Interview and Photography by Abi Koh
Equipped with an education in fashion design, Marisa Lee's tenacity to achieve her dreams drove her to found Consttant, a feminine streetwear brand with a conscious mindset. One of the goals of Consttant is to remind others about their originality and uniqueness, as well as to be conscious about how the apparel you wear is made and where it comes from. Starting a fashion line is no simple task, but Marisa's impressive initiative and entrepreneurial spirit have led her to make great strides with the growth of Consttant.
How would you describe Consttant's style and aesthetic?
The aesthetic of Consttant is feminine streetwear with a minimalistic touch. Recently, with the tops in the Consttant Core Collection, I wanted to play with the basic white tee and put a spin on it because I hadn’t seen any changes to its original silhouette. I added an opening to the shoulder to give it that sexy, feminine touch when you want to make your white tee off-the-shoulder. I want each piece to make you feel put-together and comfortable for the day ahead. Consttant’s style pulls from a lot of different sources. I take inspiration from old paintings, 90’s movies, finding awesome silhouettes while thrift shopping, and of course taking note of what is popular on social media. I designed the pieces to be high-class casual. You can have the option of dressing it up with some jewelry and sharp heels or to pair it with your fave vintage jeans and sneakers.
When did you start working on Consttant? Do you manage it single-handedly?
I started Consttant right after I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in the summer of 2016. I launched the website not long ago, in April 2017. I created Consttant because starting a clothing line with a deep message to bring about awareness and change is what I believe I am meant to do. I handle all operations for Consttant from posting everyday on the social media to discussing with manufacturers the design and fit of all Consttant pieces. I do the designing, sourcing, networking, along with the photoshoots that are shown on the website and social media. Everyday, I work to grow and bring change so that I can one day achieve what I always planned for, which is to encourage and support other creatives to follow their own dreams.
What's the story behind the name "Consttant"?
While growing up I always used the name “constant thoughts” as a username because I always wanted to create things and would think of new ideas. I was simply always analyzing my surroundings...sometimes over-analyzing haha. Also, I have a hidden secret that people probably don’t expect — I am a big fan of oldies hip-hop and even modern day rap. I was influenced by how the rapper Desiigner put two “i”s in his name and so I added an extra “t”. The “t”s also look like plus symbols, and translate into positivity, one of the core messages of Consttant. There are three "t"s which mirror a trinity, and I also have three people in my family. So I always like to play with the number 3 when designing as well.
Where did you learn how to design clothes?
I started sewing at a pretty young age — probably when I was 8. My mom taught me embroidery. The first thing I sewed with the machine was a tiny tissue-holder pouch to hold kleenex. I then went on to follow bag-making patterns in Japanese books containing no English. That triggered my sense to think about construction and figure things out from simply looking at the overall shape. Then, in middle and high school, I saw all these runway looks that I loved and dreamed of having. I’d try and recreate them with oversized vintage clothes because there is so much fabric out there! I watched a lot of YouTube and did many projects that did not work out, but I would always want to be making something no matter what. I then applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology for Fashion Design, which is where I have my degree in Fashion Design. It really helped strengthen my skills in all areas — from design, pattern-making, working with the dress form, and learning a lot about finding the right fabrics to make a garment look great.
I think a lot of people dream of starting their own fashion brand, but never really act towards making that dream come true. What drove you to hustle, overcome hurdles, and actually start your business?
What drives me are the goals and change in the future that I plan on achieving through Consttant. First, I aim to showcase women of all types of shape, size, and color. It is really just normal to have all different types of women modeling clothing and I believe it is abnormal to have the same cookie-cutter model be seen in ads that are everywhere for big clothing corporations. This is really important to me because I myself do not fit the cookie cutter Asian-looking girl that is portrayed in media. I have dark skin, am taller than usual, and am rounder than most. So I hope Consttant is that reminder to other women out there that we all are original. Going through those hardships of self-doubt in life bring positive lessons that we can take and build who we are today. When a hurdle comes in the way, I remind myself that this is really what I want to do in the long run because it is a dream of mine to make it into a reality. All in all, I want to create, inspire, and make clothes for women to feel confident and remind them of how original we each are.
What were some of the challenges you faced during the early stages of the company?
Early on actually was one of the more relaxed parts of starting. I did a lot of research and gathering of inspiration to build up what I wanted to build Consttant into. In the early stages, there were no deadlines or Instagram account to worry about; it was purely building an idea that I believed in. I've found more challenges currently, but they are all lessons that I learn from and I do not have one complaint. At times it can be overwhelming, but I always go back to remindinding myself why I love to create. The future goals that I have for this brand keep pushing me to bring my all.
When designing your clothes, how do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration constantly. I can be inspired by the embroidery I notice on someone’s jacket as they walk past me — or, on the other side of the spectrum, a runway show in NYFW. For me, inspiration can come from any abstract or concrete idea. I got the inspiration for the positives and negatives that are embroidered on all of the Consttant pieces from experiences we all go through. Experiencing negatives and positives that make us who we are today inspired me to want to design clothes for women who are loving their originality or just coming to that point in life. I am inspired by the journey we all go through and I want Consttant to be that reminder that you can dress up or down with these pieces and of course always look good.
Designing clothes sounds like fun, but I imagine there's also the business and administration side of managing your own business. Has any of that proved challenging?
The administration part is very step-by-step. There are always certain things that should be getting done to move forward. In that way, it is easier to follow. But the load of work, on the other hand, is more of the challenging part; that is why I always am planning everyday to make sure there is a balance of creating and business tasks being accomplished.
What are some new things you've learned or have improved at since starting your business?
Since starting my business, I have come to know exactly what I want for Consttant to grow and how to say it. Of course, I am always still growing and want to reminding with this as well. Especially when designing new pieces, there must be clear communication between my manufacturer and me so that a design does not turn out totally unexpected. I’ve also learned to always be evolving. I do this by taking in other people’s opinions and tweaking what I have with Consttant, from the website to picking upcoming colors. This is really important to me because in order to grow my brand, I need to be able to adapt and take in opinions to bring the best.
Where are your clothes manufactured in?
All of the tops currently being sold online are hand cut and sewn in Peru. I hope to be working with them even more in the future to create a whole collection of organic pima cotton pieces. I also handmake a portion of the pieces and source those materials from the Bay Area and the rest of the states. All the handcrafted pieces are in the “Exclusives” section of consttantmade.com.
What are you working on next for Consttant?
Next up for Consttant are some pieces that will be made-to-order. I source the materials right here in San Francisco and will sew pieces one-by-one as they are ordered through consttantmade.com. I am also expecting new samples from my Peruvian manufacturers which will add even more variety of styles and colors.
What do you hope to be doing 3 years from now?
In 3 years from now I hope to:
- have my own studio with two other people working alongside me
- collaborate with other female creatives, whether it be through an artist collaboration, print, or creating a film for Consttant
- hold a pop up shop with a full Consttant Collection
- have a full list of stockists
- keep stability to keep creating pieces!
- many other goals but that’d probably take up the whole article haha
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? What about advice for women wanting to start their own fashion brand?
I am still growing my business as a young female entrepreneur, but something I always remind myself is to never look back and work with what I have going on right now. This helps me in making decisions daily. I also remind myself that if one opportunity does not work out, then definitely in the future something greater will come that will fit my brand and benefit Consttant even more. If you are inspired by what you do, you’ll never see it as work and always be creating and building your dream daily to achieve it and feel proud of your accomplishments.
You can purchase Consttant apparel by visiting the website consttantmade.com
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