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Take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist.
Lysandra Weber, owner of geekchicfashion, didn’t start out in the clothing industry because she loved fashion. Lysandra was drawn in through her love of creating things, coupled with her interest in helping women find clothing that helps them feel good about themselves. She is a passionate advocate for women and Black artists, as well as a self proclaimed geek. Chatham Arts Council recently spoke with Lysandra about the evolution of her business, and how things have changed over the past few months, both in terms of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. We invite you to meet this talented and passionate artist.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in Pittsboro, NC.
I grew up in Michigan, went to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for my undergraduate degree, and then my husband and I moved to North Carolina so I could go to business school at UNC. We liked it so much that we decided to stay. We were looking around for houses in the area and found Pittsboro and just really loved the vibe. People were so friendly, and we were able to get lots of land so we could have our creative endeavors out here as well. The sense of community is very strong.
How did your business get started?
When I first started my business in 2007, I was working full time at Brooklyn Brewery in New York City, and I was seeking an outlet for my creativity. I started with crocheting the pattern of fractals on scarves. Eventually, I moved to North Carolina for business school, and shifted to making and selling women’s clothing, but still as a side hustle. When I wore my skirts to work at Burt’s Bees, my coworkers loved them, so I knew I was on to something. It was when I was on maternity leave that I re-evaluated how to make work-life balance work with a new baby. I had my small creative business on the side, so I thought I would see if I could make a go of it as an actual business, not just a side hustle. I took a month and really poured myself into it while my son was tiny. People loved my clothes, and I made some money, so I decided to keep it going.
Tell me about the evolution of your business from the side hustle days to today.
When I moved to North Carolina, people weren’t wearing the types of big crocheted scarves that I made. It does not get that cold here. So I started making infinity scarves out of lighter weight materials. I also started to do markets and pop up shops, mainly to sell but also to see what other designers were doing. I discovered that the more that I made, the more I learned about construction and pattern design. I will never claim to be solely self-taught because I learned a great deal from other makers about how to create and further a creative business. When I had my son, I had more time to think about how to create a cohesive collection. So that’s when I really started making collections twice a year versus just making pieces as I went.
I originally had this idea that I would try to get my clothing into retail stores, because traditionally in fashion, that’s what they tell you to do. They tell you that you have to have two collections a year, at least. But then I realized that you can create your own destiny and you don’t have to follow what everybody else has done just because that’s how it’s been done. So I decided to sell direct to customers on my website and then do a ton of pop up markets in the area, like Pittsboro First Sunday. I met tons of artists. I actually met an artist who made wooden buttons for me to use on some scarves that I made. Being able to connect with other artists in Pittsboro and Chatham County has been fantastic.
Have you always been interested in making clothes?
I was always interested in making things; I wasn’t specifically into fashion. The first thing that I recall making was a quilt when I was nine. My appendix ruptured and I started making the quilt when I was in the hospital. When I got out of the hospital, my great aunt helped me finish it. I loved sewing with her and seeing all the cool pieces she made for her friends. In eighth grade, my mom bought me a crocheting kit and I crocheted a lime green elephant, which I thought was the coolest thing. I mean, what eighth grader in the 1990s is crocheting elephants? It’s super weird. But I was like that.
When I went to college, I stopped making as much because I was so busy. I moved to New York City after college and discovered that it’s a stressful place to live. Some people love it and thrive off of it. For me, it was incredibly stressful. So my roommate at the time gave me some of her grandma’s old crochet needles and hooks and I crocheted a full size blanket. It was a stress reliever, and it brought me back to making. This was also in the super early days of Etsy. My husband and I (he was my boyfriend at the time) would go to the Etsy office for their open craft nights once a week to learn how to make things and use their sewing machines for our own projects.
Is there a story behind the name of your company?
I named my business geekchicfashion because traditionally the women who are in STEM fields are often called geeks and nerds, or are told that they’re not feminine enough. I felt strongly about women reclaiming the term ‘geek’ and making it what we want it to be like, reclaiming the femininity of it. A lot of the designs that I create or the prints and patterns that I choose have a subtle element of geekiness to them. For example, I have a skirt that I call the Bioluminescence Skirt because it looks like flowers bioluminescing in the dark. I have scarves that have patterns of DNA strands on them. I also have a shirt that’s called the Sector Swing Top. A sector is a pie shaped slice out of a circle, which is the shape of the shirt. If you laid it out flat, it looks like a pie shaped slice, but while you’re wearing it, it looks like a cool flowy top. To the general public, it’s just beautiful, modern, comfortable clothes, but the idea is to reclaim these “geeky” references in subtle ways.
You’re also known for being very body positive. Can you talk a bit about that?
I remember reading teen mags when I was growing up and noticing that the girls on the covers were so skinny and mostly white. I was never skinny — I was always very muscular. I was a sprinter in high school, so it was not physically possible for my body to look like those girls on the magazine covers. As a young girl, it was always kind of disconcerting to see all these girls in the magazines and think, “Is this what’s supposed to be beautiful? I can never be that.” When I started making clothes for my body type it wasn’t only about fashion. It’s about creating things that help women reclaim confidence in who they are.
