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Designs on a business

Dorchester native designs the modern woman’s wardrobe

Karen Morales
Designs on a business
(Photo: Karen Morales)

It was never Isabella Brandao’s idea to sign up for a summer course in fashion design at age 14.

“I kind of got forced into it by mom,” said Brandao. As it turned out, she was a natural at making garments and has continued designing on her own ever since.

Author: Photo: Courtesy Alleb AsorModels display outfits from Brandoa’s fashion line Alleb Asor.

At 22 years old, Brandao is launching her own fashion brand, Alleb Asor, Brandao’s name and mother Rosa’s name, spelled backwards. “My mom is a pusher, sometimes a little bit too much,” said Brandao with a smile. “But she encouraged me to go out there and do it.”

At the Bird Street Community Center in Dorchester where Brandao was introduced to fashion entrepreneurship, students were instructed to make tunic tops but Brandao didn’t want to stop there. “I was trying to challenge myself so I made other pieces besides a tunic,” she said.

A year later, Brandao created her first design collection and displayed it at a fashion show at Boston GreenFest. She continued to showcase her creations at student fashion shows on college campuses throughout her high school career without any other technical sewing or design training.

“When I started participating in fashion shows and networking with different people, it was a chain reaction type of thing,” she said. “Once I met someone, they put me on with somebody else, and so on.”

As a participant of the METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities) program, Brandao attended school in Lexington from elementary to high school. College was an obvious path, but one that she felt was not right for her.

“I got into all my schools, but the money was the biggest factor in my decision,” she said.

She attended Centenary College for a week — until a “huge epiphany” struck.

“Before, I made decisions based on others’ needs and wants and that was the first time I made the decision for myself,” said Brandao of her decision to leave Centenary and put college on hold. “I’m open to getting a college degree but right now, it’s not my priority,” she said.

From 2013 to 2015, Brandao was designing clothes for clients while working two part-time jobs. She took in 50 to 100 clients throughout those two years, most of them high school and college-aged girls who wanted an original dress to party in.

Brandao said that she gained clients through word of mouth.

“Boston is really small, so once you know somebody, other people will find out,” she said.

However, as a solo entrepreneur, the workload became overwhelming and Brandao’s artistic vision got lost.

“I had to ask myself, is this really what I want to put out?” she said. “I don’t want to put out sloppy work, I want to make quality garment pieces.” She stopped taking client orders and has been planning her re-launch over the past year with a different aesthetic and for a different target market.

Brandao says her clothes are for women in their late 20s up to late 30s. “Definitely the mature career-driven women, always on the go, who doesn’t have time to focus on shopping too much,” she said. “I want her to see Alleb Asor’s website and see the product that we have and automatically know what she wants because at the end of the day, she doesn’t have time to waste on shopping.”

The collection will offer sizes 0 to 18 and pieces will run from $100 to $200.

Brandao recently received a $3,000 Kiva loan to finance Alleb Asor’s launch. Kiva Microfunds is a nonprofit organization that allows people to lend money to low-income entrepreneurs and students at a zero percent interest rate.

“The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Boston presented me with the information on Kiva and answered any of my questions,” said Brandao. “I filled out the application, marketed myself, and made phone calls to get support.”

The loan will be used specifically for Alleb Asor’s pre-development stage: Creating a blueprint for the garment designs, flat sketches and samples. “I need samples to give to a production company,” she said. “The company takes the blueprint and the samples and they make replicas based off of that.” Samples are individual finalized garment pieces from the collection.

The designer’s current samples, which are used to give an idea of how the collection may look, are strong statement pieces with soothing, muted colors.

Ultimately, Alleb Asor will respond to consumer demands, she said.

“We want to keep it simple for our first launch and have a variety of pieces to see which one sells. So if jackets are our top sellers, we’ll include more jackets in the next collection.”

Creative impulse

Brandao also enlists the help of high school interns to analyze trends on social media and gauge consumer opinion on Alleb Asor samples.

Brandao hopes to one day showcase Alleb Asor at Boston Fashion Week, and has been attending previous years’ events to network and get a feel for Boston’s fashion scene. She did observe a lack of cohesiveness at BFW and the tendency to fall into niches.

Brandao said she couldn’t help but notice a divide in the fashion scene. As a Cape Verdean woman, Brandao said she is “very close with the ‘urban’ niche of the fashion industry.” But she doesn’t want to be confined to this category.

“I’m definitely trying to break that barrier. I’m trying to dip and dab and meet a whole bunch of different people and have everybody collectively work together —hopefully,” she said.

Another challenge Brandao faces: lack of fashion production resources in Boston.

“It took me a long time to find a production company. Some were trying to charge me $10,000 for what I was asking,” said Brandao.

The production company she eventually found is called “Tribes by Joseph,” run by designer Marcia Roseme in New York City. “Fabric Stores are also disappearing. I had access to three or four last year and now there’s only one,” said Brandao.

The designer said that Alleb Asor is inspired by nearly everything around her, especially her Cape Verdean family and “the way the woman carries herself.” Brandao said the women in her family always dressed discreetly and modestly, and that she was taught to do the same. “I’m definitely an old soul. I’m 22, but I act like a 35-year-old sometimes,” she said.

Alleb Asor will launch in the fall, but in the meantime, Brandao will continue to market her skills and talent amidst the visual noise in today’s highly digital world. “It’s hard to stand out sometimes,” she said. “I’m confident with the clothes I put out but it’s a matter of getting people to see that.”