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Daily Inspiration: Meet Usama Ishtay

Today we’d like to introduce you to Usama Ishtay. 

Usama, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
In 2016, I moved to California with nothing but a dream – becoming a fashion designer. 

I was born in Venezuela, to a Syrian immigrant family. I’ve always wanted to pursue an artistic career since and had a great sense of fashion when I was a kid, but my parents thought that was not a smart career choice. So, I graduated in Petroleum Engineering in 2010 and then got a master’s in Geology by 2012 (to make them happy). But I never saw myself working in that field, so I decided to start my own business. 

During my first trip to the United States, a friend of mine used to work with clothing wholesale and took me to a few stores. I felt drawn to the fashion industry, so I started selling women clothing. I would buy merchandise and then re-design the pieces with a team of seamstresses that I had working for my company, so we could stand out from my competitors and sell unique pieces. 

Back then, my home country was thriving, and after a couple of years, I already owned 3 boutiques. I was living a comfortable life and traveling around the world. But, as I’m sure some of you may know, Venezuela went through a catastrophic political and economic situation… and I lost everything. 

That’s when I decided to move into Los Angeles and start over. I had made up my mind that I was going to create my own clothing line and nothing was going to stop me. So, after a long bumpy, and crazy journey, filled with frustrations, tears of sadness and joy, challenges, rises, and falls that made me able to get every time a step closer to my goal. 

Here I am today, with my own high-end brand, with my name Usama Ishtay, endorsed by many celebrities I have always admired like Tyra Banks, Carrie Underwood, Saweetie, Tinashe, Anitta, Eve, etc. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Absolutely not. I arrived in the City of Angels with nothing but ambition and 2 bags of personal belongings. 

I tried to go to Fashion School but I definitely could not afford to pay rent in this expensive city and also my studies. So, I decided to take a couple of private sewing and pattern-making classes, just to have at least a base to get started. And, as I have an engineer mind and I know how to construct things, I knew I could find a way to learn by myself after. 

In my first year here, all the money I had was being reserved to pay bills and invest in my first collection. I was definitely not making enough money because I had to learn everything on my own, and also work full time, that’s when I decided to work as a Lyft driver since I could have a flexible schedule. Sometimes I could catch myself driving for 12 hours and then switch back to working in a shared fashion studio for 6 more. Sleeping was a luxury at that time. 

Not too long after, at that same shared workspace, I was able to connect with some designers that got me the opportunity of being a non-paid intern backstage for LA Fashion Week. With that, I was able to gain insight and understand more how the industry works. 

Six months later, after a lot of networking, I connected with the main producer of Autism Speaks Gala and he gave me the opportunity of dressing Eve, my first celebrity placement, in exchange for donating the dress to raise money in the auction for the cause. 

Fast-forward to about 2 years later, after I was working on my 3rd collection, I got a weekend job as a bartender. I was finally making enough money to maintain myself and dedicate more time to my art. However, still to this day, one of my biggest challenges is my name. Often people attach it to negative connotations or find it too complicated to pronounce. 

Even though, I know people will eventually learn my name just like they have learned other complicated foreign brand 

names. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a high-end celebrity fashion designer. I create unique red carpet/performance pieces, couture dresses for big events and looks for every woman who appreciates fashion. 

The process starts differently for each project. Sometimes my clients bring me a specific inspiration and sometimes we recreate pieces that I have designed for the runway with slight changes to fit their needs. I make the sketch, we review it together, I provide material options, take the most accurate measurements as possible and then start the production. 

I believe what sets my work apart from others is my attention to detail. I am a huge perfectionist with my art, and I have been a fashion lover since I can’t remember. The quality of my garments, modern and edgy aesthetic, that are made for sexy, bold, and empowered women. 

I am very proud at how consistent and determined I’ve been despite every adversity along the way. That has made who I am today and taught me that talent is not enough to succeed, but is has to be teamed with hard work and perseverance. 

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
Making art, in general, is about taking risks. You never know how the public will react to it. You will never know if you never try. 

You have to believe in your talent and add external factors, in my case, like trends, colors, cuts, seasons, materials, and technology. 

It’s unpredictable what the results will be, but as long as you’re loyal to your artistic voice, you will succeed and find a market that will follow and love you for it. 

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