Free Mermaid, Free Woman: All About Siréne Libre NYC
On a muggy New York City evening we meet up with Stephanie, Siréne Libre NYC's founder and designer. In a space where women are reclaiming body positivity and are providing amplified voices for themselves no matter their clothing size, Stephanie's eye catching patterns and pieces transform the person wearing them to their dream self. We talk fashion, fabrics, and much more with the Colombian American architect of aesthetics.
FLASH: What made you want to get started doing fashion design?
S: It runs in the family. My grandma, she was a seamstress, and my mom’s really into fashion. My mom is actually one of my biggest inspirations, she has a beautiful vintage collection of clothes: vintage Betsey Johnson, Calvin Klein, such beautiful pieces. Every time I saw them, I wanted to create those types of pieces that are timeless, you know? I want to make women feel how my mom felt wearing her things. That’s how I started getting more involved in fashion. At first I wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals, and when I turned 12/13 years old I started sketching—I’ve always been into drawing—but that’s when I started sketching clothes and doing doodles. I thought that one day I’d be able to do my own fabrics, and one day it became set in stone that this is what I want to do.
F: Who is the ideal Siréne Libre person?
S: The ideal Siréne Libre person would be someone who is learning to love themselves, someone who is finally reaching that point of, “I’m that bitch.” Siréne Libre is so daring, so it definitely takes someone who is fearless & who is confident. Any woman that’s independent, hard working, kind, & out there to live her best life is the ideal Siréne Libre woman to me!
F: When did you get started, and how long have you been around for?
S: I started the company officially in 2014, I actually quit my job. I was working as a bridesmaid consultant and I got my last check—it was probably like $120. I was like, you know what? This isn’t for me. So, I quit my job and went straight to the fabric store. I started with a gold metallic dress, a baby blue camo dress, and baby pink vinyl. I made those three sets and decided to see where it goes, and it spread like wildfire, especially with the gold metallic dress I made. I got so many orders—I made it close to New Years—so when I came out with it, it was perfect timing. It was so awesome to see people like my idea, and appreciate the vision.
F: Your shoots for your pieces feature models of all sizes and ethnicities. How important is representation for you as a designer?
S: It’s so important to me because I’m a plus sized woman, and I feel like I didn’t have a lot of options growing up. It was always granny clothes; I remember I went into Lane Bryant once and had to settle with this really bad shaped dress. I don’t even know how to describe it, it looked crazy on me, but I had to settle for it because there was nothing else. I decided to make clothes for people my size, and all sizes, because I feel like we’re all women! We’re all different sizes, different races, I want to create something that’s for everybody that they’re gonna feel sexy in and feel like they can take on the city. That’s the whole point of my brand: girl power, stand out pieces, and confidence. That’s what I want these women to feel when they wear Siréne Libre.
F: With the influence of other designers on Instagram and social media in general, how do you maintain keeping your authenticity with what you create?
S: It’s kind of hard to do that because I feel like with the Internet, eyes are everywhere. I always mind my business, you know? I actually had an issue recently, with certain people tagging other designers under my things. I got offended and it hurt my feelings because I’ve been around since 2014 and I haven’t gotten that “clout,” while there are other designers that have the money, that have the clout, and have all these connections that I do not, with similar pieces to mine. So they make it seem like I’m the underdog, I’m the one who’s copying, and it’s not like that. I’m here minding my business, I go to the fabric store, see what I like, sketch my things out, and if there’s a coincidence that someone may have the same then that’s what it is. I’m not out here scrolling through Instagram trying to see who I’m gonna copy, I feel like that’s disrespectful to the craft. That’s disrespectful to fashion. It’s different once it’s an inspiration, obviously a lot of styles get recycled, and you can get inspired by many things but being organic to your craft is so important. My main thing is to be focused on what I’m gonna do, or else I’m not gonna move forward. If I’m always busy wondering what the next person is doing it would give me anxiety like, “what can I do? They’re gonna compare me to this person,” I just gotta keep going with my vision, and see what happens.
