Get to Know the Designer Creating Upcycled Corsets From Vintage Nike Sweats and Budweiser Towels

Emilee Geist

Kayla Sade Famurewa of Almost On Time may have never been to fashion school, but she’s quickly proving herself a name to know.

<em>Designer Kayla Sade Famurewa wearing an upcycled Almost On Time corset.</em>
Designer Kayla Sade Famurewa wearing an upcycled Almost On Time corset.

When Kayla Sade Famurewa sold her first upcycled corset — made from thrifted Nike sweats — in April, it wasn’t with the intention to make a name for herself. 

“It was the beginning of the quarantine, and I wanted to make a cozy corset that I would wear around the house with sweatpants,” she tells Fashionista. 

But the San Francisco-based designer’s pieces were too unique to escape notice for long. Made from clothing (and the occasional Budweiser beer towel) she thrifted from local secondhand stores, Famurewa’s unusual corsets immediately stood out from the sea of clothing on Depop, where she first started selling. Her creative project, which she entitled Almost On Time, soon attracted a wide following for its combination of traditional construction methods (think: classic boning) and modern details (think: straps made of shoelaces).

Three months after launching, Almost On Time has over 31,000 followers on Instagram. Would-be customers from all over the world set timers and notifications days in advance so that they can scoop up pieces from Famurewa’s limited drops as soon as they’re available. Though the former Detroit resident may be driving the kind of hype usually associated with much bigger brands, she’s not looking to get sucked into the way that the mainstream fashion industry functions.

“‘Almost On Time’ is a wordplay on being fashionably late and also a call to stop the frantic cycle that is fast fashion,” Famurewa explains. “Sustainability is a big part of my motivation and I typically will never use new fabric or deconstruct new clothing. The whole point of Almost On Time is to give new life to old things that have been discarded.”

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Famurewa first got interested in sustainability while studying at an environmentally-focused charter high school. But what’s really remarkable, considering the technical precision of her pieces, is the fact that Famurewa is largely self-taught and started sewing as a hobby. 

In light of the protests that have erupted since George Floyd was killed and the ongoing reckoning with white supremacy and police brutality in the U.S., she says she’s been grateful to have creative endeavors as an escape: “Literally waking up everyday to learn of another Black person being killed unjustly, or [seeing] more police brutality from the past being unearthed, is a very traumatic experience. I am just glad to have sewing and design as a creative outlet and escape from the real world.”

We chatted with Famurewa via email ahead of her latest drop to learn more about her views on sustainability and creativity in the tumultuous year that is 2020. Read on for highlights from our conversation.

How did you first get into fashion?

I have always expressed myself through things that I wear. I am Nigerian and vibrant, occasion-based outfits have always been a part of my life. I believe fashion should be fun, exciting and should spark emotions! 

Do you have a background in design? How did you learn to make corsets?

I first started reworking clothes in high school without any sewing experience. I made hand-dyed and distressed denim shorts from upcycled jeans I found at the thrift store and sold them on Etsy. I didn’t go to college for fashion or design, despite my passion for it. I studied communications, and my hobby of reworking and reconstructing clothes was put on hold while I attended college — although my thrifting obsession continued. I would often alter my thrifted finds to fit in a more flattering and modern way. 

After graduating and working for a few years in a corporate environment that lacked excitement for me, I began revisiting my passion of creating which includes design, photography and art direction. I often couldn’t afford or find clothes I wanted to wear, so I taught myself to sew and construct garments with the help of the internet and a few classes which taught basic foundations of sewing.

How did you decide to start Almost On Time?

I created Almost On Time as a long-term design project in which I experiment with reconstructing pre-loved garments and develop my personal design aesthetic. It began on Depop, just me making things I wanted to wear, while practicing design from sketch to construction. I sold my first sample corset just three months ago and it is still just me, learning and having fun making things I like in my apartment.

How many pieces do you usually drop at a time?

It varies, depending on what I am working on at the time. My goal has never been to produce as many pieces as possible, but to have fun experimenting and making things I like that are well-crafted and made to last. 

Each piece is 1/1 or made in very limited quantities, with hopes that it goes to an individual who values sustainable design and appreciates hand-crafted work from an independent designer. All of my pieces are first come, first serve with set prices, so that they can be available and affordable to anyone dedicated to set an alarm and catch one of my drops.

I recently learned that photos of my work have already been directly copied to create cheap bootlegs in China, which is a bit disheartening considering that my goal is to inspire sustainability and upcycling and create limited amounts of very unique pieces — not more cheap, fast fashion.

What size range have you offered in the past? Could you see that expanding in the future?

I began creating samples made with my size in mind because I was my only model during the quarantine, and I could never find a corset that fit exactly the right way. I do have customers of all sizes and make custom corsets for all shapes and sizes. I plan to showcase my work on all sizes in the future.

Where do you get the original garments that you make your corsets out of? 

The original garments all come from the physical thrift store or from online vintage and secondhand shops. My journey with sustainability began in high school when I went to a charter school that placed a large emphasis on environmental sustainability. I worked at my school’s urban garden and learned a lot about reducing waste and manifesting a sustainable lifestyle.

What does your work life look like outside of Almost On Time?

I am a full-time creative professional. When I am not working on commissioned design projects or my own design work, I am a photographer and art director for local businesses in San Francisco.

How did you build your platform so quickly?

I never put much time or planning into social media as it was never my goal to grow rapidly. One of my first pieces was purchased on Depop and posted and shared widely on Instagram, which is where I gained a lot of my audience. I have since shifted from Depop to my personal website.

I will say that the timing of my website launch and last drop was interesting — right around when George Floyd’s life was taken and the Black Lives Matter movement kicked into full gear. The climate of the country escalated with more and more news of police brutality, Black lives being taken unjustly and systematic racism keeping a disproportionate amount of Black individuals in prison. 

While people are learning about Black history and becoming more aware of the importance of supporting Black businesses and amplifying Black voices and perspectives, this is just the beginning. I received a lot of support during this time, although the small success of gaining an audience was greatly overshadowed by the turmoil going on around me. I have tried to stay mentally sound by limiting my social media usage at this time. 

Who do you dream of seeing in your designs?

I would love to see fellow Black women who inspire me wearing some of my pieces in the future. I am heavily inspired by old and new fashion of iconic Black women: Destiny’s Child, TLC, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Serena Williams, just to name a few.

Do you have any long-term plans for Almost On Time?

My long-term goal is to build a completely sustainable brand that inspires people to want to wear recycled clothing and materials in a new way. I was in the process of enrolling in design school when Covid-19 showed up, and I decided to begin my journey on my own from home. Not sure if I will still pursue a traditional education or continue down a different path to reach my end goal.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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