Gustavo Apiti Talks Couture Fashion Apparel
I have been doing these interviews for a bit now and realized that I had not had a chance to talk to someone who does men’s wear. While researching local designers, I came across a designer by the name of Gustavo. I reached out to Gustavo and after some minor back and forth, we were able to arrange a meeting.
As Gustavo will tell you, He was born into the clothing industry. Many members of his family worked as tailors and clothing designers. It was in his blood.
I have to admit...I found my discussion with Gustavo, positively inspiring...It gave me a new look at what I was doing in my own life. Gustavo was easily the most positive person I had come across in some time.
Gustavo: Fashion for me, it’s a gift. My Mom and older sister used to sew. As a younger boy I would pester them and want to know what they were doing and how they were doing it. My sister would often chase me off and tell me I should go play football with my friends. I would run away, until she got back into what she was doing, and then I would find my way back to watch again. I used to take the small pieces of fabric that she had left over and would make small pieces of clothing with them. My mother took notice of what I was doing and began to kind of guide me. She said to herself, “This boy has the love for fashion.” - She saw a talent in me.
So, When my sister was out, she began to teach me on her sewing machine. She would have me do little tasks for her and watch and guide me.
One day, my sister had a project and was overwhelmed with the number of orders.
She was upset. My mother came in and told her she should let me help. My sister thought this was a horrible idea and told my mother I did not have the skills. To which my mother insisted and told her that I knew enough to help. My sister was not convinced but still desperately needed the help, so she reluctantly pulled out a chair and told me to sit down and gave me some direction. She watched for a moment and couldn’t believe it.
“WOW! He’s actually good - Why didn’t you tell me?”. She asked my mother.
My mother replied, “While you were off chasing boys and going out with your friends, I have been training him on your machine.”
From that time on, I helped my sister with her work. She would put together patterns and tell me what to do and I would do it.
So how old were you when you knew fashion was where you wanted to be?
When I was 6 Years old, I saw my uncle, who was also a tailor, he was making a beautiful piece of clothing and I remember seeing it and telling my uncle,
“one day I want to be a bigger fashion designer than you, Uncle.”
To which he replied,
“Go Away, you are too young to know your future.”
I was only 6 years old but I knew that is what I wanted to do.
After helping to coach me, my mother helped support that dream. I studied fashion in high school and I went to college and got my AA and transferred to a university where I got a BA in Fashion. I started working for different designers in the Congo and then I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa where I continued to work for designers. Even while I worked for these other companies, I was looking at this time as a time for me to learn. I had bigger plans and I wanted to learn as much as I could about this industry. I did not want to just be a designer… I wanted to learn to do custom work. Being a designer isn’t just about ideas and drawing images. You have to know how to make the pieces you create.
When I was in South Africa, I was working for these other designers but I was also working for myself on the side. All the work I was doing, I was putting money aside so that one day I could make my dream happen. In 2011 I finally made the determination that I would no longer work for someone else. I was ready to do my own thing. No more working for other people. Luckily, while I was working for myself I connected with a well known South African Movie star and he asked me to design something for him. I dressed him and his family and from that my name started to get out and that is how I got my start.
That must been amazing? How old were you when that happened?
I was only about 26 years old.
So, you have this success in Johannesburg...What brought you to Seattle WA?
I came from a culture where people like to dress nicely. I loved fashion and it was a big part of my life. I would watch the runway shows and it moved something in me. I just knew I wanted to be something bigger… I wanted to be a Nationally known designer.
I remember I was attending a wedding in the Congo. When the lady that created the brides dress came in, They introduced her to the crowd and gave her a special seat. I said to myself
“One day, I have to be like this woman.”
You were quite driven
Yes, That is one of the reasons I left the Congo for South Africa… I needed to do something bigger. I really want to learn more about the fashion Industry. So I moved from the Congo to South Africa and then from South Africa I came to a point where I felt that I had achieved what I needed to achieve and the next step was to come to America to continue my study. Originally I wanted to go to Paris, Italy, UK...but I also wanted to go to America. I just knew that I had to leave Africa to continue on the path to my dream.
I had a cousin who lived in Seattle and I called him and he invited me to stay with him. I got my Visa and ended up here in Seattle.
How did things go once you got to Seattle?
When I arrived...I tried to learn about American fashion trends and inquired about Seattle Fashion. People would tell me, “Seattle is not really a fashion city, Why don’t you try New York or LA?”, and I did try these places but I had this feeling in my heart that Seattle is where I needed to be. At first, I was a bit lost... I was struggling to connect in Seattle and needed to decide what my next step was. I thought and prayed on the subject and just felt that I was going to make it work in Seattle.
