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Though Valerie Mayén did not use a sewing machine until she started to seriously pursue a fashion career at 26, her interest in fashion and design really started in middle school when she started shopping at thrift stores. She would hand-sew patches and other accessories on the clothes and soon began making her own garments.
Valerie earned her BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) studying illustration and graphic design. Before starting at CIA, Mayén spent about a year attending school in California, where she took a fashion illustration class and loved it; though she did not know how to sew, and thus her fashion pursuit was put on hold. Due to an increasing interest in fashion design, after graduating from CIA, Mayén decided to take some classes at Virginia Marti, an art and design school.
After only a few classes, Mayén started working on designing and selling dresses on Etsy.com. Then she began working on coats. Within a month, Mayén had 30 coat orders. “The coats sold much more quickly than the dresses,” and though she was experiencing success, Mayén was still learning how to sew, taking 20-30 hours to make one coat. Now it takes her about 8-12 hours.
Her business led Mayén to appear on the 8th season of Project Runway. When asked about her experience on the show, she says it was “interesting, exciting, fun, stressful, new and a big accomplishment for me... It was surreal and bizarre at first, but it soon became a way of life. It was a nightmare and a dream come true all at once. The show taught me how to be more efficient; streamlined, to edit more, and to really think about my process and how and why I am designing.”
Throughout her time on the show, Mayén gained a lot of exposure which helped her establish her brand and grow her business. She experimented with a few pop-up shops, with each design on display and operating solely by pre-order. All this eventually led to her own store in Cleveland's Detroit Shoreway (Gordon Square) neighborhood, Yellowcake Shop (6500 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102).
Mayén works hard to keep her business sustainable. Yellowcake Shop makes everything in small quantities, avoiding textile waste caused by overproduction, a huge problem in the United States. Mayén also has CFL lights in her shop, uses a controlled air unit, has full insulation in her flooring, reuses fabric scraps, and has recycling bins throughout her shop.
If that wasn't enough, Mayén also contributes to the community through the many charities to which she donates. She learned from a documentary on nonprofits that more people were donating to opera houses and film society’s than they were donating to people without homes. Donating to homeless charity groups is important to Mayén.
Though it took her a while to truly discover her passion in the fashion business, once she got started, Mayén never looked back. She calls herself a driven person, and that does not come as a surprise when looking at all she has done in fashion. “If you work hard, believe in what you do, do it well and pay it forward, success is possible.”
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