Introducing Creators and their GoodThin.gs - a series brought to you by Calling All Creators, highlighting creators and the good products they make and share with the world.
For our first feature, we sit down with AndThem's very own Sara Jaramillo and explore how she landed a dream job with Yeezy, and how that experience led her to building a sneaker brand from scratch, ILYSM, for founder Alice Wang and what is up next for her.
The purpose of this is about You and the GoodThin.gs you make, so if you could just start off, tell me who you are and what good things you do?
Okay, I am Sara, a footwear designer. I studied fashion design here in Columbia. Then I started working for a local company as an accessories and footwear designer. And then, I realized that I was liking footwear a lot, and I that I needed more studies and more specific things than what I learned in fashion school. So I decided to go Italy and do a masters in footwear design. And so I did it there and I needed to find an internship. And I always wanted to go back to New York. I lived there for a while, so I wanted to go back. So I was looking for an internship there. So I found one in Firenze Scholar. So I started there. And when I got there, a new footwear designer came also like at the same time. So I don't know, like we became friends and I was like assisting her and one day she told me she got like a proposal to work with Kanye and the brand new Yeezy. He was sort of, I don't know, he has just signed the contract with Adidas. So it was completely new. And we had no idea what was allowed. We were just like OK, let's do it. Like it should be fun and it should be like something like starting from scratch. So we just got there. We started doing bags, shoes, sneakers, heels, like he wanted to create these entire lifestyle products. So he had an internal Adidas team that supported us on more like technical things. We had Jeff [Henderson], so they were more like in the technical process of the sneakers. And we were more in the the look of how he wanted the entire collection because he wanted also heels and bags and like the entire world. So we just started there doing everything. We were like a tiny team. So we got to do everything.
Wow! So, I feel like your trajectory is very unique in that you've made this decision. You were in fashion and you're like, hey, you know, I think I want to be in footwear. You get your education and then literally your first job is working directly with Kanye. What was that like?
Yeah, it has pros and cons. I think that's why Jeff likes me because like I was trying to manage my frustration, like every day. Because, I was doing a lot of footwear work but I was also in charge of bags, like I did everything for bags. And I was helping I design shoes also, but like the entire bag line, was sort of mine. And it was the worst line. haha. Like the most difficult project, because I feel like he had clear things in his mind for the other products. With bags, it was really more like an experiment. So at the beginning, I don't know, like one day he wanted Italian bags with amazing leathers with like really high end luxury and the other day he wanted something more nylon, puffy, like something really more casual and China made. Every single day the flavor changed. So Jeff would look at me going into a meeting with like thousands of bags. So he laughed at me like a lot, because I would come out of meetings almost crying, because nothing got approved. And so actually, like just a few of them ever saw the public eye. But yeah, I don't know, Jeff loved me because I just kept showing up and he was like, why are you still here?
Yeah I've never met Kanye personally, but just my understanding of him and his process, he is one of the most difficult people in the world to work with because of his creative vision. For you, how rewarding was it for you as a designer to work with someone like Kanye and then with how difficult that experience was, did it help you transition more into ILYSM better?
Yeah, totally. I think like when you're like it's good because when it's sort of your first job, you still have like that feeling where you don't get frustrated that easy. I don't know, like you still have like a lot of energy to keep showing and keep trying. And so it is that, but it's also hard because you're questioning if this entire industry like this is. Like that happens every day. But like, every day you're also like, OK, I got this amazing opportunity. Even if I show up with fifteen prototypes, if he likes one, that's good, you know. The good thing is I was also doing shoes so I was also in the shoe factories. So I told myself that even though the bags are not the strongest line, at least we have shoes that got approved, and he was really happy with those. And the line was doing pretty well. So actually, shoes where that like the strongest line, when I was there. So, you know, it compensated a little bit and I got to meet new and amazing people. So that's another moment where you tell yourself nothing got approved, but, I'm getting to know these people and like, I'm around them and I'm learning. So anyway, working with him has a lot of frustration. But at the same time, you're just like I want to be here. It's a cool environment seeing him, hearing him talking like the way he did. Like he was always doing like a speech before every season. So. we'd all be there, as he was like telling us what he wanted; like his vision. And not to mention he is an amazing artist. I don't know if we made it or if we didn't do it the way he wanted, but his vision, like, was changing every day. But it was inspiring. Like. You know, it's always a pros and cons because also you're working with like a real artist, like an artist. I mean in every single thing he does. It's really cool because you get to do weird things and you get to explore. We could do research on tons of things that maybe a more commercial brand, we couldn't, because we would have to be a little bit more focused. But here we weren't. We didn't have a marketing team that was telling us what to do. So that's like amazing. But at the same time, that's not real. There's not a lot of brands out there that would allow you to do that. And you're not gonna have that project just for experiments and to just do things and maybe if one product comes out good, that's fine. With a commercial brand, maybe out of 15 prototypes, you have to get 13 of those approved, you know, so that everything is worth it. So it was super cool because, of course, you get out of school and you want to design these weird things and conceptual and, you know, the commercial side you're not really into, so it's cool being able to get there, but at the same time, it spoils you. So like the budget that we had, it...it spoils you.
