Designer Allison Izu's one secret that improved her relationships, household and business.
The moment you meet Allison for the first time you laugh, connect, relax, and feel totally comfortable in the presence of a stranger.
Allison is her authentic self. She is big-hearted, open, full of life and ambitious. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of her company. She has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and her line is carried at Nordstrom.
Allison shares candidly about what she’s learned from falling flat on her face, the importance of letting go, and what it really means to be your own best friend.
1. Tell me the story of how the brand Allison Izu Petites came to life?
I was attending FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York City and my a-ha moment was when I was making jeans for my fit model. After class I went home to finish my work, tried on my pants in the mirror and thought, ‘Wow, this looks weird!’ I am barely 5'2" and I was making pants for this woman, the standard fit model, who was towering over me at 5'8".
Then it struck me that this is the reality. Designers are designing clothes for a 5’8” woman and that’s why I would always have to hem my jeans. I had started to learn about fit, knee breaks and proportions for pants and realized everything was being proportioned for her – the 5’8” fit model.
I started to research more about petites and found the average American woman is 5’4” and a size 10. It’s kind of funny that everyone's designing for this 5'8" woman who's really not the norm and I thought, ‘Maybe I should do this?!’
Only big companies like Ann Taylor etc. were doing petites, regular and tall sizes. But nobody was focusing on just petites. Back then, essentially petite clothing was just “shortened” womenswear. For my line, I start with the shorter body frame. I’ve created my own shorter fit patterns and design with the petite woman in mind. Everything is fit on me - I am 5’1 3/4” and if the style can make me look taller and slimmer, then I’ve done my best!
2. Tell me about the new branding launch you’re planning for Allison Izu Petites?
September 29th is our company’s 10-year anniversary. I’ve also personally gone through a lot of spiritual growth in the last year. I’ve done more thinking about what I want from life and who I am. I have always wanted my brand to stand for something deeper, stand for something more than just fashion.
Having my retail store, I have gotten to meet so many women. Sometimes the first thing women say when they walk in the door is, “Do you have something that’ll cover my arms? I have fat arms.” Or "I'll buy that dress when I lose 10 pounds." We tend to self-deprecate, right? We put ourselves down and we beat ourselves up over our body. It dawned on me that women weren't really accepting who they were, and I wanted to create a brand that talked about owning and loving your body, as is, right now.
It was serendipitous that when I started to research body shapes I found that each letter of my first name, represented a specific body shape.
- A is a triangle body shape (a pear shape)
- LL is a square athletic shape
- I is a slim body shape
- S is an hourglass shape
- O is someone who carries their weight in the middle
- N is for someone who is broad shouldered and has slimmer legs
Our message is to #LiveYourLetter. First you discover what letter you are and then you live it and LOVE IT. So, we change the mentality from “I’m trying to hide my hips” to “I’m curvy on the bottom and I love it!”
Every piece in my collection will have its purpose. One top may add curves to a slim body type, while another top will create coverage or minimize when needed. I am hoping to create clothing that will help to redefine the way women look at themselves. Because I feel, when we look in the mirror and think “Damn, I look good!” we can go out into the world and do good! It can be a ripple effect from one great fitting pant to the perfect top!
3. If you could give your 25-year-old self advice what would you tell her?
Not to give up. There have been so many times when I would “fail” at something and feel ready to give up. There were times where I would completely fall flat on my face and be fearful of doing that again. But I would show myself that that's how I got stronger, learned and evolved. I became a better fashion designer or a better entrepreneur or even a better human, just by falling flat on my face. It is the truth.
I would also tell myself to stop obsessing over my body! Embrace it and enjoy your youth!
4. Confidence is a necessity to pursuing big dreams. How did you develop the courage and confidence to pursue your dreams and start your own business?
I don’t know if I realized how hard this journey would be. But I always knew it was what I was going to do. My father is an entrepreneur, so growing up I would watch him start businesses. He made it look easy, but I was always aware of the ups and downs. I’ve been a part of his failures and successes and his tenacity and passion have always inspired me.
