Photography by Ellie India Rose Carty
Interview by Esme Carty
I: How did you start CiscoSews, what is your origin story?
F: I started sewing in the pandemic, when I was living in L.A. and we were in full lockdown so we weren’t able to leave our houses except for groceries and things like that. I had just bought a sewing machine a couple of months before, after I went on a trip to Japan with someone who could sew. She was taking us to fabric stores (Tomato Fabrics in Tokyo was my fav) and all of these cool places and I was like, ‘Okay this is the year I do it!’ Then the pandemic happened so I was trapped inside with nothing to do; it was really scary because I didn’t know what was happening in the world and I was working in the events industry at the time so all of that closed down. It was my time to learn to sew, and all I could use were sheets or blankets at my house since everything was closed; I was ordering some fabric online from the stores that stayed open. It was a full couple of months at home where I was sewing all night; going to bed at five in the morning, sleeping all day, then sewing again. It was perfect. It was full creative freedom because I couldn’t do anything else, I was forced to focus on sewing. When I moved back here [to Phoenix], I had a studio for a little bit and thought, ‘I can’t keep making everything for myself.’ It’s really scary to make clothes for other people because you’re like, ‘What if it rips?’ ‘What if they don’t like it?’ or they buy it for now and it just hangs in their closet. But I was like, ‘Let’s just try it.’ I started to slowly sell some clothing. Now I’m half sewing for myself, half sewing clothing [for others]; just trying not to put a lot of pressure on it and keep it fun. Learning to sew from random pieces of fabric I had in my house helped me because now that is all I really like to do; it’s like solving a puzzle of only having a certain amount of fabric and seeing what I can do with it. That’s where I am now, trying not to rush and make everything happen too soon, and learning a lot because sewing is a lifetime of learning new techniques.
I: Starting out using only the fabrics in your house, did that feed into the second-hand fashion of CiscoSews?
F: I think so, I also have always been a thrifter because of my mom; every Sunday growing up we would go thrift shopping. I always have liked old things and would always find the coolest stuff because it was before everyone thrifted; none of my friends thrifted because it was that time where everyone wanted Hollister and Abercrombie. There was still a lot of unique stuff at decent prices, so I always had a stockpile of things that I didn’t know what to do with but wanted. That love of old things naturally progressed into sewing. Also online–during the pandemic–a lot of people were doing home sewing tutorials so there was a lot of inspiration for me; I was able to learn from the internet. That also helped me to feel comfortable with posting online all the time like, ‘Hey, I’m making this. It’s not perfect, but it’s cute to me.’
I: What were your influences in terms of clothing when you started versus now?
F: I’m not good at following creators or brands, I kind of pick and choose from everywhere. Even major fashion brands, I don’t know. My brain is like Pinterest, I just grab a bunch of little things from all over and it all lives in one universe in my head. I don’t really have one person that I’m super into, but I was obsessed with Bode–they started doing button-ups from second-hand materials and now they’re a huge brand with stores in New York and L.A. and they’ve won all of these awards. They had to move away from exclusively using second-hand materials because they’ve gotten so big, so now I’m like, oh god that’s not what I want to do. I’m trying to be more comfortable with slow fashion. The reason I’m doing this is to help people rethink where their fashion comes from and help them rethink throwing stuff away so easily. There’s always something you can do to your clothing to let it live a little bit longer. As someone making clothing, I feel it is my responsibility to not overproduce.
I: One thing I wanted to mention was the Slow Fashion Festival in Austin, Texas that you did; what was that like and the preparation for it?
F: It was crazy. I signed up to do it again and I’m hoping they choose me, it’s going to be in late November. Somebody just reached out to me from Phoenix to do a show in January too. It was good to dip my feet into it, my first show was in Boston and that was random, they just messaged me on Instagram saying, ‘Hey, we love what you do. Do you want to send us some of your pieces?’ At the time I was in New York so I decided to just go, that was my first show but I used stuff I had already made. For Austin though, I actually made new pieces specifically for that runway. It was really fun, it was a lot of searching for inspiration and transforming that into eight to ten outfits–which was difficult but really rewarding in the end. The backstage was crazy because normally you source your models so they’re yours for the entire show and you can get them ready all day; for this one, there were eight designers and we all shared the same models. They would come off the runway, strip, get dressed, new makeup, new hair. All of that happening in 30 minutes was crazy, but my friend, Courtney Wright in Austin who's also a designer, helped me. I am so thankful for her, she really saved my life; and it’s really hard to ask for help if you’re used to doing everything alone. The whole time I was like, ‘Are you sure? Is this too much?’ and she was like, ‘No, this is fun!’ We both were having so much fun in an environment where everyone loves the same thing, we’re all just trying to showcase slow fashion and hand-made items. It was a blur looking back on it, I was just trying to get everyone dressed so quickly. If I do it again, I’m going to try and focus on being more present–but I don’t know, I say that and it probably won’t work.
I: Is that something you want to do more of in the future, something you are working towards for the brand?