I applied to work at a well known bridal shop in Seattle LULY YANG COUTURE, and I got the job. I watched this woman who was making her living in fashion. She was doing it. This inspired me and I had to ask myself, “Why would I got to New York? Why visit LA?”
Watching this lady, I knew that I could make my dreams work here in Seattle.
Tell me about your first showing in Seattle.
I had been designing for some time and I was ready to present my line but I was having a hard time finding a place to showcase my work. I decided to risk it all and so I zeroed out my bank account and used the money to organize my own fashion show. There was no plan B. I took the money I had been setting asice and spent about $15,000 dollars to host my own show. I knew I had to get my work out to the public but I knew no other way.
That is a really inspiring story. Regarding your approach to fashion… How would you describe it?
I want people to think outside the box. By outside the box I mean… A lot of people in Seattle tend to dress in very neutral colors; gray, black, navy...I also love these colors but I wanted to show them that there is such a thing as color and they can look good in color, no matter the skin tone or body type.
What are your thoughts on the challenges designers face when upscaling the attire of the Seattle scene? This place is known as casual and comfortable.
The strategy that I use, is just to be a good example myself. I dress chique… when I go to work, I make sure I have a suit on and I am always trying to look my best. When someone sees my outfit and says “Man, you look great. Where did you get that suit?” I tell them It is my own design.
That’s a great segue into my next question...who currently carries your clothing line?
Right now - I am just couture and made to order. After my 2016 fashion show I was still working alone, but suddenly I was invited to New York fashion week and started traveling all over the place. I now have an assistant that helps me but I didn’t want to grow too quickly. I felt it was important that I not skip steps.
I like to keep it couture and not move into “Ready-To-Wear”… I think people like to be unique. If people like something, we take their measurements and create an item that is specially designed for them.
Where do you get your fabrics?
I get them from Italy and Spain...some of them come from mood fabric New York
Did you bring your textile connection from South Africa when you came over?
No, when I came to the US, I had to start over. I had to make connections here. I was no one. Nobody knew me… and after my fashion show, people started asking….”WHO IS THIS GUY”.
When I had planned to do my fashion show I came across a company called Active Entertainment. They were the first company to really support me. Of course I paid them but they helped me launch my fashion show and handled all the promotion and everything. After that show I started getting invited to all these shows and that is how I grew my network. I didn’t even have time to rest. I was suddenly all over the place. I was invited to Paris and London Fashion weeks.
That is impressive!
Thank you, It was an honor but I didn’t go at the time because I knew I needed to make money in order to continue. The trip would have been too expensive for me so I decided the better move was to focus on my line. You can’t just go go go and do shows….You have to make money at these shows. All this attention had caused my business to grow quite rapidly and I was still supporting it out of pocket. Thank God I am single and don’t have a lot of outside responsibilities.
Do you have to pay for your next show out of pocket?
Not completely, This time, I have some sponsors that are going to help with the coming show.
What is your next big show?
I’ll be showing my line at the **Les Sapeurs Fashion Show (which represents a movement that embodies elegance in style and mannerism) on August 18th at the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle. This show is a fundraiser for The Congolese Integration Network to fundraise for those less fortunate as part of the event proceeds will go to support The Congolese Integration Network and and We have brought together an amazing group of local designers to bring you a night of fashion.
I can’t wait to be there! I have to tell you that you are an extremely interesting person to talk to, and your positivity and drive are absolutely infectious.
Thank you, My mother had a lot to do with that. She passed away recently but when I was growing up, She helped shape my outlook. She had invested so much in me. If there was ever a problem...She would not be down or negative. She would tell me… “SON! You have to stand up...and do it.” this is the same as my father would say to me. I can remember times where we really struggled but we never complained… we believed that if we needed it to happen….we had to go out and make it happen.
This show for example - I was prepared to, once again, pay out of pocket to make this show happen... I was already putting money aside. This was going to happen with, or without, a sponsor. Luckily for me, I found a sponsor - but the point is that there is no time to waste feeling bad. If there is one thing I have learned about myself in this business, it’s that you have to stay true to yourself and believe in what you are doing. If you can do that… people will see it and they will also support you.
It’s been an honor speaking with you today. I look forward to being at your next event and I’m already planning on which Item I will purchase from you. You have also inspired me in my own ventures. Thank you so much for your time. I’m really happy to have met you!
**Known as "Sapeurs," these dapper dressers are part of a Congolese subculture devoted to the cult of style. In Brazzaville and Kinshasa -- the capitals of neighboring Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- they stand out among the widespread poverty, strutting the streets like walking works of art.
~Errol Barnett, CNN