Looks by Armature and Tia Usher

Sara Angelucci and Tia Usher both share how the Fashion Design program prepared them to make it in a competitive industry.

By Anna Raya

Tia Usher, Sara Angelucci, and Mitra Rajab at Otis CollegeThe opportunity to interact and network with industry professionals is a hallmark of an Otis College education, and this was more apparent than ever at a recent Brown Bag Luncheon hosted by the Fashion Design program featuring two alumnx: Sara Angelucci (’10 BFA Fashion Design), of the brand Armature, and Tia Usher (’10 BFA Fashion Design) of Eyanatia. Moderated by Assistant Chair Mitra Rajabi, their conversation covered topics ranging from how they got their start in the fashion industry to advice they would share with current Fashion Design students and other aspiring designers. Afterward, both designers took time to chat with students and share their business cards for further networking. Read on to learn more about  their professional journeys. 

Sara Angelucci (’10 BFA Fashion Design) of Armature

How she got her start

For four years while she was a student at Otis College, Sara worked for Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind fashion label Rodarte, after sending them a letter asking about internship opportunities. She also credits her Fashion Design mentors David Meister, Armani Exchange, Tadashi Shoji, and Hurley, among others, with being key to her success upon graduation, when she worked as a freelance designer for several houses before striking out on her own. “I took as many jobs as I could,” Sara says. “I got into styling and costume design, which gave me a background in producing lookbooks and marketing materials.”

What she does now

Sara launched Armature at Style Fashion Week L.A. in 2016, after having trademarked the name in 2011. She is the lead designer and creative director behind the brand, which is described as having “an unconventional approach to multi-disciplinary design, combining sculpture, painting, and mixed media art with couture techniques and a streetwear sensibility.” The brand has been featured in high fashion editorials for Vogue.com, Paper, Nylon, Complex, Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair magazines, including a Time cover in which Lil Nas X is wearing Armature jewelry. Armature also has been worn by the likes of Billie Eilish, Janelle Monaé, Janet Jackson, Machine Gun Kelly, and Travis Scott. 

How she got there

“I always wanted to be my own boss, my own designer,” Sara says. “It’s very hard to do that. It takes dedication and tenacity. If you have the drive to do it and are truly meant to do it, you will get there.” She started by developing relationships with sewing rooms in downtown Los Angeles, where she was able to source work for her line when just starting out. Once she had her first collection, she reached out to various fashion PR showrooms to promote it. “Otis gives you a foundation. You don’t need to spend money having a sample- or pattern-maker because you know how to do that. You have the digital skills to make your own ads. Make the most of every class; you have to be your own boss.” Sara also pulls from her “Otis family” by hiring graphic designers, photographers, and even assistants from her network of Otis alumnx. “Make friends with people in all the majors,” she says.  

Advice for Otis College students 

On getting started after graduation: “I felt like I had a nice little curve. My skill set was better than other employee candidates. You’ll get that vibe in interviews regarding your Otis background. As long as you get out there and fire up your resume, you’ll get momentum. Everything is growing on each other, starting with your Foundation year here.”

On finding internships: “Look for new brands, research those design houses, have a really solid cover letter and resume, and fire that off. If you don’t hear back from someone, find their mailing address and send them your cover letter and resume in the mail. Stick at it.” 

On the importance of internships: “Getting in the studio and seeing how other houses do stuff makes it less daunting for you and helps you realize that you can do that work, too.”

On fighting burnout: “You realize life is about balance. You have to exercise, eat well, and get eight hours of sleep. You need to have relationships. Those four things are what need balance.”

On never giving up: “People are going to discourage you, but you have to be your own motivator. If you want to have your own business, you have to be your own driver.”

Tia Usher (’10 BFA Fashion Design) of Eyanatia

Tia Usher and Sara Angelucci at Otis CollegeHow she got her start

Tia arrived at Otis College from Maryland, where she had graduated high school early at age 16 and began as a transfer during her sophomore year. “When I toured Otis, the student work was so amazing,” she says. “It weighed on me: ‘This is what I need to know.’ I’m still in awe of the student work.” She got her first job after graduation at Mattel, designing Barbie dolls as a fashion illustrator. “They offered me a design job but I didn’t take it because that role was in product design and I wanted to do fashion design.” Tia then worked as a freelance fashion illustrator for places like Tommy Bahama, and later worked in-house as a designer for a clothing manufacturer that created licensed apparel for the teen market for places like Disney and Sanrio. 

What she does now

In 2010, just after graduating from Otis, Tia launched her clothing line Eyanatia, which makes women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing and “prides itself on developing top quality products where the creative, development, and production processes are done in the U.S.” She also does custom-tailoring and designing for such big-name celebrities as Doja Cat and Lizzo. “Now, I mostly do tailoring and custom work for people in entertainment.”

How she got there

“I didn’t go into Otis thinking I would start my own brand, but that summer after I graduated a boutique asked me about what I was doing and asked to see my Otis portfolio,” Tia says. “They bought five of my styles in multiple sizes, which I had to make myself. I graded the patterns myself, from dresses to tops to other custom pieces.” 

Tia hadn’t been doing much tailoring, but because of her network in the L.A. fashion industry, she got a call one day from Salvatore Ferragamo, needing tailors for a fashion show the Italian fashion house was doing in L.A. “They had tons of pieces they needed to dress celebrities in that needed tailoring. That got me in the world of tailoring.” 

Advice for Otis College students

On getting started after graduation: “Let your talents and the things you learn guide you. In my mentor projects, I loved menswear—why did I not do that more? Now I do everything: mens, costumes, tailoring. How did I get here? I just let my talents guide me. I love learning everything. I still have every single book I used at Otis.” 

On finding internships: “I got my internship from the internship fair here at Otis. Smaller companies will be more hands on.” 

On navigating the job market: “What I wish I had known was how to not feel bad about moving around and taking different types of jobs in short periods of time because something doesn’t suit you or how you felt at that time because it was comfortable or steady. There’s so much work out here, you’re so talented, you’ll get a new job.”

On fighting burnout: “Live and learn. You have so much drive when you get out of school. You just have more energy to burn, but it definitely starts to wear on you. It hit me—I was burned out physically and emotionally. There was too much going on. When it comes to mental health, how I say to deal with that is to take a break, and tell your mind to do nothing. Don’t feel bad. Sometimes it’s not just a weekend off, but a month.” 

Main image: On left, a look from Armature’s The Wave Collection, 2022; on right, a custom stage costume that Tia Usher created with Doja Cat for the iHeartRadio Awards in 2021.