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Fashion Conscience: An Interview with Jalyse Hanna

During my senior year in college, one of my best friends – ReBekha (yes, that’s spelled right!) – convinced me to take a class with her, which didn’t require too much persuasion because it was a course on Tibetan Buddhism – the religion and the cultures that practice it – and most of the class was comprised of a week and a half long trip to Thailand. I briefly weighed my options of taking out further student loans in order to pay the class fee (almost $2,000), but I was quickly on board. It was during this class that I met an intelligent, hilarious, compassionate, and creative young woman named Jalyse Hanna with whom ReBekha and I quickly became friends.

From the start, I knew that Jalyse was unique, and further time spent with her only cemented this original impression. Whether it was riding around in her car while blasting Israeli hip hop or the fact that somehow, Jalyse, ReBekha, and I became known as “the calzone,” I knew that this lady was going places. And, thanks to her hard work, she really is. Without further ado, I present Jalyse Hanna: 

Jalyse Hanna headshot

 Where are you originally from and where are you now?

I was born and raised in Seattle, although I have moved around quite a bit. Currently, I’m living in Los Angeles. I’ve lived here for three years now, and it’s a bit of a change, but I absolutely love it here.

You seem to have a bit of a travel bug, has that influenced your decision to go into fashion?

I definitely do have the travel bug thanks to my family, and I’m so grateful for it! It really has come to shape who I have become. But I can’t say that it influenced my decision to go into fashion; however, I do see how it influences every design I create.

When I met you back in college, you were interested in working in Africa with teens. At the same time, my first impression of you was also formed by your “passion for fashion.” How did these two ideas merge?

Well, my life has definitely been an evolution of sorts. I have a background in social work, working for many years with people of all ages around the world doing everything from fighting human trafficking in the Philippines to making hearing aids for orphans in Uzbekistan to building houses in Mexico. I definitely have a passion for people. However, getting into fashion design was a little more of an unexpected turn in my life, to say the least. In fact, I think people, like you, saw that passion in me before I really did; and I definitely never imagined becoming a fashion designer myself.

The first year I was living in LA, a friend of mine asked me to be a part of a local fashion show. I laughed at her as I had no experience, but with a little coaxing, I agreed to give it a shot. I quickly found out just how big a deal this particular show was. Surrounded by FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) and OTIS (Otis College of Art and Design) graduates and designers already with their own successful clothing lines, there I stood with absolutely no training, never having made a garment, and never having used a sewing machine in my life.

refashioned garment
Jalyse's first garment, refashioned from recycled clothing

Our challenge for the fashion event was to design a garment in 18 days made from a bag of mixed recycled clothing. My bag included several garments, but the highlight of my chagrin was a fuzzy tiger print jacket. Determined not to force my model to do the walk of shame down the runway, I immediately headed down to the store and purchased a $20 sewing machine and decided to “make it work.” I began to find that days at my full-time job were filled with thoughts and dreams of getting back home to work on my garment.

My dress was well received, with people approaching me after the show asking to buy it, where they could get more of my clothes, and models asking to model for me in the future. I was overwhelmed by the response but bashfully told them that the dress they saw was the only thing I had ever made. I was thrilled to be involved with such an event, even in a small sense, and little did I know that it would change the course of my life in a dramatic way – permanently. The following year, I was asked to design a dress for LA Fashion Week completely made out of newspaper, only the second look I had ever created. It was also received with the same warm response. At this point, I began to wonder if there was something more to this career and its possibility in my life.

Jalyse Hanna Newspaper Dress
The infamous Newspaper Dress

My family was beyond encouraging as I wrestled with the idea, and subsequently, I applied to FIDM and just graduated this last December with a Professional Designation Fashion Design degree. I can honestly say that I fell into fashion design, as it was never a career that I sought out, or even considered, but as more doors consistently open, I am seeing that this entire path was the one orchestrated for me all along.

The title of your fashion company is Common Currency. Can you tell me more about the name of your company?

Through my company, Common Currency, I create fashion designed to give back, linking social work and quality fashion together. Using the parameters of microfinance, I am committed to donating 10-15% of every garment sold to fund small business loans worldwide. If someone needs an oven to open a bakery, or a goat to make cheese, or a sewing machine to do tailoring, we loan them the money to get the equipment they need and once their business is off the ground and they are supporting their family and building their community, they pay back the loan, and the loan is then distributed to someone else with a dream.

Meanwhile, as we are selling more clothes, more loans are going out and the circulation continues and grows to change more and more lives. The reason behind the name is to describe just that: it’s currency (fashion and loans) for everyone, connecting people.

Something that sets your business apart is that it “link[s] social work and quality fashion together.” How does your company differ from, say, Bono’s (RED) campaign?

Although there are some similarities between the (RED) campaign and Common Currency, in that we are both producing clothing where proceeds benefit a cause, just like Tom’s or other apparel companies out there, the difference is in the cause, reach, and the type of apparel being sold.

With Common Currency, my vision was to create a business that would continue to give back, long after I’m gone, leaving a legacy and joining people together through their common need for clothing, support, and community. I strive to create fashion pieces, unique yet wearable, that people will be eager and excited to wear on their own. However, hopefully they will also be drawn to purchase them because they are for those who want to wear a greater dream as they give back continuously worldwide in addition to being fashion.

Can you tell me your design philosophy?

Fashion design is like handwriting in that each designer has a unique signature that naturally comes out. Mine is one that references cultural influences mixed with vintage inspirations. From the selection of colors and prints that represent our diverse world to the awareness of a silhouette in referencing a specific time period through structure and drape, my garments although diverse, will always come out with the same mark that is distinctly mine.

How did you make it in the fashion industry?

I can’t say that I’ve “made it” just yet. My company is just starting out and right now I’m doing custom freelance designs, but I hope to really launch my business full force in the next couple of years, moving into mass production and larger scale sales across the country to make even more of a difference worldwide. I did, however, just show my first collection at LA Fashion Week this last March and so events like that are definitely a step in the right direction for the bigger picture.

Jalyse Hanna 2012 Common Currency LA Fashion Week Collection
Ms. Hanna's 2012 Common Currency LA Fashion Week Collection, inspired by (from left to right): the Dragon Leaf Seahorse, the Sally Lightfoot Crab, the Mobular Ray, the Sea Slug, and the Lionfish

What advice would you give a fashion designer hopeful?

You have to be gutsy to be a fashion designer, it’s a really tough industry to break into and stay in, however it’s not impossible. If you really have a passion and a vision for what you want to create and who you want to create it for, you can make yourself some space in this field. You have to be true to yourself  and true to your design aesthetic. One of the greatest mistakes I see among hopefuls is making something crazy just to be noticed, but it’s not the crazy that sells and fashion design first and foremost is a business.

 

If you love Jalyse’s designs as much as I do, why don’t you check out Common Currency? Show her some love and help change the world! You can also follow her on Twitter at @Common_Currency.

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Dormouse

Bilingual (and a half) white girl who spent thirteen of her formative years in Africa. She is a writer, mentor, coffee drinker, wife, cat owner, language lover, photography dabbler, aspiring speaker, and a lifetime student. She keeps her writing going over at ellayneshaw.com.

5 thoughts on “Fashion Conscience: An Interview with Jalyse Hanna”

  1. What I really love about the LA Fashion Week pictures posted here is that they look like garments I could imagine seeing on the street. I’m not a big fashion person, and I usually view fashion pictures with apathy because often it seems so impractical to me! But I like those four a lot.

    I love the idea of combining a business with funding small business loans. More companies should do things like that.

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