Worthy Convos: Alexis Nguyen-Gonazales on Illumination and Inspiration
Alexis Nguyen-Gonzalez, owner of Illumination Fine Fabric located in the ever creative Near Southside district, has loved fashion for most of her life. After a career in healthcare, Nguyen-Gonzalez has replaced her scrubs with unique and colorful textiles from all over the world.
How did you find yourself a fabric shop owner?
As a child I spent countless hours in fabric stores with my mom, who was an exceptional self-taught seamstress. She loved haute couture so our home was littered with couture magazines. As a teenager I made some of my own clothes because I had a style I couldn’t buy in stores- think MC Hammer pants, sequined sweatshirts, and funky Chanel cardigans! I always loved sewing and handling rich fabrics. Instead of pursuing my dream of becoming a fashion designer, I chose a career in healthcare. The dreams of becoming a designer are gone, but now I’m perfectly content being surrounded by beautiful apparel fabric and eager to offer these amazing selections to Fort Worth.
Do you import your fabrics?
Yes, I carry unique fabrics from all over the world, including special occasion fabrics from Spain, Italy, and Belgium, tana lawn cotton from England, silks from India and China, and boucle and lace from France. I also source many quality sewing items, like specialty threads and notions from Europe and glass beads from Japan.
For the person who is not crafty but interested in creating something of their own, where do you recommend they start?
There are so many independent pattern companies now who share the mission of encouraging people to learn how to sew. The number of people who sew dropped with the baby boomers, but over the past few years there is a resurgence of people who are very interested in learning this skill. We all have to start somewhere, right? There are so many online courses and tutorials for sewing, you could learn even the basics by watching someone in England or Portland teach each step. There are local sewing classes available too in quilting shops and community education workshops (TCU has a few for sewing) if you prefer in-person learning. I will also be starting up beginner level sewing courses for individualized learning. The first step is getting a hold of a good sewing machine!
What is your most favorite fabric to work with?
I love a high-quality cotton because it’s the easiest to sew and wear. If I know my garment will get a lot of use, I’ll feel better about putting in all the extra time and effort into making it a great piece.
You opened your shop right before the pandemic. What business and/or life lessons did you learn during that time?
It was originally opened at Shop Small, The Collective right as Covid was spreading into the U.S. I realized the importance of having financial reserves in case of an unexpected crisis, one can happen anytime. New businesses didn’t qualify for assistance so that was especially rough. I went into disaster mode and quickly listed everything online. Using Etsy to sell fabric was critical for my business during this time, and I switched my emphasis from only carrying special occasion fabric to offering a broader range of fabric, including cottons and rayons. People from all over the U.S. were buying sewing essentials and fabric online because they couldn’t go out and shop. Sewing helped a lot of people pass this stressful time. I also sold goods that I made, including over 1,000 cotton scrub caps, which healthcare workers were buying. Sometimes you have to be ready to drastically deviate from your original business plan.
What is slow fashion?
Slow fashion is a movement that involves being aware of the financial and environmental effects of rapid cycles of fashion. You become more conscientious of how much fast fashion you consume- where, how, and by whom your clothes are made. Handmaking your own clothes is just one way of being an earth-friendly consumer. If we make efforts to buy fewer mass-produced trendy garments, and choose better quality, lasting garments in sustainable fabrics, it’s better for the environment with less waste and landfill. Buy less, buy better, and buy local if you can.
Where do you find your creativity or inspiration?
I am inspired by all the designers and makers all over the world. The best place to discover their work is social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It’s amazing to me how someone in Latvia or Russia can share their artistry, whether it’s silk flower making, couture embroidery, or dressmaking. These are just independent makers showing their techniques from their little studios everywhere.
Although she prefers burnt orange to purple, Hannah Bush is happy to call Fort Worth her new home. She began freelance writing a few years ago to break up the monotony of her 9 to 5 and to prove to her parents that she’s making good use of her journalism degree. When she’s not hanging out with her cat, Hannah can likely be found on a patio with her brand new husband, talking about her cat.