Afro Latina business owner Denise Bayron is making waves in the fashion and textile industry with her beloved “hatdanna” pattern and sustainable practices. The Oakland, California-based Afro Puertorriqueña founded Bayron Handmade in 2018 and has been infusing her life experiences into her work. Bayron believes that people having access to sewing patterns will help them take pride in their finished products while helping reduce fashion waste and empowering them to tailor their clothes to suit their own needs.
BELatina caught up with Bayron and learned how she is fusing life, art, and sustainability practices in her business.
You stated before that you have a long history (from childhood) of sketching and learning how to work with different mediums. When you were younger and practicing these hobbies did you know that you could go into a career that would allow you to do the things you enjoyed full time?
As a young woman, I hoped to go to school to study fashion design. I was born and raised in New York City. Naturally, my dream was to go to FIT. My mom, however, had other plans. She did not think it was possible to have a lucrative career in the arts. She decided, therefore, that I should go to school to study business. At the time, I was terribly upset, but now I am grateful for her decision. Studying business laid the groundwork for me to eventually become an entrepreneur, and I’ve been able to apply my business studies to a variety of industries.
How, if at all, does your Afro Latina identity influence your work, design, creativity?
My racial identity influences my work because it shapes the lens by which I view the world. Case in point, I designed the hatdana because I wanted to wear a hat that fit my textured hair. I have locs now, and before that, I wore my hair in a huge afro. I never found a hat that looked fashionable AND was intentionally designed to fit textured hair. The design was a problem-solving mission for me.
Now I’m so pleased to see people with all hair types and genders wearing the hatdana simply because it’s a beautiful design and it fits their hair needs too.
The hatdana piece is super versatile and multi-functional. Is it important to you that your pieces be multi-functional?
I don’t think every piece has to be multi-functional, but I love it when I can achieve that! When I make a piece that can serve multiple purposes, it allows me to live with less stuff. I enjoy sharing my values with my community and feel fortunate to be able to share them through fashion and design.
As someone who has 15 years of experience working in fashion, why did you decide to sell patterns instead of starting your own clothing line and selling actual clothing pieces?
My decision to create and sell patterns for the home knitter and sewist came about as a reaction to my time in the fast fashion industry. I needed to reconcile my love for fashion with my desire to live a sustainable lifestyle. While there are sustainable slow fashion brands in the market today that I admire, I felt that my patterns would empower my customers to make the wardrobe of their dreams. In other words, when a maker purchases a pattern, they have the ability to choose the raw materials, the time invested in making the garment, the waste that is produced in the process, and the management thereof. The maker also decides the color and the fit. In the end, the garment is truly a customized piece of handmade art. There is no way I could match that level of customer autonomy by producing a line of [ready to wear] clothing. I am not completely detached from the idea of making my own line in the future, but for now, this process aligns with my mission for 2020.
A second reason why patternmaking was an attractive business model is that the barrier to entry is low. In other words, patternmaking is an art I can do from home with skills I already possess or can acquire quickly. I personally do all the jobs: I knit the original sample, I write the pattern, I grade the pattern for all sizes, I do the pattern layout and graphic design, I am the photographer and model, and I handle all the marketing. In the end, a digital product has a much smaller price point. However, I avoid the cost of production, storage, distribution, etc. that I would have with a traditional clothing line.
There is a lot of conversation happening now about how wasteful the fashion industry can be and how that impacts the environment. What are your suggestions for people who want to engage fashion in more sustainable ways but aren’t versed in or able to make clothes?
The answer is simple. Acquire the skills you need to make your own clothes. More and more people are discovering the joy and value of owning a handmade wardrobe! What was once perceived as “women’s work” is now a cool way to express creativity while being better citizens of this planet.
There are countless online educational sources where you can learn how to knit, sew, crochet, and macrame. My patterns, for example, contain video tutorial links with step-by-step instructions of the more intermediate skills. You can also take classes in your local community allowing you to support small businesses while making friends with like-minded people!
Your patterns are simple and yet extremely beautiful. In addition to seeing/thinking of design as numbers and geometry, where do you draw inspiration from for your pattern ideas?
I often get inspiration from what is happening in my own life at that moment in time.
For example, the #gracepullover was published in May of 2019. At the time, I was feeling stressed over the conversations in the knitting community surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. The pullover has three simple cables that run from the collar to the hem. This minor detail represents interconnectedness. It is a statement that we’re all in this together and we need each other. Hence the name “Grace” — intended to be a call to action for all humans to show grace in their interpersonal relationships.
The inspiration for the Droplet Capelet came to me during a breast cancer scare. It is shaped like a droplet to represent the happy tears I shed, and the gratitude I felt for the quality of medical care I received during that difficult time.
The #movingforwardwrap is shaped like a large arrow. I designed it during a time I was making major life changes, moving homes, and facing new challenges. I decided to chase happiness and move forward.
And finally, the #waveofchangejacket, my most recent design, circles back to the subject of inclusion for all people. A year after the #gracepullover was published, we’re seeing real steps toward a more accepting and more woke knitting community. I designed the jacket with concentric rings around the torso, like a stone dropped into still water creates a ripple effect. My hope is that everyone who knits and wears the jacket feels like they’re part of something bigger, a societal wave of change.
Bayron is inspiring us to live a more sustainable and low waste life when it comes to our day-to-day lives and fashion choices. You can see more of her work and creative process — as well as glimpses of the progress she’s making on her tiny house! — on Instagram at @Bayronhandmade.