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Valeri Liszewski

Pledge Allegiance to the Struggle

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Modern Sophisticant- Pledge Allegiance to the Struggle

So I spent a few days trying to figure out what to write. How to tell my story, how to explain my dream. I was heavily inspired by this class and Mark's story. It was similar to mind, stories like these give me hope, that I'm heading the right direction, that I am no different than any other entreprenuer trying to launch their dream. I loved the music reference, using Biggie lyrics to organize a business commandment. As a former homeless youth, these were commandments that we used to keep hustling and keep going in order to survive. After 25 years of life and trying to survive, I was tired of surviving, I wanted to thrive.

Music has always been my escape, my mantra, my theme music for tredging on. When I first heard Iggy Azalea's song Work, it was the first time, in a long time, that I felt like a song actually spoke to me. In terms that I was familiar with, a reminder of where I came from, what I had been through and how I'm rising right above it. Here are my business commandments.

"Walk a mile in these Louboutins,

But they don't wear these shits where I'm from

I'm not hatin, I'm just tellin you,

I'm tryna let you know what the fuck that I've been through"

I was on my own at the age of 14, born from two teenage drug abusers, I learned really quick how to take care of mine and how to hustlin and raise myself. At 14, I worked as a comic bookstore helper making $15 a day, which usually went to meals and clothing. I lived in and out with my father, but it was always unstable, so I relied on the kindness of my friends and extended family to help me maintain a "normal" life. I started designing my own clothes around this time, buying thrift store clothes and altering them so they didn't look too worn out. I got many compliments on my outfits and got asked numerous times, if I got my clothes from the Galleria, the really expensive mall in Houston. We lived in North Houston, there was no way any of us could afford anything from there, unless we sold.

That's me about 14/15 years old. I didn't like to look at cameras and I didn't like to smile. Once on an ROTC trip, we stopped in Gatesville in a truckstop and there was a newstand filled with magazines. I bought three magazines that day, pretty much spending my entire days worth of pay, but I was so drawn to them. I bought Vogue September 1994 issue, Sassy and an international runway magazine I can't recall. I was amazed. All of these outfits on the runway and they looked like what I put together for school or what I wanted to wear all the time. I knew I couldn't be a model. A mere 5', I knew I wasn't tall enough, but I really got a high on getting fabric or an old dress and making it look like something that was in those magazines.

I found an old gray dress that was ankle length and cut to the exact same bias cut as this dress in the picture from my issue of Sassy and replicated this look at school. Everyone swore up and down that I stole a Calvin Klein because it looked just like the one in the picture and was even styled in the same fashion. I went from being that poor homeless kid who sleeps at the cafeteria door waiting for the school to open, to being that girl with a great fashion sense. I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue on with fashion, in North Houston, two blocks shy of 5th ward, a career in fashion wasn't something that was going to take me away from my reality, especially since I had nothing and definitely no money for college. I had a very hard decision to make: to stay on the streets or get married at 16  to a guy four years older than me and live a block from Imperial Beach in California....what would you do?

"People got a lot to say,

But don't know shit, 'bout where I was made,

Or how many floors that I had to scrub, just to make it past where I am from"

A failed marriage and four kids later, I knew life needed to change. I was tired of just getting by, tired of working sleazy attorneys because it was a quick, easy and "honest" paycheck. For ten years, my life was like a roller coaster. Working at a coffee shop, pizza place, as an exotic dancer, going to college, taking care and being the example I wanted to be for my kids. Someone who would be willing to do whatever it takes to get them the stability that they deserve. No matter how many nights I had to starve. Once I got fed up and decided make a change and chase my dreams, I got my fill of discouragement, talks of being irresponsible and not sticking to the reliable paycheck. When I started Jinxedaposed Clothing in 2007, my ex-husband emailed me, "And to that business you think you're starting, no one is going to buy those throw rags you call designs." I still laugh in thinking, what would I have done had I listen to him.

"Hustle and the struggle is the only thing I'm trusting"

"My passion was ironic

And my dreams were uncommon"

The first year was the toughest, I wasn't sure what I was going to design, people liked my costumes, but would they buy them year round? So I made arm warmers, leg warmers, anything I could and signed up for craft shows and fairs because they were decently priced and even if I didn't sell anything, it wasn't that much of a risk. I couldn't get into any fashion shows or get anyone to shoot my clothing, I was literally starting from the ground up with the support of a budding roller derby league and no one in the fashion world on my side.

