I recently got a chance to sit down with an up-and-coming designer, Sienna who just launched the first iteration of her namesake brand: Sienna Iman. We grabbed lunch at a low-key spot in Chinatown and the young designer got candid about her career in fashion, how she got started and what to expect from her brand. The designer modeled a few of her garments as we shot the looks around the neighborhood. Her pieces were easy and effortless in a neutral monochromatic color palette. Enjoy!
C: Tell me about Sienna Iman.
S: Sienna Iman is a brand that I’ve been building for a couple of years. I want to create something for a girl who is edgy and effortlessly chic and just wants to throw something on that’s already like a statement. I like a girl who likes interesting silhouettes. I pride myself on using a lot of interesting shapes and things like that. I wanted this first collection to be something that’s easy and really an introduction into Seana Iman.
C: Like a capsule collection?
S: Yes, it’s almost like a capsule collection with 5 pieces or 6 pieces
C: Okay 5 or 6 pieces.
S: Yeah, I wanted it to be something that introduces me but just a small taste of what I can do with pieces that are basics but that are elevated which can be a million different things. You can style them any way that you want to but it still adds an interesting element to the look.
C: So you would say, your collection is more classic rather than trendy or somewhere in the middle.
S: I would say that some parts of it are classic. I think that the shapes are not necessarily classic, there is like a jogger; an off the shoulder top.
C: Street style is the new standard. I would argue that they might be considered classic pieces.
S: Yeah that is true, but definitely pieces you can wear daily. you can wear every day, any kind of way. I’ve styled all of my pieces on myself a million different ways
C: I need everything! So jumping in, you said it’s that everyday girl that inspires you. What is that ideal woman that you wanna see coming around wearing Sienna Iman proudly? Who is she? What does she do? Where does she live? Where does she go?
S: I would definitely say that the beginning thoughts of my target woman were kind of who I knew I wanted to be when I was growing up. Just someone who is working in fashion. Like a boss bitch who is edgy, but cool, who didn’t have to try, definitely a city girl, (but you know you can wear wherever you are). It is definitely a lot of the women I have surrounded myself with
C: I love that, what inspired your collection, your brand, design, aesthetic? In general, you as a designer.
S: There are a million things that inspired me. I am inspired by architecture a lot, the shapes that come with that. Black culture, Punk culture, Nature (sometimes), historical context, a lot of Victorianian stuff I am into and inspires me a lot. I can pull my inspiration from a lot of different things, it just depends on the collection.
C: How did you even get started with designing? How did you get into fashion?
S: It’s been a long run that I’ve been in fashion. My grandmother was a costume designer and teacher. So she taught me at a very young age, at 5 years old, sitting on her lap sewing and stuff. She was teaching me that. Like I said, she was a teacher, so eventually I was in her class learning costume design. Then I went to a creative arts high school, so I learned from the costume department there. Then I went to college for fashion design. My mom was super supportive, she always had me in arts classes from middle school and on. It has always been something that I’ve been immersed in. My family was always very supportive like always buying me fashion magazines. My aunt works in fashion. I’ve always been surrounded by it. There are a lot of people in my family who have very artistic traits.
C: It’s embedded in you?
S: I definitely couldn’t run from it even if I wanted to.
C: How did you break into the field as a working designer?
S: When I graduated college, I was applying to a million internships. Finally got one in New York. I was going to school in Philly, but as soon as I found out that I got this internship right after grad school I was like bye.
C: So you picked up?
S: Yeah I picked up, I left. Luckily my aunt and uncle had housing, so it was pretty easy for me to move. So I was kind of blessed and the transition was pretty smooth for me, but yeah it was like maybe 3-4 weeks after I graduated I came straight here and started working with more smaller high end brands. I learned a lot about high end fabric.
C: So you started in the luxury realm?
S: Yes, I would definitely say the luxury realm. I was a design intern, so I was helping, you know as an intern you do not get to help with a lot of the creative stuff, but I was helping with a lot of the technical stuff, which I do appreciate and has helped me to get where I am now. Towards the end of that internship, I was working in retail a little bit because fashion is brutal, so it’s hard to skip from one job to the next. I did also get to do some freelancing as a technical design and fashion design internship. I had another assistant job working with a high end brand. Now I’m working in children’s wear and trying to get back into higher end luxury. It’s a crazy market, very competitive.
C: I mean that’s the game we are playing.
S: Yeah it is, it’s the life we chose. So just trying to get back into high end. I am now starting my own brand, so at least I get to do what I love.
C: Tell me about that work-life balance, you’re launching your own collection, you are saying I am here, I am doing this, but I also heard you say you are working in children’s wear. So walk me through what is your work life balance of working on your own brand and working for another.
S: It is definitely kind of hard some days. It is sort of just finding your own balance, I guess it is different for everyone. You have to find the motivation to do the things that are for your own brand. Working a 9-5 all day, it isn’t necessarily the easiest job and there is a lot of hard work that goes into my job. You are tired at the end of the day, but when you get home you do have to think about, what you want for yourself.
C: You are working 2 full-time jobs?