F: If you had the opportunity to dress anybody past or present, who would that be?
S: Can I pick two people? *laughs* Past, it would definitely be Selena Quintanilla, and present, Rihanna. The queen, I’m obsessed with her. Cardi B as well, of course. I love them, they’re my inspo. I love what they stand for, they’re all such different type of women. They’re people who step outside the box, and that’s what I’m about. I think they’d look amazing in some Siréne Libre!
F: What’s your favorite part about being a designer?
S: My favorite part is seeing my customers’ faces when they try on their stuff, and they’re like, “this actually looks good on me!” I love to see that confidence just shine through. Recently I got an email from this girl, I sent her the Groovy Set, and she was so happy because she said she hasn’t had anything that fit her this precise before. She’s a plus size female who was so excited about her pieces, and that’s what I like to hear. These women can finally feel sexy in something that they don’t sell in the stores. The idea that bigger women can’t wear this or that, I shut that shit down. Why can’t we wear that shit, why not? I can kill it, too!
F: Do you feel that how we view plus size women has changed overtime in fashion?
S: I feel like it actually has progressed tremendously. Ashley Graham, even though I don’t consider her to be plus size plus size, I do love what she’s doing with Swimsuits for All. It’s amazing because before I feel like it was just standard sizing, you would never see a plus sized model in a bikini on a billboard or ads or anything. I definitely feel like there has been progression, but there’s always more. There could always be better. I know a lot of low key brands that will only take pictures of really skinny women. I make clothes for everybody, but I really have to represent more towards my curvy women. As a curvy woman, I want y’all to feel how I feel. It took me a long time to love myself and to accept who I am, and I feel like the progression that has happened now is amazing. Nike came out with plus sized clothing for exercising, and I would look at the comments and people would say they’re promoting obesity. When I read those things it makes me sad to see that, if anything they’re motivating people to get healthier. How are we gonna work out if we don’t have workout clothes? I’m a heavy woman and I’m super healthy, I went to the doctor and I’m good! You can’t think that just because this person is a certain weight that they’re healthy.
F: You are Colombian American, talk about how your heritage and culture influence your designs.
S: My mom is Colombian and my father is Colombian as well, they’re both from Medellin. The culture is beautiful, warm, vibrant, loving, sexy, & so family oriented. Women in Colombia pride themselves in their femininity & hard work, so I try to incorporate that with a little bit of edge to my line. I’m not the most feminine person; I’m actually the illest tomboy. Being that I’ve been a tomboy my whole life I get to bring out my femininity through my creativity, and creating these pieces for women that are naturally feminine or want to bring it out of them. So seeing other women enjoy wearing the sexy, colorful, edgy attire that I design is very rewarding. That enough inspires me because I want women to feel that warmth in the clothing, that I feel when I’m in my country; that sexiness that our culture has. The vibrant colors of Medellin & it’s warmth is also enough inspo when I’m picking out fabrics at the store. The women in my life are such strong influences in what I create because as I mentioned before they have always been into fashion, especially vintage & they are such strong hard working vibrant women. So just by thinking of them, where they come from is like a battery charge to me.
F: How do you balance Siréne Libre with other facets of your life?
Honestly, I go day by day. I work Monday through Friday with my regular 9-5 job, I clean a lawyer’s office two days out the week, & I do Siréne Libre stuff all in between. I have an amazing team of women who work with me & if it wasn’t for them Siréne Libre wouldn’t be taking off. They make everything complete & we all work together like a little family of girl power. I love them so much!
F: If you could give advice to the person you were two years ago, what would it be?
S: To be more consistent, to not doubt herself. To not let other people side track you and not listen to anybody’s opinion. Focus on you, because I feel like I had so much inconsistency in the beginning of the business that threw me back. In many aspects I was unprofessional and all over the place. Now that I’m getting better, things are also getting better with my business. Definitely be more organized, and to really be more focused.
F: What makes a FLASH girl to you?
Independent, hardworking, a sense of humor, and lots of self love to not put up with no shit from anybody. To be kind.