By day she’s a speech therapist for the Oakland school district, but at other times, Aliya Wanek works on her eponymous line that has gained a loyal following.
Aliya Wanek has run her eponymous womenswear label since 2016. The sustainable clothing line is a local affair, produced, sewn, and dyed in the Bay Area.
Originally from Florida, Wanek attended grad school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and moved to the Bay Area in 2013 to take a speech therapist position with the Oakland Unified School District.
Before she arrived in Oakland, she was toying with the idea launching her own womenswear business.
Her love of design was sparked by an aunt who taught her to make scrunchies when she was about 12 years old. “And then I didn’t touch a sewing machine again” until she was in her 20s, she said. But she always knew she had a designer’s eye and thought that with the right training, she could move forward with her dream to become a working designer.
“I felt I needed the background of patternmaking, and, because I wasn’t trained or in the industry, it can be hard to get any kind of insider information” on the fashion world, she said.
At first, she toured San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, but decided she didn’t want to rack up a huge amount of student debt. After some dedicated Googling, she discovered Apparel Arts, loved its flexible program, and started taking classes in 2014.
“For two years, I took classes on Saturdays and worked full time,” Wanek said. “But I was also taking manufacturing workshops in the city, doing anything I could do to learn about it.”
When she was about three-quarters through the certificate program at Apparel Arts, Wanek decided she was ready to go out on her own. “I was at the point where I learned as much as I could and I wanted to move forward with a new stage,” she said.
That new stage was the Aliya Wanek label, AliyaWanek.com, of pants, dresses, knitwear, tops, and jackets, and a really fun selection of jewel-toned high-fashion sweatshirts for women and kids. Wanek calls them “American classics with a Japanese aesthetic.”
Wanek’s ideal client? “The customer who wants to support local, sustainable brands and women of color,” she said.
The colors she selects for her sweatshirts are muted jewel tones, chosen with this customer in mind. “I’m big on wanting to have a color palette that embraces and enhances people of color’s skin tone,” she said. “As a black woman, there’s a therapeutic aspect that all colors have a way of altering your mood or make you feel protected or calm and that’s something that’s really important to me.”
The sustainability comes into play with the fabrics she chooses and the way she works with her contractors. All Aliya Wanek designs are made of natural or dead stock fibers, with organic cotton hemp being used the most. Everything is small run, and Wanek works with a local patternmaker and seamstress whom she pays living wages, along with a women’s collective in Peru that produces her knitwear items.
Her work has found its fans, mainly through Instagram, and the line pays for itself now, rather than being funded by Wanek’s work as a therapist. It hasn’t been easy. At one point, Wanek would work till midnight and then be up by 6 a.m. the next day to go to work.
She has no plans to leave her school-based role, however. “I work with young adults with disabilities and I love my job a lot. I love the population I’m working with,” she said. “That feeds me in a way emotionally and my clothing line feeds me creatively.” n
SUM: By day she’s a speech therapist for the Oakland school district, but at other times, Aliya Wanek works on her eponymous line that has gained a loyal following.
FB: Aliya Wankek has no plans to leave her school-based role, however. “I work with young adults with disabilities and I love my job a lot. I love the population I’m working with,” she said. “That feeds me in a way emotionally and my clothing line feeds me creatively.”
TW: After some dedicated Googling, Aliya Wanek discovered Apparel Arts, loved its flexible program, and started taking classes in 2014.