For me, September always marks the beginning of all that is good in the fashion world. The September Issue, Fall collections . . . and when I decided to celebrate the Allison Izu brand anniversary. Because after you’ve been working at a business for over 20 years, you kinda forget the date that it all started. Was it when I woke up that one morning and sewed my first pair of jeans? Or was it when I turned in my DCCA form to the business name Allisonizu. (Yes, I thought putting my first and middle name together made total sense!)
Deciding to apply to Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, was a huge and daunting dream - this little Japanese girl from Hawaii . . . who did I think I was? I shared the idea with my sewing teacher at UH Manoa APDM, Diane Chung, (she is iconic) and she actually told me to go for it - WHAAATT? She was the first person (other than my sister) who totally supported the idea.
And while I had many iconic and notable professors at FIT and worked in amazing companies in NYC, it wasn’t until I returned home that the real magic started to happen. The first company that helped launch my design career was Fashionista’s Market. Emi Hart and Alyssa Fung took fashion/designer to a whole new level and elevated the scene in Hawaii, while also encouraging me to make some clothes to sell at their events! Brands such as Fighting Eel and Roberta Oaks started to come to the forefront of the industry. The first wave of higher end boutiques like the Butik, Split Obsession and Rockabella give me my first opportunity to sell my denim into their stores..
Through sheer luck and connections, I met Alan Tomonari (former GM of Neiman Marcus) who took me under his wing. And while my brand wasn’t aligned with NM, he suggested I go and meet Brian Tatsumura of Nordstrom. OK - if you ever ask Brian about me, he’ll tell you that I stalked him (which is completely true!) and basically wouldn’t stop bothering him until he gave me a chance (is that persistence? or craziness?).
With opportunity came road bumps. The China factory that I manufactured my first collection messed up and I was left with an entire order of unsellable jeans (2,100 pairs). Then it happened again in LA (twice!). So I drove up and down Kalihi, listening for sewing machines. I begged, pleaded and through a twisty grapevine of humans I met Ari South. She was starting a factory and told me she would help me to manufacture my jeans. Kismet! We delivered, it was a success, but Nordstrom didn’t want a re-order. The jeans were too good (LOL) and no one needed a 2nd pair.
At that time, my department manager Susan mentored me about what the petites department at Nordstrom needed. More cute dressy t-shirts at an affordable price, to go with the jeans! Ok, I can do that! But who would sew them?? Then I met a friend, Lynn Sakutori - a fellow designer and manufacturer - she helped to connect me to key people in our industry. A home sewer, notions company, and then like magic, I met more people who helped to forge the way. Organizations like Innovate Hawaii, DBEDT and HTDC - allowed us to have office space in Manoa Innovation Center, and host those little pop-ups in their conference room. Friends at Honolulu Magazine, who promoted the brand, introduced me to the iconic Lynne O’neill and who again paved the way for Hawaii designer like me to showcase at an event like Hawaii Fashion Week!
I can be a human who sometimes focuses on the opportunities that got away. Sometimes I focus on the losses more than the wins. But in this moment, in this month, I want to allow the feeling of gratitude to wash over me. To pay homage to those who supported me, who battled next to me, who stuck out a helping hand when needed, inspired me and mentored me. Because without a deep gratitude for people, what do we have left?