Meeting the Chief of Awesome:
Skidding across fresh, bright black and white tile, a very exuberant 6-month husky jumped up excitedly to greet me at the door of Yellowcake, a recently renovated and expanded Gordon Square boutique. Owner and Cleveland designer Valerie Mayen was quick to follow. “Mango! Get down!”
“Sorry… She gets very excited!”
Inside Yellowcake live colorful, custom mod women’s and kid’s coats, dresses and skirts, and the beginnings of a men’s line including crisp ties and cool jackets. All of her designs crafted right here in Cleveland, Ohio, Mayen has had her roots in the city since November of 2011.
Texas-native Mayen has studied at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, worked as an apprentice at Gemini GEL in Melrose and earned her BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Illustration, where she also participated in a mobility exchange program with the Otis College of Art and Design in LA. She has also studied at the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design.
A contestant on Project Runway Season 8, she expresses herself through traditional illustration, fashion photography, pop art influenced paintings, digital media and fashion design.
Go Media had a few moments to sit down with Mayen to talk Barbie, Cleveland love, and making it work.
Go Media: I understand you have a multitude of artistic interests…which came first?
Valerie: I would say the drawing, the painting came first. When I was really little, around five years old, I used to draw my Barbies – they were my models. We had a lot of Disney movies and I would always draw the covers and try to copy them. There was also a drawing show that I always used to watch on Saturday mornings called Secret City. I used to get up every 9 am on Saturdays to draw.
How does your training in illustration and graphic design help you on a daily basis as a fashion designer?
The illustration really helps me whenever I am working with new clients, whenever I am creating new collections, making new pieces for the store, and trying to flush out new ideas. It helps me to visualize and realize if something is going to transpire or not.
It helps me to sell the vision, too. If I’m meeting with a client and they have an idea of what they want, but they’re not sure how to describe it, I can flush it out for them. It gives me a little bit more of an advantage to communicate to them: “This is what we’re going for, this is what we’re doing.” They have to trust based on what they’ve seen in my portfolio that I’m going to do good work. So the more accurate the drawing, the more piece of mind they have in hiring me.
The graphic design definitely helped, in the beginning, when I was starting Yellowcake. I did all of my (initial) branding and print material. It’s helped given me some sensibilities that other designers might not have.
Graphic design is kind of like the icing on the cake. No one ever gets a cake without icing. And if the icing is a hack job, then the cake isn’t as appetizing. It’s like a cover of a book. People put a lot of thought and effort into the cover of a book, or a CD or a poster or anything that will be the one shot to grab someone’s attention. So, we put a lot of thought into our branding. Luckily I’ve been able to develop those sensibilities: what I like, what looks good. What kerning and leading is. Different types and fonts, things I know work best with our brand.
What’s the hardest or most challenging thing you have faced developing your brand?
The hardest thing was figuring out how to illustrate that we are clothing company – because you know, it’s a big no-no to use a needle and thread, scissors, or other tools of the trade as your logo because it implies that you do alterations or other things in design. The dress form was a tricky one because it’s a tool of our trade. But because it’s a tool of our trade and also a woman’s form it, it was more of a metaphor, so it worked for us.
We’ll always go back and forth about Yellowcake. The longer we keep the company name, the longer I think, people should just deal with it. As we develop and we credibility and notoriety, it doesn’t matter anymore that people think we’re a bakery. We even thought of having a tagline that says:
“Yellowcake, we’re not a bakery dammit!”
Why did you decide to establish your Yellowcake roots in Cleveland?
It was a long line of a lot of things. At first it was friends, and then it was a lease, and then it was a grant, and then it was the guy. One year turned into four turned into six turned into twelve. And after awhile too, I decided to set some roots down and really make the most of my time here. A friend told me that if you want to be successful do the same thing in the same city for twenty years – and that if you work hard and are kind, good things will happen.
What changed you the most about being on Project Runway?
It made me really efficient and taught me how to edit a little bit more. It also gave me a newfound respect for other designers who don’t have the same aesthetic as I do. It taught me about respecting a designer for who they are, what they do and what their vision is regardless of whether or not it is in line with mine or not. Even now I have to check myself. Just because someone doesn’t design the way I do doesn’t mean they’re not worth their weight as a designer or artist regardless of what their level is or what their experience is.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Re-strengthening our inventory and finances after the buildout. Creating new products, trying new things. We’re revamping our website to capitalize on online sales. Also doing different shows and different events. We’re hoping to do Hullaballo again, which was our big fashion event last October. It was a huge success and and we are expecting double the attendance this year. We’re doing double the amount of garments in the collection and hoping for double the revenue. Things like that will help us keep the lights on and will help us continue to grow.
Want to see her again on Project Runway? Vote for Valerie here!
Since inception, Yellowcake has contributed 5% of their profits to a charitable organization that supports the relief of hunger, homelessness and poverty. They believe in creating boldly fashioned clothing that sustains and supports a healthy humanity. Employing local, supporting our neighbors and aiming to do well by doing good.