Archive | January, 2010

Ruthless & Toothless

25 Jan

The other day I made a huge financial decision. I decided to cash out my 401K from the magazine publishing job I had before I got laid off. I called the 1-800 number and the first thing the woman said to me was “Are you sure you want to do this? You can just carry it over to your next job”. It felt amazing to say to her “Yes ma’am I do want to cash out my 401K and no I do not want to carry it over to my new job because I am self-employed and I wont be working for anyone else for a long time”. She didn’t give a damn about my newfound career independence, but she was all too happy to let me know that I had to pay a $35 processing fee, a 20% penalty for cashing it out before I turned 55, and another 30% charge for the IRS so they wont tax me. After all the damn penalties I ended up with a little bit of change; enough to tide me over for a little while.

I had big plans for that money. I want to buy a dress form, a sewing desk and chair, and most importantly, new sewing machine — that was until I woke up in the middle of the night with a throbbing pain on the left side of my face. We are talking about a pain that stretched from my jaw to my ear. A paralyzing pulsating agony that prevented me from putting on blush this morning. So I threw on my Marc by Marc Jacobs  shades, covering my puffy eyes and blush-less face, and trekked to the dentist to get the 411 on this ruthless tooth.

Now that I am underemployed not only do I no longer have the benefit of a company that matches my 401K contribution dollar-for-dollar, but I no longer have medical or dental insurance. So I dragged my sad self to the Howard University College of Dentistry. As a proud HU Alum, I am all to happy to support the school, but getting your teeth done at a dental school is like getting your hair done at a cosmetology school. After filling out beaucoup paperwork I was seen by a student dentist. The dentist was my friend and sorority sister Jessica. Jess is in her last year of dental school and already has a job offer pending graduation. She examined me and determined that I have a cavity in my wisdom tooth. Since wisdom teeth usually get pulled anyway, there is no need to get a filling. They are just going to yank that sucker out.

While I was laying there being examined all I could think was “Here I am with no dental insurance, being examined by a student who is going to graduate in a few months and make tons of cash“. Something about that caused a pang of jealousy in the pit of my stomach. Jessica has always wanted to be a dentist and I’ve always wanted to be a designer. While both our dreams take determination hers requires some successful years of schooling while mine has no set path. So there I lay with my mouth open wide pondering this unsure future of mine; one that begins with putting my new sewing machine on hold, having no dental insurance and paying cash for my critical care.

After popping 800 mg of Ibuprofen, I got home and looked at my old dusty sewing machine. While I’d love a new one, this dental work deserves my immediate attention; and funds. Next Thursday I’m getting my wisdom tooth pulled and will be walking the streets ruthless and toothless; but I’ve got to count my blessings. I have a sewing machine that works and the ability to create and pursue my dreams.

Mom, Look What I Did!

20 Jan

When I was younger I was obsessed with trying to braid my mom’s hair. Every few weeks she would spend countless hours in some woman named Comfort’s house getting her hair pulled and plaited to perfection. I desperately wanted to learn how to braid so I practiced on my  little sister’s doll and when I finally felt ready I propositioned my mom with my services. I told her I’d braid her hair for free just to get some practice on a human head and the answer was “no”. So I did my little sisters hair. She was 7 years old so she had no choice. Once I got better I did my older sister’s. She was 16 so I had to prove myself. Once I won her over I started charging girls at my school. Not Black girls. I charged the white girls; they longed for a smidge of ethnicity so I was happy to oblige. The more popular I became I made a little business out of it. On weekends, my living room was filled with people who wanted my fingers in their tresses. But no matter how many clients I had my mother still wouldn’t let me braid her hair.

I was obsessed with trying to braid my mom’s hair. I felt like it would be the  greatest validation of my skills. One day my mom’s regular braider wasn’t available and she was desperate. I saw this as my chance. After much warning, direction, and apprehension my mom let me braid her hair. I was nervous but determined to show her I knew what I was doing. When I was finished she was delightfully satisfied and I was vindicated. Since then I havent braided much hair and have moved on to other things, but no matter what I did my mom was the ultimate validation.

So when I asked my mom for the Ankara material in my post Closet Klepto and she said no…I instantly had the same feeling of needing her validation.  Her biggest concern was that I was a novice seamstress and I would only  waste the material and she wouldn’t be able to get anymore until the next time she went to Nigeria. So I am proud to say that I didn’t waste it! I made a pencil skirt with part of the material and have so much left over. I plan on doing a mini collection with the rest of it. I hope my mommy is proud of me.

Ankara Skirt

Ankara Skirt

The skirt has a back slit and is fully lined

The skirt also has an invisible zipper

Style & Error

18 Jan

When this year began I committed to getting my design career on track. I committed to learning and honing my craft and producing work I could be proud of. However in that time I have let other things fall by the way side. When I was laid off in October 2009, I started looking for a plan B  and that was law school. My whole life people had said to me “you should be an attorney”. So I began taking LSAT prep classes and took the test in December. The day the idea for this blog came to me, I was emailed my score. I am pretty content with the score and I know it is good enough to get me into my first choice law school but my application is currently sitting in a corner collecting dust.

I am at a crossroads here. Pursuing a design career is very important to me but I must be realistic and know that a career in the arts is a difficult one to get started. It is also difficult to be recognized for your work and to eventually be paid for that work. So basically I am stepping out on faith. But what about law school you ask? Well…I am still going to apply. To some of my friends it’s a practical and pragmatic thing to do. Why not go to school and pursue your design dream part-time. Other friends think it’s a fool hearted thing to do. Some of them say  it’s not fair to the field of law and those who have dreamt of law careers their whole life  to use it as a security blanket and some say law is no easy field to master and I will be playing myself to think I can just give it a shot.

