventually, we want creative teens to see SEWSQUAD as a destination when they want to dip their toes in fashion and lifestyle design.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
We will be launching our very own podcast called The SEWSQUAD POD where we do just that. We will be interviewing some of our most beloved creatives about their teen years to hear all about their journey to style from the awkward phase to when they first became intrigued by style. Stay tuned.
Interview posted December, 2019.
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