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Threads of Inspiration: A Designer's Journey with "Project Runway" Star Layana Aguilar

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

You started off your career in New York, the mecca of the fashion industry, can you tell us about your background and how you became interested in fashion design?

I actually only had exposure to the world of fashion design when I moved to New York in 2008! But I do believe I was born to be a fashion designer. Ever since I could remember, I loved expressing myself through my clothes. Growing up in a small town in Brazil, I always felt like a fish out of water. Everyone wanted to look the same, dress the same and secretly, I always wanted to stand out. Sometimes, instead of going out with my friends, I wanted to stay in my room just trying clothes on, planning new outfits or cutting up my clothes and transforming them into something nobody else had! But I didn’t know I could have a successful career in fashion. Only when I moved from Brazil to the US, I realized I could do this for a living! I watched the second season of Project Runway and that gave me the inspiration I needed to start my fashion design journey. I applied to The Fashion Institute of Technology to study fashion design in 2008 and the rest is history!

What was your experience like on Project Runway and how did it shape your career as a designer?

Being on season 11 was an awesome experience. I was so young. and so inexperienced. I had nothing to lose! The producers loved me because I pretty much gave them what they wanted every episode! I had no idea they were manipulating me to do that, but I have no regrets. I laughed, I cried, I argued with some teammates, I gave them drama, I gave them good fashion, and I learned more about myself. Project Runway showed me how to work under a lot a pressure, how to stand up for myself, and most importantly, Project Runway opened a lot of doors for wonderful opportunities, many of which helped me get to where I am today. When I look back, my style now is nothing like what I presented on the show and yet, I still have the same essence. There is something so special and gratifying than watching my own evolution as an artist. The show was the beginning of my career. I’m very thankful for being on Project Runway.

Can you walk us through your design process and where you draw inspiration from?

Everything I do comes from my heart and soul. I just have to feel it. I’m not a planner, I’m very disorganized, I don’t like to sketch, and to be honest, I rarely make patterns. It is just so natural to me that it feels like magic. My creative process usually starts with a vision or a dream I have when I touch the fabric or something I see. Then I just have to start creating and somehow it all comes together! It is always best when I’m alone. I have to be alone in my own world when I’m creating. I draw inspiration mainly from the women around me, and everything I see around me. I’m inspired by people, textures, art, colors and emotions.

Can you speak to any particular challenges or obstacles you have faced in your career as a fashion designer and how you overcame them?

The biggest challenge I faced was figuring out the balance between creativity and business: As a fashion designer, you need to balance your creative vision with practical business considerations. I have to tell you that I never overcame it. I never found this so called “balance”, so I decided to just keep following my heart and because of that, I had the vision to create The Fashion Squad School!

What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers who are just starting out?

Find the one thing that you are extraordinary at and run with it.

How do you cater to your mental health and self-care while balancing your work-life and career?

I prioritize my happiness. I have to do at least one thing that makes me happy every day. Whether it is taking a dance class, lunch with a friend, a spa day, creating fun content or just going to my sewing room to make something new, it has to be something just for me. If I’m happy first I can spread happiness to everyone around me and beyond.

What role has self-love played in your life and how has self-love inspired your career?

Self-love plays a major role in my life. Because of it, I was able to develop a very healthy relationship with myself, my husband and my children. Through self love, I am able to love and respect myself, to set boundaries, communicate effectively, and treat others with kindness and respect. Self-love has also made me fearless when it comes to my career. It helps me build a fulfilling and successful business by giving me the confidence, clarity, and resilience I need to overcome challenges and pursue my goals.

During Covid, you started The Fashion Squad School —an after-school program built upon empowering children and teaching the next generation of creatives how to utilize their skills and home in on their fashion design craft. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this amazing program and what was the passion behind it?

I always said I wanted to build an empire based on love. What better way to do that than by nurturing a child’s creativity. Children are the most amazing beings in the world and they are our future. Whenever I would host my kids friends for playdates, I would find myself doing something creative with them. And seeing their little happy faces was just contagious. You can not help but feel happy, too. I grew up surrounded by so much love. Even though my family was not perfect and we had to overcome a lot of obstacles in life, I was extremely loved and encouraged to chase my dreams always. And because I had so much of it, I feel that it is my calling in this lifetime to spread love and give back.

Can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations that you are excited about?

Sure, I’m working on a docuseries about building the Fashion Squad School empire as well as highlighting how we empower our students. We are also launching a product! All children and daunts will be able to take a little piece of The Fashion Squad School into their home!!

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