Support from family and friends is so important when you pursue entrepreneurship. I gain my courage and confidence from my family, friends and especially my husband Young. He has been with me every step of the way, we have been together for 21 years now. He has seen all of the craziness that comes with starting and owning a business. But he never EVER stops believing in me, even when I do.
When I have lost faith and said ‘I don't think I'm supposed to do this. I think I'm supposed to get a real job.’ He would never allow it for me. He would always remind me, you’re meant to do this.
5. What is a daily/weekly/or monthly routine you do to manage stress and provide yourself with self-care?
My goal is to meditate daily and practice gratefulness. As I'm lying in bed before I close my eyes, I think of something I’m really grateful for. That's what helps me to get past, “Oh I didn't get to these ten things today.” If I instead just focus on the three things I did really well today, I can go to sleep and wake up refreshed, lighter and ready to take on the world.
I do it with my kids too. We always say one thing that we're proud of or grateful for. It can't just be family or a general thing but something specific that happened that day. I want them to understand the importance of being grateful and also talking about their day with loved ones. I think that’s meditation in itself!
I love Marianne Williamson’s prayers for my meditations. In the morning before I sit down in front of my computer I'll say a short prayer to myself and do some deep breathing to get myself ready for the day. Before I go to sleep I say another prayer to help release all the expectations and negativity that I have and feel at peace with my day.
I also am lucky to have a daily text thread with my three closest girlfriends. I call them my spiritual guides. We’ve all been going through the same need for spiritual growth this year and the text thread is a place we share and support one another. It could be a simple share like "I just did this meditation. Try this one!" or sometimes we reach out for support in our weaker moments like, “Holy Crap, I totally messed up today. I was such a bitch," and everyone will be there with support and words of forgiveness and kindness.
These are the people that I can be the most vulnerable with, just like my husband. Managing stress is easier when you have a community around you, supporting you. Whether it’s a text thread, or a girl’s night out, or just our families hanging out BBQing at home - it all helps! ("spiritual guides" pictured below)
6. What specific practice do you do to stay focused on your goals and move forward each day towards achieving them?
I create a realistic to-do list daily for every hour of my day. I know now how many things I can give myself in a day and then I put it on my calendar in time slots. Then if something's taking longer, I move the last thing over to the next day's list. I do this in the calendar app on my iphone in time slots.
I also recently downloaded Things 3 app which is a to do list that syncs with my iCal. I strive to be organized but also don’t want to spend too much time inputting the tasks I need to do. So Things 3 and the iCal has helped a lot!
I used to give myself 20 things on my to-do list that were impossible to get done and then it made me feel unaccomplished at the end of the day. The time slots have really helped and by the end of the day I feel accomplished because I planned a list that was achievable.
Another big shift I did this year was to create systems for my business to run without me. We created a plan for small tasks, planning agendas and budgets that will help me to stop micro managing. I learned I am my most creative when I am out of the shop and office. I had to physically take myself out of the office space to figure that out.
I am a technician at heart and I want to be the one cutting the fabric or carrying the bolts up the stairs but then I get stuck in the technical tasks. Being in my home office helps me to focus working ON the business and not IN the business.
7. The 2018 household is new territory. How do you balance with your husband taking care of the kids, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning chores? And how did you reach this point of task division? What tips can you offer other women on how to navigate these agreements and conversations?
In just this year I feel we have got to a good place on this. I think in the beginning of running a store and design house, I didn't have the balance with work and home life. I prioritized work for too long. I would go home and just snap, "Hey, you didn't pick up your toys!" Young would say, “The moment you come into the door you’re mad or in a bad mood. You’re bringing your work stresses home with you.”
And I realized he was right! I would carry the weight of the day right into the front door of my house. And meditation wasn't a permanent part of my life yet. So now, I even incorporate meditating when I leave my car, whether it’s to leave the work day at work, or to quietly prepare myself for a meeting or event.
I also realized a lot of the problem was the expectations I put on myself, to be the best leader, the best mom and the best wife. I used to strive to cook a full meal, and I would stress out if the kids didn't eat it or if it was 7:30 pm when we would finally eat dinner! Young had never asked me to prepare home-cooked meals every night. I had put that pressure on myself.
