Maker Series: Valerie Mayèn of Yellowcakeshop

It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We began The Maker Series to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do.

Q + A with Valerie of Yellowcakeshop

Lets get this out of the way right now: Yes, you've seen Valerie Mayèn before. The reason her face is so familiar is because her work graced the television screens of America during season 8 of Project Runway, in addition to Project Runway All Stars. Fast forward six years and Valerie is now the proud owner / lead designer / chief of awesome at Yellowcakeshop. Armed with a collection full of well-placed pleats, streamlined jackets and dresses, and tees featuring iconic catchphrases, you can find her every month as a season pass holder during our 2016 Cleveland Flea season. Read more about The Flea's most televised designer and how she's using her previous media exposure to do good in the community.

Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Valerie: I started the business when i lost my job right out of college and didn't even have a degree in Fashion, I had a BFA in illustration & Drawing.  I needed money and i was barely learning how to sew at the time. Etsy had just become "a thing" so i gave it a shot and the rest is history. 

CF: Why do you love what you do?
VM: There's something magical and exciting about taking flat, two-dimensional textiles full of color and grace and transforming them into functioning three-dimensional forms, figures, shapes and silhouettes that can elevate a woman's confidence, lift her attitude and mold her being into something radiant and positive.  Fashion is more than vanity - it's an expression of who we are inward to the world outward... and I get to be a conductor of that expression and magic. It's truly a privilege. 

CF: Why does Cleveland need a business like this?
VM: Because we are a rarity.  I get that fast fashion like Target, H&M, Forever 21 etc have their place. I get that finances are a harsh reality and that not everyone has premium handmade clothing as their priority...But we are a city of authenticity and grit.  To have something handmade with care and thought the way we make our garments is to truly invest in something special and lasting.  Trendy fashion will come and go like yesterdays news, but quality artistry never goes out of style.

CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
VM: It's approachable, affordable and receptive to new creative things.  It's a simple and humble place not as jaded or over saturated with creative sensory overload as other metropolitan cities. When artists like myself are ready to introduce a new project, event or product, Clevelanders are more receptive to it. Plus, where else can you get giant warehouse studio space at the prices we have here!? And the grants and fellowships available for artists in Cleveland are rivaled by no other city in the country - not. one. 

CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
VM: Making Beautiful things. Doing what you love. Collaborating with Friends.

CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
VM: Saying No, getting it all done, prioritizing, maintaining social media and sleeping regular hours...but I think that's every creative entrepreneurs top 5 obstacles...right?

CF: What are your goals for the business this year?
VM: To break into the wholesale market and really beef up our online presence. It's our goal this year and next to grow Yellowcake within Cleveland, Ohio, and hopefully, in 2 years time, nationally. We want to educate our clients better on the beauty and necessity of handmade and how to purchase quality over quantity.

CF: Did you see yourself growing up to be a creative vendor?
VM: Yes and no... I thought i'd end up working for someone else, behind a desk of sorts...but I never dreamed i'd be working for myself.  It wasn't until I started to actually do it and saw that i was capable that i truly believed I could succeed as a business owner / creative entrepreneur. It was an exciting and terrifying thing - to go out on that limb on my own.

CF: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
VM: Our first annual Hullabaloo Fashion event.  In 2012 we created an impromptu fashion extravaganza to raise money for our storefront buildout completion, and to raise funds for PMP cancer research.  Little did we know the response and outcome we would receive.  It was positively overwhelming.
By our second year, we doubled in attendance and ticket sales and increased our collection offerings.  Now in our 5th year, we are on track to receive nearly 750+ attendees with more food and live music than ever before as well as more local beauty and fashion artisans and vendors showcasing their wares.
It's an event that I am so proud of - using fashion to inspire change.  There's nothing like it in Cleveland and we do it for the benefit of a local or national Non-profit geared towards alleviating hunger, homelessness or poverty.  We also created it for the people of show them that extraordinary things can come out of the most unsuspecting places.  You don't have to go to New York or Paris for good fashion and can get it all right here in the CLE.  We believe we deserve it!

CF: Who inspires you?
VM: The question is who DOESN'T?!  For starters, a dear family friend who is a widower with 8 children.  He's like my adopted dad and is such a wise, collected, supportive guy. He's a straight shooter and a simple man with a big appetite for life. 
My husbands family - they are the most down-to-earth group of people i've ever met and are always there to lend a hand, help throw a party or be there when you need them - any day of the week, any time of the year. 
Currently though, my biggest inspiration is my husband.  He works harder than anyone I know - with little recognition in return.  He has a heart for the poor, the hungry and the orphaned...and of course, me. He's consistently encouraging me in my business, creative vision and dreams - to no end. I couldn't do even a fraction of what i do without any of the people listed here. I truly believe every artist, maker and dreamer needs people like these in their lives.

CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
VM: Sure!  I've learned how to roll with the punches, answer client questions more efficiently and effectively, interact with various vendors and juggle a bazillion more tasks at once...and that's just the tip of the iceberg!

CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
VM: Surround yourself with good people. People you trust for their wisdom, loyalty and support.  Running any creative business is hard, but if you have a solid team and support system -so much more is possible.  And if you have more time than money, do as much as you can on your own before hiring work out.  Don't break the bank or go into debt before you have tested and are ready for your product market. Slow growth is good and wise.

CF: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
VM: I designed the first 3 staple coat styles that were the bread & butter of Yellowcake on a table made of plywood and cinder blocks, with a sewing machine that i bought for $85 from a seventy year old man in cleveland heights. It was 2007, I had only been sewing for 6 mths and had no clue what i was doing...but i did the best i could with what i had and what i knew and kept improving every year till i got it right. 9 years later, those 3 coat styles are still our best sellers.

CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
VM: High quality, well-designed, fine craftsmanship & top notch customer service.  

CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
VM: Mason's Creamery