So talk to me about when you first got involved with ILYSM, what that development process looked like, and what it's been like designing on a small emerging brand and transitioning from being at this very unique situation with Yeezy.
OK. So I quit Yeezy. Being there was super cool. But after four years and a half, one day it was a little bit of enough. So, one day my boss called me, and at that time I was living in New York and I was already sleeping in my bed maybe five days a month. So I was traveling a lot, going from China to Italy, and to Los Angeles. So one day she called me and she was like, you will have to come tomorrow to L.A. Just go to the airport, tell them you're getting onto the first flight and pack for a month because we have no idea if these meetings were taking us back to China or to Italy or if we're staying here in LA forever. I don't know. Like that call did something for me and I was like...enough. I think I can't do this anymore. So I went to L.A., I spoke with her and she was like, I totally understand and I can't promise you anything, and I know you know that this is not gonna change, you know. So I was not totally like I wasn't expecting like I'm not expecting for you to send me a schedule, like at the beginning of the month with my traveling, because I know that's not gonna happen like that. So later that day I was like, OK, this is enough. And also, I think if you want to grow, I know that it was a really cool job but I think, like, you have that you have to change. Like, there are some points in your life that if you want to do other things, you just have to change what you're doing. So yeah. So I quit and and I started to look for a more normal job in New York so I could stay there. And actually that's why Yeezy spoiled people because none of the jobs that I was interviewing for were amazing enough or cool enough. I was like maybe I don't want that craziness, but I want some excitement. It was really hard to find those things. So at the beginning, I wasn't really excited about the jobs that were out there. And then Jeff called me. He was like ok, you quit Yeezy, that's amazing. He told me he was gonna start freelancing so I could help him with the projects that I get. So we started doing that, and I was like, okay, like I'm getting better and cool jobs with Jeff, maybe I don't have to find a real job. And the thing is, I was on a working visa, so I needed it for my visa. But eventually I was like, maybe it's time to go back home. With Jeff, I could work from Columbia and travel, so that could be a good change in my life. So I did that, I went back to Columbia. I started working with Jeff, and then one day he called me and told he has a project that I think you could lead, just you, by yourself. I could like stay as a consultant, but I could be on it full time and I could design it and yea, just everything. And so we met with Alice Wang, the founder of ILYSM.
I told them I would do like a super weird thing. So he was like, OK, let's start with that. Let's get something that you really want to do. So, we changed the project completely, and started again from scratch. We started researching like what were the first sneakers. Alice has Chinese parents, and we started looking for the first sneakers, in Japan and China, and all those stories, And the tabi story and the samurai, and tabi socks were added to the plate. And then we started also researching all these videos with cool textures and clay and really weird like spaghetti makers, you know, like all those cool videos that gives you like a lot of pleasure. Just like seeing them and things that make you want to touch.
So we started with cremes and like things make you just want to grab them. And also getting into those textures, we were able to explore like a super puffy sweater. Researching also like more traditional knitwear, all those amazing cozy textures. So we were like, OK, let's let's start mixing all of these things. And so that's why we came out with the texture of the tabi's as more like a sweater construction. We started out developing the yarn, so their first yarn was a mix between viscose and silk, because we wanted that hairy texture of like a sweater. But it was really difficult to get the texture and the elasticity that we wanted, so we did so many trials. But yeah, and also the same with the tooling textures, so we decided to go with it like it was going through a spaghetti maker. So we had to finish the details by hand because those lines were so thin. Anyways, it was like a really cool process, that took longer than we expected, but at the end, I think we had a unique shoe. That was simple, but at the same time, they were really detailed. And that's how everything started.