"Studied the Carters, till a deal was offered,

Slept cold on the floor recording

At 4 in the morning

And now I'm passing the bar, like a lawyer."

In 2009, I got a call from NY Fashion Connect asking me to be a part of their marketing group and showcase during NY Fashion Week in SoHo. It was more than I could ever even hope for. A show in SoHo during NY Fashion Week? For a budding designer it was a dream come true. I went out there and stayed with a friend of mine in Brooklyn, a Texas girl in -12 degree weather with my whole collection in a suitcase. While everyone had garment bags, assistants, hangers, their own garment racks, I was on my own borrowing what the showcase offered. I got the leftover models no one wanted and rocked that show. I got invited back for three more shows, sleeping in rat infested hostels, partying on the rooftops, walking in the sludge with my suitcase, getting lost in Chelsea, those shows led to other shows and the next thing I knew I was going to NY, twice a year for 3 1/2 years.

"Immigrant, art ignorant

Ya ill intent was insurance for my benefit

Hate to be inconsiderate, but the industry took my innocence,

Too late, now I'm in this bitch!"

Back home, I became a force to be reakoned with. The no name girl, doing more shows in NY without having been on a reality show series? Unheard of? They weren't used to my designs, it wasn't what they wanted to see. They wanted to see cute conservative cuts in patterned prints and elegant lines. I was giving them what I saw on the streets of NY, what I saw in my head, what was truly inspiring me and if it meant using drag queens for models, rollergirls in my fashion shows and refusing to pay into the reality show circuits or the political bullshit so be it. I wasn't budging. Too many people outside of Texas liked my work for me to just go away. I knew there was a target for what I was designing, I just needed to find it.

"Pledge allegiance to the struggle"

I recently took a year to focus more branding after some stagnant sales, over indulgent clients, wannabe stylists and advisors giving me the worst possible advice about business. It finally click, if I wanted to build an enterprise, I needed to learn from people who ran enterprises. I started attending small business conferences, symposiums taught by CEOs who bought and sold ideas that I was creating. Working harder wasn't just the answer, working smarter, thinking like a CEO of my brand instead of just being the artist meant the entire future of my company. That is if I want a company. So I came to the conclusion, during the Spring/Summer, I'm only releasing swimwear and cover ups. Concentrate on selling in wholesale. My brand is not just for fashion shows, I want it to be readily available for a retailer to pick up. I will sell exclusively online and work my way through the buying circuits. Nothing else is going to matter, because my dream is to have my clothing in stores and in the off season only creating a select few looks for avante garde, just because that's what I want to do.

"All aboard my spaceship to Mercury,

Turn first at the light that's in front of me

Cause every night Ima do it like its my last,

This dream is all that I need, cause it's all that I ever had."

My menswear is something that has become very popular lately. I made these pajama bottoms and ombre them for a small fashion show and threw them on sale online and sold all of them very quickly. I also started getting emails asking me for custom fit, so I researched and researched and decided to design a line of mens high fashion line of slacks made from sustainable fabrics that were made here nationally. I found Organic Cotton Twill made in North Texas, I can source coconut buttons and organic cotton thread from the same place. I found a place in Colorado that dyes bamboo denim in indigo and is probably the best fabric one can use for denim pants. It's anti bacterial, anti fungal and naturally hypoallergenic. In Oregon, there is a private textiler, I was able to source Bamboo Herringbone, really nice and soft, lined with bamboo lining and organic twill zippers from Northern California. I was able to put together a collection of stylish menswear collection from textiles that cater to a target market of men between the ages of 21-45, professionals who follow fashions and are also eco-conscious. They want to look good while being eco friendly. They live in Seattle, Portland, San Franscisco, L.A., Austin, New York and Chicago. They ride bikes or drive smart cars and on the weekends, they like to play hard and go kayaking, hiking, paddle boating, surfing, snowboarding. They are okay with investing $200-300 per pants knowing that their pants were locally made, locally manufactured and sourced with sustainable fabrics.

I believe in my project, I think I can become the designer that I want, and acheive the company that I want to be. My dream is to become a designer for my own label making womens and menswear. I want to have my own in house manfacturer with a team of seamstresses and tailors for custom tailoring. I want to be in control and offer fair wages for their work. I don't want to be a multi-billionaire, but I'll settle for being a good person, with a good company that contributes to society with some good ethics. This is me now. I smile a lot these days.

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