At just 25 years old, Fashion Designer Jesstia Usher is proving that her wisdom and insight into the business of fashion is beyond her years.
After graduating with honors from Otis College of Art and Design at 20, Usher planned to take a break from the never ending grind of the fashion world before jumping full-fledge into her career. But after getting her design portfolio discovered by a local boutique owner, Usher was forced to quickly jump start her clothing line, Eyanatia, in 2010. Since then, she’s designed garments for several different clients, including Professional Boxer Andrae Carthron and her brother, Jessie Usher, who plays Cam Calloway in the hit-show Survivor’s Remorse.
With five years of entrepreneurship experience under her belt, the Maryland native opens up to Black Enterprise about the meaning behind her company name, the business behind her brand, and her advice to other young designers.
What was your inspiration for the name of your clothing line?
Usher: When I was in college we had a project my sophomore year where we had to come up with a name of our line. It’s so funny because [Eyanatia] is my middle name flipped backwards, and I added ‘tia’ at the end. Since it’s not a standard name I had to figure out how I wanted to pronounce it.
Some designers admit to having no formal training before jump starting their business. As a designer who also went to design school, do you feel that your education has given you an extra edge?
I got a bachelor’s degree from Otis College of Art and Design and it pretty much incorporated not just the creative side, but also the business side and the history behind [fashion]. It really focused a lot on not only the skills of sewing and pattern drafting, but I learned a lot about the history of it and the old ways of doing it because with technology the industry has moved forward a lot. I still can do hand patterns, which is not as common. People often use a digital system with pattern making and I’m still very hands-on with that. For my line, I do everything by hand.
Can you briefly describe your journey into entrepreneurship? Did you always know you would eventually have a clothing line of your own?
I started my company about six months after college and it wasn’t initially my choice. I was planning to take a break, go on vacation and then jump into the industry, but I had a meeting with a woman who was waiting for me to graduate. I had interned with Barbie and was thinking about working with them when this woman saw my portfolio, who was a boutique owner, and asked how could she purchase the items. Within a month after the meeting she ordered multiple pieces and I had to start making them, so, that’s literally how I got started. From there on, I’ve been doing it and it’s been great. Every time I think back and look on it I think, ‘how in the world did that happen?’
How many people do you have working on the Eyanatia team?
It’s me and my fabulous mother. Now that it’s grown, and I’ve been doing it for about five years, I do most of the creative part of the work and my mom helps with the business. At first it was super boutique-like. It was about 10-15 items per style, but now I’ve expanded to do about 100. I sell mostly online and if I have to turn it in faster than I can sew it, then I have people help me.
What would you say has been your biggest career accomplishment so far?
I would say when I did custom boxing shorts for this professional boxer name Andrae Carthron. We met at a Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in Los Angeles, where we were randomly talking and I told him I was a fashion designer. He told me he was a professional boxer and we ended up exchanging info from there. I came up with some really cool stuff, like water-proof fabric and screen printing techniques on the shorts, and he sent me a video of him boxing in them on ESPN.
Starting out, what would you say was one of your biggest challenges as a designer?
One of the biggest challenges I would say was finding out where your product should be sold and where your customer is. Slowly, but surely, I think the challenge also grows to be the industry itself. On top of your deadline, you deal with fabric vendors, sewing houses, and buyers who have their own deadlines and schedules, so for me that has been a huge struggle. I sit back a lot and say, ‘how does this industry run?’ No one does what they say they are going to do.
What advice do you have for other young designers who are trying to start their own line?
Never let all of the negativity or the lows affect your creativity. We are the biggest critics of ourselves. Even if we don’t see it, we usually are. We just have to push through that and create great stuff that we love. If we love it, then the world will too. It’s really about passion.