Thank you for sharing that story. So ILYSM has been around since 2017 Right? So what has that experience been like so far?
What was cool was at the beginning, a lot of people saw that Margiela actually invented the Tabi. You know, so they didn't know the entire story. So I think, it's something that comes with a story, so for us it's the challenge also of telling that story. And you're just sort of, like... I wouldn't say educating the customer, but in a sense, we did. Yeah. So, like telling that story. So it became like a really cool challenge of not just the product but the entire brand. So like also meeting with the branding team. So it was not just the shoe, it was a creating an entire world. Because at the beginning, we were just three people, so I had to be involved with all meetings, not just product related meetings. So as we are creating the branding and communication, we were like what do we want to do with these products?
"Because I think it's equally important to have a cool product and a cool brand that tells a cool story."
So making all that to be coherent while you have to also deal with production problems and packaging coming out wrong, and like all those little things. It's really, really interesting, not just being on product. Yeah, so like making the vision that we had for the shoe and creating a brand out of that, that was a really cool experience. And sometimes when you just have a job, a brand or a factory, you are more focused on the need to get the shoe done, and that's it. Like, you don't have to think about the entire thing, because you have a marketing team, you're meeting your color and texture designer, and you know, you just have your part, you put it there and that's it. When you create your own brand, you have to do the entire thing. You have to create the product. And then consider packaging and then branding and then communication. And then, like social media or whatever else we going to do with this. So for me, it's really cool to see the entire process. That's really, really the entire process of our product.
So to wrap Sara all up into a package - Yeezy, ILYSM and you're doing design things with AndThem. I feel like alot of us that have sort of existed or played in footwear over the last few years are starting to look at the evolution of what the industry is. Do you see yourself getting outside of footwear, outside of fashion, into another industry?
Yeah. So actually, I'm building a more personal project. I know ILYSM is still a baby and ironically I said I never wanted my own brand. I just never had that in mind for me. And I sort of have that with ILYSM, and that's cool but I'm getting more into art these days. So I want to see how I can mix those. I don't want to have a label or a product, I actually want to build exhibitions, like in museums or something. Something that could be sellable, but is small scale like 10 products... 30 products. It's still on paper, but I want to make something in between those spaces. Yeah. Not actually owning my own product but maybe partnering with an artist and doing more experience things than just products. So actually I'm talking with museums to see if I could do something there.
What sort of products are you thinking?
Yeah I actually want to do footwear. I'm doing research on what footwear means more like from a social and anthropological perspective. And there's really cool stories about what footwear means for different cultures or the history of the meanings of footwear and shoes. For example, like in Mexico and Latin America when you turn 15 and transition from a girl to a woman. The ceremony you do known as a quinceanera, is sort of like changing from sneakers to heels. That's a big thing. Or when you're getting married, like when your husband washes your feet, you know, it's just more like the intimate story to me. Those stories are what I want to explore and see how I can make those into cool exhibitions and then actually sell products at the end. Or when you hang sneakers on electric cables and exploring what that means for different cultures. Like it's different in the U.S., and here in Colombia it's more a territory thing for gangs. So like all those meanings behind cultures, and see how can I sell more of like an art product.
Yeah that's amazing. I feel like the pandemic has just made everyone reevaluate what's important for them. Still applying your skill set and your experience and your knowledge but ultimately, what do you want to put out in the world? And reeling back it into this series, what good things are you putting out there. Because it's fairly easy, like you said, to just make a product, mass produce it, and it be hyper commercialized. And maybe you feel ok about the product, but it doesn't necessarily excite you. So asking yourself : what do I want to do so that it's either got an education component, or it's providing inspiration for a new generation, or it's very artsy and just sort of highlighting these stories or these these really, really unique perspectives and cultural points that we see all the time that we don't fully understand, especially from an external lens.
Yeah. I think that's super important because more like the fashion world or clothing, apparel, retail, it gets a little bit boring. So it's just cool to think about other ideas without forgetting what you like, because I love designing shoes so I wouldn't want to lose that. But at the end of the day I'm like I just don't want to do more products and products and products, without a deeper meaning.