F: I’m experimenting. You make these outfits and then it’s, what do I do with them now? I don’t want to sell them because they’re so special but I can’t just have all these clothes from all these shows that I never do anything with. I don’t know, TBD, as long as I’m enjoying it. My goal isn’t to be a runway designer.
I: I love that idea though that there is no pressure on what you’re doing. A lot of people now have hobbies and try to figure out how to make it their career instead of just taking it in and experimenting. Do you find when you’re sketching designs you put time aside to do it or is it more spur of the moment?
F: You can never turn it off, you’re always absorbing and never know what you’re going to do with it, that’s how it is with making things. I’ll think something is cool, I don’t know why, but I’ll take a picture of it because I don’t know what I could turn that idea into. I never know what is going to inspire me until it randomly connects and I think, oh let’s do that. I’m horrible with schedules, I can’t say that five to ten is my sketching time because it just won’t work and I’ll be upset at myself that I’m not following this schedule even though I put it on myself.
I: I want to ask you about thems. How would you describe it to those that are unfamiliar?
F: I call it a queer collective: it’s three people right now, but I would love it if it were a collective of up to ten creative, queer people. It is a way for us to create events for queer people in Phoenix that we kind of are missing. It’s really amorphous right now, I’m trying to figure out what it can become and what I don’t want it to become. Whenever we talk about it people assume we are a nonprofit where there’s a board and everything, but I don’t know, maybe it’s just a weekend thing. It’s the same as CiscoSews, I don’t want to put too much pressure on it before it even knows what it’s going to become. Right now, it’s a way for us to host events and classes primarily led by queer artists. I wouldn’t say I’m a very nurturing person, but this is my way of helping out my community in a way that I understand and a way I’m able to meet other creative queer people. Providing an opportunity and a space for them to do what they’re already so good at has been really rewarding in a way I didn’t anticipate.
I: How do you find people to work with for the events and classes?
F: I do a lot of markets, so a lot of the time I’ll walk around and tell people what we’re doing. Phoenix is still small enough that I think you can get a good grasp of what is out there so it’s been a lot of word of mouth. Originally, the workshops started with four artists I was in love with where I was like, ‘Hey, do you want to do something small?’ Now that we’re growing and growing, we’re going to have to start having people reach out to us. I don’t want it to be just people I know, or only well known Phoenix artists. I think there are so many people out there with so much talent but aren’t in a place yet where they’re comfortable hosting a class or putting their work out there solo, so they need a middle man that’s going to take care of everything and they just worry about bringing what they need. I used to work in events, like I said, so for me it’s easy: How many tables? How many chairs? But most artists have trouble thinking that way, so it’s been a good way to use the skills I learned in my career for something good.
I: Have you done a sewing class? Is that something you’d ever do?
F: No, everybody asks about it. I’m nervous as a teacher–that’s also why events are so easy because I’m going to help but it’s ultimately up to you. I want to, but I’m figuring it out.
I: Just going back to Cisco Sews, what are the main things you want the brand to represent?
F: Right now I’m trying to tap into heritage more. I started out just recreating what I saw online. I'm trying to tap back into my heritage, and not just my Mexican Heritage: Mexican-American, Southwest, border town. What that fashion can look like now and into the future through a queer person’s frame of view. We’re also a gender-free brand, these clothes are for anybody. I don’t put sizes on anything because I think a lot of the time a label will turn people off because they’re like, ‘Oh no, that won’t fit me’ or ‘I won’t look good in that, it’s not my size.’ I’m trying to make the clothes accessible for everybody.
I: When it comes to having your brand in stores like PHX General, what is that like?
F: For PHX General, I reached out to them and they’re a queer-owned store so they got it right away. They’re very open to just letting you be who you are as a brand; they knew what I was doing, they knew the clothes weren’t perfect, they know that I make it all myself. It felt really natural and nice to not have to explain anything. Through thems. I’m also meeting a lot more shop-owners because we’re constantly in need of spaces to host events. By putting myself out there I’vebeen really surprised (by how many are open to collaboration.) . a-lot of these stores are like, ‘I’m here, does anyone want to do anything? I have this space that I pay for every month,’ but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to say yes. We were talking with Dusk Market and they asked “what is the one takeaway you want to give away” and I said, learn how to say no- but also learn how to accept no. A lot of the time it’s just not the right moment, but it’s not a definite no. I definitely had a lot of collaborators say ‘not right now’ or ‘let’s talk about it later,’ you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how many people are just looking for a connection or something new. The people who are able to afford a lot of these spaces, want to help out.
I: Overall, is there anything you want to put out there or say to conclude the interview?
F: I’m just interested to see how Phoenix continues to change and where I’m going to fit into that. Your magazine is highlighting how many cool creative people there are in this city and how a lot of the barriers of what art is are getting cut down so fast. I’m excited, and if anyone is into slow fashion, or if you are a queer creator looking for someone to collaborate with, I’m here, send me a dm. Accept no, but it might be a yes.
Check out Cisco Sews on Instagram!