You know those brands that you find that feel like they were specifically made for you? The ones that, as you look through their items, you could see yourself wearing every item? And you can't even choose what to get because you want everything? That's how I felt the first time I found Ebone & Ivory.
Of course, I know that Ebone Whitney, the creator of the brand, isn't designing for me personally, which is evident by the numerous influencers sharing her shop lately. Filled with vintage inspired patterns for fit-and-flare dresses, a-line skirts, and more, Ebone's items are made-to-order and one of a kind. Due to the custom nature, she's glad to accept design ideas, requests, and special fabrics, making each piece feel particularly special. When you purchase an item, you can choose your fabric and length, and with the pandemic still occuring, she'll even include a matching face mask with each order. Getting one of her pieces in the mail feels far more exciting than an item from a mass retailer, and I know this for a fact because I personally purchased my first from her recently and am already scouting out my next one.
It was so fun to read more about how Ebone turned her fashion experience into a business of her own and what's she's learned along the way. Enjoy our interview below and then go pick out a handmade piece to buy for yourself!
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?
A: I actually learned to sew from my mom and my aunt around the age of 9 and beyond that I'm completely self-taught. Like most people, I struggled to find clothes that spoke to me and was at the mercy of *trendy* (aka disposable) fast fashion. I wanted a way to express my personal style and quickly realized that I had every resource to create my own wardrobe available to me at home! Altogether I've got about 5+ years of professional experience working in retail, fashion production, and bridal alterations. Started a lil shop on Etsy in 2015 just to see if I had what it takes to be an independent businesswoman (nailed it!) Once my confidence was up I turned it into a full-time dream in 2019!
Q: Was there a moment when you felt like this was something that was going to take off and become a success for you?
A: There were quite a few moments where I thought Hmmm, this might just work out for me. Like the stars were aligning, showing me a clear pathway to what could be my future; hours being reduced at my day job, landing one professional fashion job after another, and the support and encouragement of my close friends. The one moment that truly set me on the path and gave me all the confidence I needed was doing the production for my friend Jenny (formerly @shelovesdresses) Her dress collection “Moving Castles” was one of the biggest jobs of my career! I’ve always looked up to her for SO many reasons and the fact that she believed in my skills and admired my work enough to hire me gave me the confirmation and validation that I needed! I’m forever grateful for that opportunity.
Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you starting this as a career or a business? Were you nervous to share it?
A: Most of them thought it was a perfect fit and completely inevitable. I wasn’t really nervous about it actually because sewing, wearing what I’ve made, and sharing that (in real life and online) was something that I’ve always done. The only difference was asking for money haha! The worst that could happen was that no one would buy anything but it didn’t matter because I would honestly do this for free. Then… I would've done it for free then, not now lol Girls’ gotta pay the bills y’know what I’m sayin?
Q: Is this your full-time job? If so, how long did it take you to transition into full-time?
A: Yes it is! It took about 4 years from the beginning for it to become a full-time gig. Once I did though, the transition was pretty seamless. I had the privilege of being taken care of financially at the time so after a few conversations with my then-boyfriend I was able to quit my retail job with no issue. My partner at the time knew this is where my heart was and was very supportive of me. It hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows, though. Sometimes it’s an incredible and liberating feeling to be a small biz owner and other times it’s like the world is ending. If it’s truly what you love to do though, there’s really no going back once you start.
Q: What made you interested in retro/vintage-inspired designs?
A: Like a lot of vintage lovers I’ve got a very romanticized view of midcentury fashion with it’s simple and easily recognizable feminine silhouettes. Growing up I never felt pretty or feminine and I used to droooool over old black and white movies. I used to be glued to the TCM station (Turner Classic Movies) with stars in my eyes. Every leading lady was so glamorous, so feminine, so iconic! I would mimic their mannerisms, hairstyles, makeup, but never the clothing. I couldn’t find anything that spoke to my vintage-loving heart in ANY store, couldn’t afford any thrift store finds, and I certainly didn’t have any friends that shared the same style so I started making my own clothes instead! I like to bring that aesthetic that I adore so much into the 21st century by having a whole lotta fun with novelty prints and bright colors!
Q: Obviously, we’re in strange times right now so I have to ask everyone I talk to - how has COVID affected your business and what are you doing to keep everything going during this time? What can people do to support you and others during all of this?
A: I think I’m one of the lucky ones who were largely unaffected by COVID, if anything I’ve gotten quite a bit of a bump in sales. I think it has to do with the sudden outpouring of support that came out of the push for black-owned businesses in June. I know traffic ebbs and flows and this won’t last forever but I’ve got a lot of eyes on me at the moment so I’m taking advantage of this time to really tap into what my customer base wants to see from me; I’m asking a lot of questions, polling between different designs and fabrics, etc. The majority of small biz owners these days do all their business online. Sharing that creator's work helps so much more than you realize! Even if you can’t purchase something yourself let them know you enjoy what they do! Share their post on your stories! Tell a friend!
Q: What advice do you have for people looking to start selling their own designs?
A: You can be afraid and do the thing anyway! It’s always scary putting yourself and your designs out in the world for people to see AND ask for money on top of it. Trust me, though, you can absolutely do this. It doesn’t need to be perfect- you will continue to learn as you go. You don’t have to start with a huge following- they will come. You honestly don’t even need much money- just enough for some basics, they will carry you so so far. Reach out to other designers and creators for help or advice! Creatives are notorious for being a friendly and helpful bunch :)
Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?
A: OOOH great question! My favorite is a tie between The Cherie Dress with ruffles, lace, and pearls and the Elizabeth Puff Sleeve Dress. I personally wear them the most out of my entire wardrobe and I spent a lot of time perfecting both designs. I feel like my style at its core is really represented in those two.
Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?
A: I want to grow in so many ways! I’m all about inclusion so I’m constantly working to improve my sizing and the fit of all my garments to be able to offer more sizes. I want to start making more men's clothes, incorporate a children's line, possibly even pet accessories! Right now I’m focusing a lot of my energy on creating separates and accessories at all different price points. Accessibility, inclusion, and sustainability are such huge issues in fashion and I want to do my part to make my little corner of the internet a place where everyone can feel equal.
Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?
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