S: Lowkey, I am still freelancing as well. I got like 3 jobs and then you have to balance your social life like if you ever want to see your friends again. I work out, so there is also that. So it’s like you have to make a schedule. I have specific days throughout the month when I am going to be able to do my own work and what days I will be able to work on my freelance and what days I get to go to the gym, slack off, you know do whatever. You just have to make your own personal schedule. Find the balance that works for you.
C: Ultimately where do you see your label or your brand going?
S: Definitely, I want to be doing this full-time, my brand is something that I want to build, I love designing. It is something that I have always loved doing, if that could be my full-time job, that would be amazing. I definitely want to get to a place where everything isn’t all handmade, since I am a smaller business. Everything is handmade, Made to order. There is a special nature to that by making things by hand. I still want to be doing things in the U.S. Eventually I want to be able to do my marketing and manufacturing a little bit wider range. Doing this full-time. This is only a small piece of what I can do. I haven’t shown you what I can do with my designs. There is a lot more I have to show.
C: What’s next for Iman? What’s that next collection?
S: Definitely what I am doing now is going to be what I am presenting for a while. I am going to introduce some more colorways, some elevated fabrics that you can get excited about, but still doing these more basic silhouettes. Once I get really into the collection, some time next year I definitely want to step into the Fall/Winter. It is my favorite season for fashion. You got your wools, leather, furs, heavy fabrics. I will be definitely giving you a Fall/Winter little something. It is going to show how much more elevated my designs can get. This is just a small portion of it.
C: This is just a scratch on the surface! What advice would you give to that next young designer looking to launch their own collection?
S: I would say you got to continue to remember why you are doing what you are doing. Remember your why. Like I said, this industry is very competitive definitely with social media. Creating your own brand doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. You might have to have one of those odd jobs, doing work you don’t necessarily want to. You have to be passionate about making your actual dreams come true. Remember your why. If you are tired, get over it, just do what you need to do to make your brands happen. You have to stay motivated. Think about where you want to be in the next few years, even if it’s not doing a big thing every day, you can do a little bit each day. Every day after work, I was doing a little bit more, whether that was working on one of my samples, doing some pattern making or taking my product shots. Just doing a little bit each day, it will become a habit and when you look up you will have real tangible things, evidence of the work you put in. Even with me right now, it’s still hard because I am like, “I have to go to work”, “ I don’t feel like working on my brand today” or “Is this going to work out?” You know you get into your own head, but you have to remember why you are doing this, why you love this, why you wanted to be in fashion.
C: As a young black woman, a female designer, what are your thoughts on the climate of what is going on towards diversity for women of color in the fashion industry?
S: When I said the industry is saturated, I meant there are a lot of people in here, but I do think it has become much more diverse than when I was growing up looking at the industry and trying to find representation. There is a lot more now, but there is a lot more work to be done. The fashion industry is still run by a bunch of dudes who are telling women how they should look. I do think black people, especially black women have so much to share. We have a perspective that not everyone has given us the opportunity to show. There are amazing black women and designers out there like Hanifa, there are a lot more of us. You know you can’t have just one black woman in there and then be like oh you know we have our token black girl designer. That is not it. Like how we have a million and 2 white men telling us what to wear, there should be a billion black women/men showcasing the ideas that are in our heads. We are not the same person. We all don’t have the same ideas. We have such interesting perspectives. The fashion industry has a lot more work to do, especially since we have high end brands and they don’t have enough black people on their team, which is why they get caught up in scandals being called racists and just crazy things in the year 2019 that we should not be dealing with.
C: What is your opinion on how social media can lead to inclusiveness and diversity in the fashion industry?
S: I think that social media in many ways is a blessing or a curse. But I do think it is a blessing we are able to have more access to more diverse people. You can get on social media and see content from people who are Black, Asian, Hispanic or whatever and you see their different perspectives and what type of amazing content from around the world. You realize there does not have to be one type of person, one voice in this industry. No cookie cutters. Fashion is not even supposed to be that way, so I think social media is cool in that aspect that we are able to access more diverse opinions and content and culture. I think that it needs to trickle more into mainstream media and industries. It shouldn’t just be social media, like we should be giving these people real voices, platforms to showcase what they have to show.
C: Who are some of your favorite designers?
S: I think everyone loves Alexander McQueen, seeing his work from the very beginning, I was so inspired with what he can come up with. He was like no one else. Haider Ackermann, I think the way he works with shape and silhouettes and even tones is so interesting. Alexander Wang, there are a lot of people. Like I said, growing up I was reading a lot of magazines. Always in a Vogue magazine, always in a fashion magazine. So growing up in Pittsburg, we didn’t have much fashion representation going on, so I was always in a fashion magazine, just seeing what was going on in the world. Making people buy me British Vogue. I was just inspired by people doing their thing, being creative. I think those 3 designers and others have inspired me along my journey.
C: Last question, when is the next collection dropping, what’s concretely next for Sienna Iman?
S: I can’t give you a specific date, but for the remainder of this year, will be building my brand with what is already out and introducing you guys to new colors, etc. Next year I will be coming out with my next collection, not a capsule, a real line. I would say that if you are looking for something to expect from me, it will be a lot of textures, mixtures of textures, interesting shapes. I love strong shape and a woman who is strong and edgy and confident. It will be more luxe than this collection.