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Meet Michèle Jochem Yunus of Leia in Mar Vista

Image Credit: Rohemah Muhamed

 

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michèle Jochem Yunus.

Michèle, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My journey began in 2014 when I moved from Germany to Los Angeles. I worked as a Textile Engineer over there, so I was familiar with materials and the process of creating a garment. While I enjoyed the technical aspects of the job, I knew the creative part was missing.

When I moved to LA, it felt like a fresh start. I remember when I first went to the Fashion District and absorbed the vibe of Downtown LA, it felt like everything was possible.

I bought myself a sewing machine and decided to explore the creativity that I was missing in my life. After a while of improvising and designing what came to my mind, I realized I wanted to design something innovative, something that fulfills a need, that’s meaningful and helps people. Some of my friends who choose to cover their hair told me about the lack of hijab-friendly activewear. They definitely inspired me to create my first modest activewear line. In the early stages, my friends provided me with some valuable feedback and helped me in refining the pieces. I was working a 9 to 5 at the time, so every free minute I spent on designing and prototyping. Soon, I found an amazing design co-working space called Sew FYI in Downtown LA, and that’s when things really started to come together. I finally realized that my dream can actually come true and I started Leia in 2017.

Has it been a smooth road?
Looking back, it was definitely a very long road that required a lot of patience.

In the beginning, I was just messing around and I trusted myself that I’ll eventually find my calling. I always knew I wanted to explore more about fashion – and Los Angeles is one of the best cities in the US to do that.

The biggest struggle I would say, was staying creative and consistent while working a 9 to 5 job. When I had first moved here, I started working in subtitle translation – in fact, I still work in that industry as a Freelancer. All the free time I had I spent designing and sewing. Every bit of money I’ve made went straight into buying fabrics, working with pattern makers, and investing in my dream. Everything took so much more time than I thought. I definitely had ups and downs but I never lost my vision and the drive for creating this brand.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
While I designed a swimwear and leisurewear collection, we specialize in modest activewear for now. The focus behind my designs is to make ethical and modest clothing that is highly functional and stylish. I absolutely had to make the clothing beautiful to look at, something you can feel proud to wear. Clothing that makes my Muslim friends look incredible and feel amazing. Fashion, when done right, can really change your outlook on your daily life. I really love the power in that.

I’m definitely most proud of winning Gold and Silver in multiple categories at the 2019 International Design Awards. Having other fellow designers recognize my work was a very humbling experience and it felt like all the hard work paid off.

I think what sets us apart from other brands aside from our unique styling, is our commitment to empowering women who want to wear something that aligns with their values. I think those values have to go beyond what the brand represents. To me, Leia isn’t just a modest fashion brand, it’s a movement. I want women who wear hijab to feel a sense of community when they see our logo, that we quite literally have their back. I’m excited to get more content out there that features hijab-wearing women, but also women of all shapes and sizes.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Absolutely! LA has everything. For me, the most important thing is that you’ll find like-minded people here. LA has so much offer. A lot of people move here with a goal in mind, from actors, musicians, designers, entrepreneurs – you’ll find them here.

There’s something so special about this city, inspiration is everywhere. The positive vibes here are unlike anywhere else. I actually haven’t met any naysayers here, the mentality is more like: “Hell yeah, go for it.” It’s important who you surround yourself with because it’s just so easy to dismiss your calling and give up.

That being said, it’s definitely not easy to live here. It’s an expensive city and traffic can take a toll on you if you have to commute. You definitely have to make some sacrifices, but if you stick with your vision and goals and find the right community, great things can happen.

I do think though that LA is not the only place to make things happen. Especially nowadays where a lot of things work remotely and virtually, you can start pretty much anywhere.

I would say if you’re in the early stages, start out from where you are, find resources online, and save your money until you’re ready to move here.

Contact Info:

  • Website: leiashop.com
  • Email: michele@leiashop.com
  • Instagram: @shop_leia
  • Facebook: @ShopLeia


Image Credit:

Atiyeh R. Amiri, Greg Gainor

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