Reprinted from Essence, September 22, 2016
With six years of entrepreneurship under her belt, fashion designer Jesstia Usher ('10 Fashion Design) shares her journey to success and what it’s like working with one of the biggest new faces in Hollywood.
At the tender age of 26, fashion designer Jesstia Usher is proving that her talent and knowledge of the industry is way beyond her years. Graduating with honors at the age of 20 from Otis College of Art Design, the ambitious young designer caught the eye of a local boutique owner and within six months had her own fashion line: Eyanatia.
Since then, she’s designed garments for several high profile clients, including professional boxer Andrae Carthron and her brother, Jessie Usher, who plays Cam Calloway in the hit-show Survivor’s Remorse. Now she’s sharing her journey to success, her creative process and personal style, and what it's really like working with family.
The journey: Originally, I was going to be a veterinarian—but in high school I realized I was too squeamish and scared of needles for that to work out. My mom and I ended up discussing other possible career paths and when fashion design came up everything just fell right into place. Once I looked at the curriculum, I was like, "Okay, this is it. This is what I’m going to go for." When I graduated from college, there were a few boutiques—one in particular that wanted to see my portfolio and possibly buy my designs. Within a month after meeting the owner she ordered multiple pieces and I had to start making them, and that’s literally how I got started and opened my business. Every time I think back and look on it I think, ‘how in the world did that happen?'
Behind her business' name: When I was in college we had a project my sophomore year where we had to come up with a name of our fictional line. It’s so funny because ‘Eyanatia’ is my middle name flipped backwards, and I added ‘tia’ at the end.
The family hustle: Growing up, my parents were definitely on top of my brother and I to make sure that we stayed focused on work in school and ensured that if we had any questions we come to them. If they couldn't help us, they would find outside help to make sure everything needed to make our dreams come true was taken care of. The consistent work ethic I learned from them I applied to school and later to my professional life as well. Now I’m always like, "Grind, grind, grind, grind, grind. Never stop."
A week in the life of a designer: There's always so much more behind a product or in an industry than what many see. A typical week for me would include hand sketching all the things I've seen, or what pops into my head in the middle of the night, pulling swatches of fabrics of things that I either have or was inspired by that I want to grab, pattering and sometimes grading. Other days I'm going to vendors and I'm checking out fabrics and trying to see possibly what's on the market.
Confessions of a black woman in fashion: Dealing with different vendors, say if you need fabric, trim or even selling development, can be difficult sometimes because there's not a lot of black leaders in either of those fields. When you initially come in to meet someone, you have to talk super intelligent and when they meet you, they're already shocked. They're like, "Oh, okay. Hi. I called you about this thing." You can already feel like they weren't ready for how you look, or are shocked that you’re able to afford certain things or tackle tasks on your own.
#InspirationGoals: Inspiration is absolutely everywhere! I love architecture—which some people say goes hand in hand with fashion. Even just looking at the shape of a building can inspire an outline for me. Going to the museum and looking at different sculptures makes me want to do watercolor or pull out my sketch book almost immediately.
On working with family: My brother and I have been close forever and always will be. We enjoy the same things—almost like twins. Working with him is great, because he's so supportive. His style is so relaxed and he allows me to take the lead sometimes. That's why it's so easy to work with him, but in that same sense he has a great sense of fashion. And he’s happy to share his opinion when needed. Things move so fast with us, which is perfect because he needs everything fast all the time. It's probably the best partnership I'll ever have and I don't know if I'll ever find another client as great as him to be honest.
Her biggest accomplishment: Most recently I will say theIndependence Day suit that I just made Jessie for the red carpet premiere. I sat there and talked to him for 2.1 seconds and literally whipped that bad boy up in record time. When I talked to custom suit makers they we’re like, "You're crazy."They usually give you a three month turnaround at least and I made it happen in one—I still don't know how in the world I did it. The whole time I was just like, “let's go,” worked hard and got it done. And that’s the best accomplishment.
On supporting the local economy: So important! Living in Los Angeles, there are a lot of resources. Of course, they're not getting utilized, because of course it's cheaper to make garments overseas and I get it. But, to bring back everything to the U.S. was something that I always wanted to do because although it's great to support other places, why not support where you live? By making my pieces in the U.S. I’m helping workers keep jobs here and making sure that what we're giving everyone is of quality since I can go check on my garments whenever I want.
Her tip for pursuing your passion: Stick to your guns and keep your creativity throughout all of your development because what you're passionate about will resonate so much more and read so much better if you stay true to your authentic self.
How she became a risk taker: I credit my school 100% for being able to jump into the industry and run with it. There was no fear. It could just be because of my crazy personality as well, but there was no fear. I just jumped right into learning the technicalities behind making garments—particularly menswear—and ran with it.
Read the full interview: http://www.essence.com/2016/09/22/essence-network-jesstia-usher