I don't have the cleanest house on the block, and my husband likes to joke that I only clean when people are coming over. So I plan more parties! My kids want to help clean up when I say we’re having a party tonight! And they are getting older, so we are also enabling them to help. Even if they’ve swept and it doesn't look like they swept. It’s ok!
Balancing the household with a partner is kinda like a business, you know what you're good at, and you lean towards doing that. I love to cook, that's kind of my release at the end of the day. So I’ll do that when I have time. And then we totally don't beat ourselves up when we sometimes eat out four times a week. Young does laundry, it’s so much laundry for just the four of us! We joke that I don’t even know where the laundry room is.
And luckily, Young has his own business, so he can pick up the kids. I walk the kids to school every morning and then he picks them up, because sometimes I don't know where my day's going to go. If I have to work late Young cooks them dinner and gets them ready for bed.
I joke with my friends because we're all in our 40s and it’s like something instantaneously shifts when you're 40. You're better able to let go of all the expectations. I stopped being so hard on myself. It is something that just within this year I’ve really leaned into. Being able to let go of the expectations of myself and the business has greatly helped my home life to run smoother.
8. What decision process helps you most to balance work demands with having a healthy relationship/healthy family. How do you know when to stop work and focus on your partner or family?
At the end of the day I try to just trust my gut. I used to doubt every decision or overthink every email and it took up too much time because I wasn't listening to my intuition. Now I just trust my gut and save myself so much time worrying and flip flopping!
Also, I’m kind of a micro manager by nature. I used to think I was being a good leader by checking and being there all the time, but I’ve realized that I wasn't allowing my team to grow and figure it out their way. I wanted them to figure it out my way!
There was a point I said, "You know what? I've brought on good team members. I should let them thrive so that I can let go and be at home," because I don't have an assistant Mom, but I have assistance at work. I have an office manager. I have a production manager. They can do this job probably better than me, but nobody can do the Mom job better than me.
And that's where I was needed, and I could see it. My kids were getting a little unrulier or a little more iPad dependent, and that's when I was like, "Okay, I'm not here enough." And I can't get mad at Young for letting them go on the iPad at night because I was at the office or an event, so I wasn't there to help.
Now I try to be home at 3:00 to 4:00 pm. We're finally getting them into swim and dance and I feel like they can have a more well-rounded life. Even the little things, like right when the kids come home, they just tell you their day because its fresh and they are excited about it. I was missing that when I was getting home late. But now I get to hear it every day.
9. Tell me about a time in your career where you failed and how did you move forward from the situation?
I’ve had so many failures when it came to manufacturing. My first experience in China I spent two years designing and developing a collection of denim. I sold it into boutiques and promoted it in magazines and then 2100 pairs of jeans came to Hawaii, and it was all wrong. I couldn’t and wouldn't sell any of them. I cried and I got drunk - then I had to pull myself together and figure it out.
I went to LA to find a denim manufacturer who would do a smaller run of my five styles. And then that relationship failed too. I drove all over LA, I asked fabric vendors for referrals, or I would look people up in the yellow pages (it was before smart phones!) I did what I had to do, to get it done.
Then after four years of manufacturing with six different factories in LA, I decided to bring my manufacturing to Hawaii. That was tough too. I literally drove around Kalihi and pleaded with factories to try to sew a pair of jeans for me. They weren't trained or willing. But I found one factory who would try and I visited her every day. I worked out of her factory with my baby Olive strapped to me. They became my first factory family and agreed to sew the jeans for me!
There is always going to be small failures or mishaps along the way a factory will go out of business or you lose a key employee at a bad time, but as a business owner we must figure it out. If you want it bad enough, you will always find a way to “Make it work.” Sometimes making it work means letting go of the expectations of how it was supposed to be. That’s how I move forward from failure!
10. What are your favorite pair of Mohala shades and how would you style them?
The Mei in Black Lava because I’m always in black. It feels like the edgy, rock and roll one and I would wear it with the kimono sanna top. And I’m coming out with my new jeans, so I’d wear it with my fitted waxed denim jean. The model wearing the look below is one of my "spiritual guides" one of my three best friends.
All studio images taken by Brandon Smith