However I need to make the decision that is best for me. Law school seems like the greatest challenge to me. The best and the brightest minds coming together in a classroom to study justice is an exciting idea to me. I am up for challenge. Cant you tell? I am committed to sewing all of my clothes this year. Thats a challenge if I’ve ever heard of one.

When our parents were in their twenties, their hope was to graduate from school and find the perfect career where they can get the perfect job and get a gold watch after 25 years and a pension. But in this day and age not only do people change their jobs as much as they change their underwear but they change careers just as often. It’s about trial and error. It’s about trying those things that will make you happy and trying your hand at success at those things. If success is not the outcome then its about knowing to try again and try harder or to try something else.

I am going to try law school and try a design career at the same time. To some that may seem like a lofty idea and I don’t care. I know that I am a capable able-bodied person of sound mind and I enjoy a challenge. Not only that, but I love to learn. I am ready to learn what makes me truly happy and I am ready to learn more about myself an my capabilities. So this week I am committed to completing my law school application and…making a jumpsuit.

A Date Deferred

13 Jan

A few days ago I went to lunch with a guy I had been hanging out with. He and I had been seeing each other pretty causally for the past few months. We actually met the day I was told I would be laid-off at the end of the month; October 1st, 2009. So he has seen me make the transition from working a 9-5p everyday, to being unemployed and confused, and now he has seen me make the conscious decision to become a fulltime designer. Career-wise, this guy is the polar opposite of me. He wears a suit and tie to work every day, manages multimillion dollar projects, and travels business class.

On the day of our lunch date it seemed that our differences were magnified. He picked me up at our meeting place and we began talking about what we had done all day. He, fully clad in a suit, had come from the office and I was on my way from sewing class. The mere mention of “sewing class” seemed hysterical to him and he proceeded to make fun of me. I even showed him this very blog and he thought that idea of devoting a post to a pair of sweatpants was laughable.

I have always been the type of woman attracted to successful men. Something about an ambitious, confidant man in a suit has always been extremely sexy to me. While I may seem like an new-age bohemian, I’m always attracted to these type of guys because I see myself in them. However that type of man often comes with a bit of arrogance and I have always been fine with that. I am very good at keeping egos in check and sometimes a little well-tamed arrogance can be sexy too. But now that I am no longer an office-going-business-casual-wearing career woman, I am starting to become aware of how these suit-and-tie type guys view me.

While fashion design may seem frivolous to some, it doesn’t change the fact that I am ambitious and seek success as much as the next suit-and-tie guy. At some point during the lunch I mention how hungry I was from running around all day since 9am and he responded with “Welcome to the real world”. Excuse me… While I dont wake up at 7am, have a coffee and commute to work, it doesnt mean I am not a member of the real world. Like other “real worlders” I wake up everyday with an agenda  and tasks to carry out. Like other real worlders my day can go from 9am to 5pm and sometimes beyond. But unlike most real worlders I love what I do and I know that the skills I learn and the art I create come from my heart. I see my work as an artistic contribution to this earth and with each mini-milestone I am proud of myself.

Granted his little quips and jokes here and there didn’t make me doubt my ability our ruin the lunch; but it definitely made me rethink hanging out with him again. Now that I am a starving artist, I am interested to see how the suit-and-tie type guys who I am naturally attracted to view me. But I do know that if they don’t see me as an ambitious successful career-oriented person like they see themselves, then it wont go too far. Fashion design is my dream and it will not be deferred.

District of Couture

12 Jan

DC is such an amazing place to be a designer. Today I cleaned out the pockets of the shorts I wore to the cocktail party at designer Bill Johnson’s home studio from my post “Starving Artist?“, and it was filled with business cards. I had networked with so many other designers while I was there. I checked out all of their websites and they all serve as such an inspiration. Check out their stuff!

Tashia Senn Collections

BiriBelle Clothing



Try These On For Size…

8 Jan

My First Pair of Pants!

Ladies and Gentleman… the moment you have all been waiting for…I have made my first wearable garment! I made a pair of sweatpants. I am so excited that I am wearing them right now. This is such a defining moment for me. From choosing the fabric, to cutting the pattern, to measuring and finally constructing; I have executed all the necessary steps of simple garment construction successfully. Ok… granted they are just a pair of  sweatpants. Pants I will probably never wear on the street but they are truly the best pair of pants I have ever owned! The length is perfect. The waist is perfect. The fit it perfect. These pants are just my size. There is no greater garment than the one custom made for you. But even greater than that; there is no greater garment than the one you made for yourself. So here I am sitting in these pants I made and I am smiling. Here I am trying on this fashion designer thing, and I think it is just my size.

Starving Artist?

7 Jan

Bill Johnson at his home showing his new line Transient

Could you imagine living off of your art? Could you imagine the work of your hands being the bread of your life? For so many of us thats our dream. I know so many writers, rappers, painters, and designers who by day are government workers, cubicle rats, and other miscellaneous members of the American workforce to pay the bills.

At a cocktail party a few weeks ago I met Bill Johnson. Bill is a celebrated DC based sculpture and furniture designer. He was even nominated of the Mayor’s Award for his work around the city. Recently, Bill launched his own men’s clothing line called “Transient”. After owning a successful boutique with his wife, the two divorced and went their separate ways and Bill started his clothing line. When I spoke with Bill he said that he hadn’t worked for anyone since 1995. For the past 15 years, Bill has been supportng himself off of his sculptures and furniture and now he is embarking on design.

I cant wait until the day I can say the same. I cant wait until the day that I can say I am a full time designer and thats how I pay my bills. Bill and other serve as inspiration for me. They make me truly inspired, encouraged, and excited about this new journey I am embarking on.

Check out my article on Bill at The Smugger Magazine