Yuliya Raquel wants to disrupt the fashion industry. She is the founder of Bootstrap Fashion, a fashion design platform that sells custom sewing patterns, offers a fashion design app that lets you design a dress, and has two levels of membership. You can sign up as 1.) a DIY sewer, blogger, aspiring designer or 2.) a designer, retailer, or manufacturer. (Note: The site is a bit confusing to navigate – Yuliya readily admits that she’s not a user interface designer – but just explore and have fun.)
Bootstrap Fashion is not Yuliya’s first foray into fashion. “I’ve worked in every aspect of the fashion design business,” says Yuliya, who grew up in the Ukraine and came to the United States in 1991 when she was a teenager. She finished her last year of high school in San Francisco and then decided to be a premed college student with the intention of becoming a podiatrist.
“I’ve worked in every aspect of the fashion design business.”
But she had always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. One day as she sat in a biochemistry class, she found herself designing and making fashion sketches. So she quit school, eventually launching her first fashion business in 1995 as a custom dressmaker. She learned on the job, she says, making “beautiful expensive gowns for private customers.”
Her number one client was her mother, a plus-sized woman – though she didn’t charge her, notes Yuliya with a smile. One day when Yuliya didn’t have time to make a dress for her mother, they went to the mall and only saw very old-fashioned styles for fuller figures. “It was so sad,” recalls Yuliya. “I thought, Where do women shop if they want to look sexy? Where do you go?”
This experience inspired her to design a stylish fashion line for full-figured women. After taking business courses and participating in a Renaissance Entrepreneur Center program, she launched Igigi by Yuliya Raquel in February 2000. Three years later, “Igigi exploded,” says Yuliya. “It became very successful.”
Then Yuliya got married and her husband became the CEO of the company. However, the marriage didn’t work out and the board of directors asked Yuliya to step down and her former husband (who she would prefer not to name in this article) remained CEO. The company has since gone through bankruptcy proceedings.
Despite the loss of her company Yuliya was determined not to let it get her down. “It was a lot of heartbreak,” she admits. “I could be sad and get depressed but I realized, what if I took my sadness and took that energy and turned it into something else?”
I chatted with Yuliya via Skype to learn more about her current venture, Bootstrap Fashion, which launched in May 2014. We knew each virtually via Twitter and the Bay Area Sewists meetup group. I met her in person in September at a San Francisco Fashion Week event where she spoke on a panel about sustainable fashion.
How did Bootstrap Fashion begin and how are you creating a disruption in the fashion industry?
I had a vision and thought about what was the most difficult part of fashion – product development. There’s a gap in the process from design to manufacturing. Going from the idea to the final product takes time and money. You get the design but it doesn’t fit properly. Then you make another adjustment to the [garment] sample. It takes three to seven versions to make it fit.
For me the disruption happens when time and money are removed. My initial idea for Bootstrap was to go from concept to fitted pattern – to get a custom-fit pattern that has 80 to 90 percent fit.
For me the disruption happens when time and money are removed.
Because of all this time spent on product development, there’s very little time left to grow your business. Product development doesn’t allow independent designers to be sustainable and make money. I wanted to change that so that anyone who has an idea could launch a fashion design business. I could empower them to make money.
And that’s when I met a new life partner and he supported and empowered me in that decision. Together we started Bootstrap. The idea was great but raising funding is a science and art itself. Between myself and my life partner, we could be extremely resourceful if we could take on a lot of work ourselves. We decided to bootstrap rather than being accountable to investors. You have an opportunity to learn a lot by removing the money aspect and not so focused on “make the money, make the money.” So we could be more focused on the product, be service- and product-oriented and focus on making a difference.
Tell me about the custom-fit patterns on Bootstrap. They can be used by DIY sewists as well as fashion designers.
We have the classic Leko patterns, which are not exclusive to us. [They are also sold on Lekala, which has been around since 2012.]
We also have patterns by independent designers who are exclusive to us, like Vado jeans. The indie patterns are more expensive – $10 or $12 because we are sharing fees with designer – a 50/50 split. The designers are employers. Everybody has to win. [See what Beth of SunnyGal Studio has to say about her experience making a pair of Vado jeans.]
The patterns are easy to fit. If you design a pattern using our custom app, you could take it and resell it – our idea is to empower people. It’s a democratization and disruption of the fashion industry.
