Today we’d like to introduce you to Dominique Calvillo.
Dominique, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Los Angeles, part of a very large and creative family. My father’s mother who bore twelve children was a highly creative and talented woman. Being one of the youngest of 30 grandchildren, I did not get to spend much one on one time with my grandparents however, when I was about 6 years old, my grandmother taught me to crochet and welcomed me into her crochet club famously named “The Happy Hookers.”
I fell in love with crochet and was mesmerized by the beautiful patterns, textures and rhythms of the art and my young mind was determined to understand how they were made. I crocheted all the way into adulthood usually around the holidays and came up with a few basic designs to give my friends as gifts.
In 2013, I was invited to go to India with International Princess Project (IPP.) IPP is an organization that works with women who are being reintegrating from human trafficking and need a way to support themselves and their families. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with these beautiful and resilient women and decided to sell crochet products in order to fund my trip.
Being in India absolutely changed my life. I discovered a deep love and calling on my life to work with survivors of human trafficking. I had always though that Human Trafficking was too big of an issue for me to make a difference in. I assumed that I did not have the education, skill set or even physical attributes of someone who could confront the issue. While in India, I discovered that I could change a life with something as “small” as teaching haircuts or sewing.
One day, my team headed out to spend a day playing in the Arabian Sea with a group of women and I had brought a small crochet project to work on during the journey. One of the women saw me and with much skill, took over my project. Tears filled my eyes as I watched a woman from across the world, with a story I will never quite comprehend, start to make the same pattern with the same rhythm. Just like my mother, my grandmother and myself, she understood this ancient magic that women all over the world share. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
I continued my work in anti-human trafficking traveling to various countries in South East Asia. In 2015 I began a month-long trip to Cambodia and Thailand where I was teaching cosmetology to young girls who had been affected or were at risk of human trafficking. Upon arrival, my team and I visited torture camps and killing fields where thousands of people had been killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide. The genocide was so recent and so devastating that the country is still cleaning up the aftermath. Wherever you go, you can see cases full of human skulls, and bones. I was devastated by what I had seen. A heaviness and deep depression overtook my heart as I continued my month working and being confronted with the ugliest parts of humanity. During that trip, I witnessed slavery within the coffee industry, the child begging system and was a part of the rescue of a three year old Thai girl who was being sold for sexual acts by her mother. I came home with crippling anxiety about war.
Anxiety had never been a part of my life or experience before so I had no idea how to cope with the obsessive and fearful thoughts that possessed my thinking. I had always been a can-do, independent person and suddenly tasks would terrify me to the point of breakdown. Some days I was unable to get out of bed. During my first therapy session, my therapist asked me what I’d like to talk about. I’ll never forget his face when I promptly answered his question: “genocide.” I was encouraged by many to take anti- depressant medication and though that is helpful for some, I knew that this was not a part of my usual make-up so I sought to overcome homeopathically.
I found solace in crochet. It had always been a very peaceful and calming activity for me and the meditative aspect of it was quickly becoming crucial to my mental health. I started to learn new stitches and designs because counting and focusing on patterns pulled my mind away from the destructive loop it was trapped in. Most days I spent 2-8 hours meditating with my crochet, lost in the beauty of the stitches instead of dwelling on fearful thoughts.
I started to make dream catchers, blankets and pillows and then attempted to turn a skirt I’d made into a dress. I had no expectation of creating anything wearable and unraveled multiple attempts but as my skill improved, I was able to assemble my first dress. By the time it was completed I had been working on the design for two years. I was shocked by the response I received from friends and family who saw the dress. I decided to continue to attempt new designs.
Being that I do not know how to read crochet patterns, I have designed all of my pieces through trial and error. It usually takes several attempts before I am happy with a design and have become accustomed to unraveling hours and hours of work to try again. In the design process I constantly remind myself that the goal is not the finished product but the time spent in meditation with my art. It seems that with each new design, I learn a bigger truth about myself and the heart of God. I love that each stitch becomes a mantra, which is then a part of bigger beautiful picture. It has taught me so much about peace, patience and being in the moment.
In November 2017 I was asked by RAW artists to be a featured as a designer for their art showcase. Seeing all of my pieces on 15 models and the response of the audience as the designs hit the runway was overwhelming. Since I have been featured by several blogs, and magazines and my online following has significantly grown. I have also been commissioned to make designs to be worn for the red carpet and brides. My most recent and exciting commission was by a fashion hero of mine: Verdine White (bass player of Earth Wind and Fire.)
As I share Namaste and Crochet, more than people seeing the products, I hope that they see the power of meditation and art therapy. Amidst the daily hustles of life along with constant stimulus and distraction, it’s easy to forget to take a moment to center the mind and spirit. It’s no wonder that depression and anxiety run so rampant in our society.
Sometimes we are diverted from pursuing the art and passions that are in our heart to create for fear that no one will understand, that it will be poorly received or that it isn’t important enough to make. It’s easy to belittle our gifts and place them low on the priority list. I hope to encourage others to let go and let themselves be healed by their creative expression. It is my personal belief that if God has given someone a creative gift, not only is it a gift to the soul of the creative, but also to those who will experience the creation.
My hope is that Namaste and Crochet will one day be a clothing line that will benefit the lives of women affected by human trafficking.
Has it been a smooth road?
Because I did not have any proper fashion design or pattern training, my entire design process is trial and error. This has resulted in the unraveling of hundreds of hours of work. I once unraveled the same sleeve 17 times, each attempt taking over an hour. This process has left me crying in a pile of string several times but my obsession and determination to see a vision come to life has always pulled me through to the completion of a piece.
A struggle that I have been facing lately is navigating through an industry that centers around cheap labor and fast fashion. I have been looking to partner with fair trade manufacturers that will allow my products to be made more affordable and on a larger scale while maintaining the integrity of quality.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Namaste and Crochet – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I design and hand make custom crochet pieces. I specialize in gowns and formal wear. I am proud of the fact that I am doing something that no one else in the world is doing. Though there are many crochet designers, I have not seen another designer with a similar style. I love the fact that I don’t read patterns because I know that ensures a completely original design. Each piece usually takes around 50 hours to design and make which means that I have to be incredibly patient with myself and the process. I am also proud of the heart behind my line. It is extremely important to me that all body types, ethnicities and genders feel fabulous in my clothes. Fashion is for everyone and I design my dresses in such a way that the same dress will look amazing on a petite and curvy woman. Lastly I am proud that I have not given into unethical options to make my products. I know what I am striving for is going to be an uphill battle but being a fair trade brand is extremely important to me.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
My relationship with LA is different than most. Both of my parents grew up in LA so all of my roots are here. I have a very large Mexican/ Italian family with over 100 members and we are all very close. LA sometimes feels like a small town as I get recognized as a Calvillo nearly everywhere I go. I think my family has defined my experience of LA. What I like least about this city is the persona people tend to take on. I hear all the time that it’s hard for new people moving to LA to find true genuine connection and it breaks my heart. I think because of the traffic and how spread out the city is, it’s hard to invest in others.
- Website: Namasteandcrochet.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @Namaste_and_Crochet
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Namaste-And-Crochet
Emily Birkland, Byron Espinoza, Kofi Dodi