Posted on November 25 2016
In The Studio With Jill Aiko Yee
From start to finish, Jill Aiko Yee is as “hands-on” as designers get. From draping to dyeing to sewing each seam—her hands transform untouched natural fibers into the technicolor garments of our dreams. As a former dancer, each unique piece is crafted with the focused intention and skill of a prima ballerina.
Check out what fuels her creative flow and the crucial career hiccup that pushed her to leap into fashion as a solo designer in our one-on-one interview.
HI JILL! LET'S JUMP RIGHT IN. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A DESIGNER?
Hey Morgan, becoming a designer was pretty roundabout for me.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BRANCH OUT INDEPENDENTLY AND PIONEER YOUR OWN BRAND?
Branching out to do my own brand was always in the back of my mind in fashion school. I took the time to work for other designers Gregory Parkinson, Clover Canyon, and Illia because there are so many technical aspects to learn. The impetus to my own start was getting laid off! I'm pretty risk averse, and even though I wanted to do it, not sure the leap would have happened otherwise.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? WHAT THEMES ARE INFLUENCING YOUR WORK RIGHT NOW?
Nature, movement, and colors are big influences in my work. It always come down to fabric, texture, and colors. Fabrics have to drape and move, and colors must be rich. Being outdoors is a pastime I love whether it's hiking or camping. Seeing the different seasonal colors, and plant palettes awakens my soul. Certain colors will infiltrate my mind, and I'll start to see them everywhere. That can help build the mood board and color palate for the season.
THE MATERIALS YOU SOURCE AND CREATE ARE SO UNIQUE! WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DEVELOP YOUR OWN HAND-DYED TEXTILES? HOW DO THE MATERIALS YOU USE INFORM YOUR WORK?
I love natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, and rayon. They breath better, they take dye better, and are naturally gorgeous. Many designers make their own fabric prints, but I've always been very hands on, and 3D oriented. So I prefer to handle the fabric by dyeing it and draping it. It's just the way I can connect best with designing.
YOUR STUDIO IS IN DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES, A LOCALE RICH WITH HISTORY. HOW DOES YOUR ENVIRONMENT AND COMMUNITY INFLUENCE YOUR COLLECTION?
Downtown has changed a lot since when I was in school here 14 years ago. Now it's vibrant and filled with amazing stores and establishments. I love to see the development, but there is impact for the fashion community that's traditionally worked here - their rents are going up. Ideally we can maintain the mix of creatives and manufacturing downtown. My favorite part is sharing the studio with fellow creative and fine jeweler Amy Agamemnon—she's got the best energy and tons of ideas.
YOUR WORK IS ARTFUL AND ELEGANT WHILE STILL BEING COMPLETELY WEARABLE. WHO DO YOU IMAGINE WEARING YOUR DESIGNS? O YOU HAVE A MUSE(S) IN MIND?
Thank you! I offer limited edition pieces so they are meaningful pieces. Anyone that wants clothing that's comfortable and creative can wear it. It's not restrictive, and it allows you to go through your day thinking about your agenda, not what you look like. That's how we get things done! Some of the creatives that wear my pieces are especially inspiring—Suchin Pak, Jihan from Geronimo Balloons, and Kristen Bell to name a few.
DO YOU WORK ALONE? IF YES, TELL US HOW YOU BALANCE BEING A ONE WOMAN SHOW?
I generally work alone in my office, but there are a people that help out with sewing in my building. Being a one woman show is quite overwhelming, but I balance that by spending time with friends, and going out with other creatives! Some of my most rewarding relationships are creative ones where I've partnered such as with Dyer Graham Keegan and Jessica Comingore of the Elysian-Edit.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I mostly find inspiration when I’m outdoors or around people. It's more about having an engaging experience.
AS AN INDEPENDENT BUSINESS OWNER, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH SOMEONE INTERESTED IN STARTING A FASHION COMPANY?
Fashion companies are notoriously hard to manage because it means balancing creative and financials. I would say do your homework and be organized before you start, and have an idea you're willing to put years of energy into.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR ROUTINE.
I love biking to work, working intensely day to evening, and then spending time with friends after work to break it up.
WHERE SHOULD WE STOP IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD? ANY TOP SPOTS FOR GOOD GRUB, SHOPPING, OR AMBIENCE?
My fav spots in the neighborhood are the rooftop of the Ace hotel around the corner from my office, and Aesop boutique because it smells so good in there! Also I love Mignon for happy hour, and Terroni for Italian food.
WHAT ARE A FEW SIMPLE PLEASURES YOU CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF?
I adore being in the water, and at the beach, but rarely seem to get to it. My go to urban retreat is the Korean Spa, Crystal Spa in Los Angeles.