I want women to feel good about themselves, no matter what size they are, what profession they have, if they’re short, tall, black, white, green, purple, whatever. I’m just committed to women being confident in who they are in this moment. I don’t want women to say to me, “I can’t buy your skirts until I lose 10 pounds.” I don’t want them to say, “I have to gain 15 pounds before I have enough curves.” My goal is for women to feel great about who they are right now.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from women about your clothes?
In mainstream fashion, there’s an underlying message that you have to be skinny and look a certain way in order to be beautiful. I think it’s refreshing for women to encounter a brand that bucks that trend. I have two mannequins that I take with me when I go to shows that are technically plus-size mannequins. I cannot tell you how many women walk by my booth, stop, back up, and say, “Whoa — she has a booty! She’s shaped like me. I can totally wear your skirts!” They assume that they won’t be able to fit into your stuff just because you’re a fashion brand. It’s important to me to show women that it doesn’t matter what shape or size you are — these clothes are for you. I carry a size small to a size 3X.
I once had a woman come up to me at a show who had lost a bunch of weight. The clothes she was wearing were a little bit too big because she was struggling to find clothes that fit her new body. Then she said, with tears in her eyes, “I love your clothes. They fit me.” She was so emotional about being able to find clothes that fit her new body in a way that made her feel good about herself. It gives me chills now to think about. That’s why my brand exists. I want to help women who society has told that they’re not beautiful, that they’re too this or too that. I want them to think, “You know what? This is exactly what I’m supposed to be.”
Who inspires you?
From a holistic life perspective, I would say Octavia Raheem, a Black yoga instructor in Atlanta. I met her at the Asheville yoga festival. As a vendor, you get to take free classes so I took her class. I love her perspective on life and rest. The importance of rest as a Black woman is really powerful to me and really speaks to me. I’m terrible at resting and terrible at taking time for myself. I know now how much my creativity is impacted when I don’t rest.
In fashion, I love Christian Siriano. He’s amazing. He makes beautiful things for every kind of body. He doesn’t only dress skinny white women and he doesn’t only dress women. He dressed Billy Porter and he dresses Leslie Jones, and she wears pants when most would wear dresses. He makes these pants outfits that are just phenomenal. He’s able to take these really creative approaches to fashion.
How have the last few months changed your business?
When everything started shutting down in March, I was in the midst of sewing samples and organizing a photo shoot, which I had to cancel. Suddenly both my kids were home all the time and I didn’t have activities to keep them occupied. At that point, I put everything for myself on the back burner. For two weeks, I didn’t go for my walks and I didn’t work on my business at all. It wasn’t until I got some great advice from a friend that things turned around. She said, “Look, these are dark times. People need beautiful things. People need to be cheered up and reminded of the beauty that exists, even though we’re all trapped at home right now. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself for the coronavirus. Not only is it your business, but it’s also your creative outlet. It is time for you to work on adult things, and time to utilize parts of your brain other than the ones you use to talk to your kids.” Her advice really hit home. So I had to shift my schedule and talk with my husband to ensure I could get some time for me to work every day. He now takes two hours off of work every day so I can work on my business.
When there was a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) in the beginning of the quarantine, I was making face masks to donate to friends and customers who worked in healthcare. That’s really how I started off making face masks. I was just donating to people all over the country. Then came the point when the CDC said that everybody needed to be wearing a face mask now so I decided to sell them to the public. It was very well received. I think I started with 60 face masks the first time I launched them and they sold out within a day. It was crazy. So at that point, I realized my business needed to pivot to fulfill this need. I started this plan of launching things once a week because I wanted to have a consistent way to interact with my customers.
So every week I launch a new batch of face masks. The more I launched them, the faster they would sell out, which was great. But then the Black Lives Matter movement hit a critical point at the beginning of June. I don’t know how to describe it because I feel like it’s always happening. People aren’t always aware of Black bodies being killed at the hands of police. Then that whole Blackout Tuesday thing happened on social media, and I was just frustrated. I have always been working toward equity. I was on the equity team at my kid’s preschool. I was on the equity committee for a board that I’m on. It’s work that I’ve always been doing. So when everyone decided to be silent for the day, I thought to myself, “Absolutely not. No, that’s not support. I don’t feel solidarity in that. I don’t feel like that is a way you’re supporting me.” A lot of people are silent all the time because it’s easier and it’s more comfortable. It just seemed like an excuse for people to be quiet again. I need you. And by you–just be clear–I mean, white people. I need white people to amplify Black voices. I need white people to get their people and work towards actual change. There are companies, small businesses, and artists who have never posted a single person of color on their entire Instagram feed and then they’re going to do Blackout Tuesday? No. You have other work to do. This is not the time to be silent.
I wrote a post on social media about it and it went crazy viral. That was not my intention at all. I was just trying to say my peace and get people going. That post blew up in a way that I could never have imagined. I think in the three or four days following that, I made about four times what I had made during my previous month in sales, which I was not prepared for in any way. People were looking to support Black businesses and that’s what people showed up and did, and I’m incredibly grateful for it. So now I’m trying to balance raising my kids and growing my business in a way that is sustainable. My husband has been great. He jumped in, shipping out all of my orders. I even taught him how to iron.
It’s been a blessing and also a huge pivot to think about my business in an entirely different way.