All of the Leko patterns are open source. You have a nice foundation pattern you could work from and make it your own. If you want to make it more of a business, you can order a pattern, download it, change it and sell it. The designer can use the patterns in product development and start with a nice collection.
They could also use our pattern designer app. If you design a pattern using our custom app, you could take it and resell it – our idea is to empower people.
How well do the custom patterns fit?
You enter your measurements, pick a pattern and then in 5 to 15 minutes you receive a PDF pattern customized for your figure. Sometimes there are glitches and then it could take longer. You get the pattern, sewing instructions and how-to-print instructions. [See Beth of SunnyGal Studios’ experience in 2014 with making a dress from a Bootstrap Fashion pattern.]
The patterns won’t fit 100 percent. If the measurements are taken well, it fits well 80 to 95 percent. There is a balance to the patterns. The shoulders will fit. Leko patterns have a smaller ease – but they are designed to fit. If there is a problem, we are happy to rerun the patterns or refund the money. Designers have 80 percent of the work done for them. It makes it easier and simpler.
I do recommend that you do a muslin – no matter how good the pattern is, you may need to make small adjustments and corrections. But it can save you many hours.
Leko is a coding language, coded algorithms. Vado patterns’ programming is more advanced. People have experienced 100 percent fit with her.
The new software we are working on will fit even more. It’s going to be groundbreaking. Leko’s algorithm is limited in sizes. Leko has a height limitation. The new system will have no limitation and will accommodate any size.
What’s happening now with Bootstrap?
We’re focused on advancing tech. Our design app launched in August 2015. It’s a big change in our company. As we were testing the software, we realized there were a lot of limitations. For a professional who wants flexibility in the design, our software wasn’t providing that.
We took a step back and now we have a team of CAD developers in Russia who are investing their time to develop and design 3-D software. The main audience for that product is commercial designers. We are taking it to a whole new level so you can design a garment and can get a 3-D version next to the actual flat pattern.
You can design a garment and can get a 3-D version next to the actual flat pattern.
You can make changes dynamically can see changes dynamically. You can make adjustments on the virtual sample on the spot. Then you can grade it. We’re taking a process that took time, money and effort and collapsing it into minutes. You can go from concept to virtual sample that is quite accurate. The painstaking process will no longer exist.
Our new software is moving forward and will fundamentally change the way garments are going to be designed. The people who never had access to the industry will now have access.
The 3-D design software isn’t new to the fashion industry, right?
It’s been around for 10 to 15 years and it’s expensive. It’s not new but it still takes time. There’s a learning curve. That’s what stopped me, this learning curve. I’m a business person and I don’t have time to learn. With this new software, there will be no waiting. You can instantly get the live pattern.
It will be our own proprietary software available for a do-it-yourselfer, a small manufacturer or large manufacturer. The painstaking development process will no longer exist. What used to take hours in real time, will take minutes.
What will you call it?
Design Center, for now.
You also have some designs available on Bootstrap.
I’m starting my own collection Yuliya Racquel, using my technology. [Here’s a link to the Bootstrap page where you’ll find Yuliya’s sewing patterns.]
What inspires you?
On my god – so many things – happy people. Seeing people being happy with the product. It just makes me melt seeing people wear my designs. It makes me melt having people email me their creations. It’s so inspiring.
I’m a dreamer and I’m an extremely unrealistic dreamer. To me it’s those possibilities of these ideas that nobody thought of. Making the impossible possible is extremely fulfilling to me.
My philosophy is that I want everybody involved to be fulfilled and to be empowered. From the people who buy the patter s to the people who create them.
We’re committed to great customer service. If there are problems we try to resolve them or
What advice do you have for people who want to go into the fashion industry?
My number one advice is to make sure that you are extremely resilient. It’s about who you are, not what kinds of clothing you make. It’s being resilient. Do not give up.
It’s about who you are, not what kinds of clothing you make.
Train yourself in the business aspect. However you look at it, it is a business. Do not undervalue yourself. Understand marketing and visual presentation. The fashion industry is about branding. It’s all about branding and positioning.
Don’t do everything on your own. Create a team that will work with you as well. Understand the kind of customer you’re going to serve, which is part of marketing.
Don’t get stuck on the process. It’s marketing and sales that give you business. Being creative people, we get stuck on our craft, making beautiful pieces that nobody buys.
The fun part is the design. The hard part is the business. I bring people to complement myself. Don’t be afraid to take on partners and collaborators.