Alicia Ybarra knew early what she wanted to do in her career – make special-occasion dresses. And after she worked awhile at a large company, she also realized she wanted to work for herself.
“I hated that corporate atmosphere,” Ybarra said of her job with a national retailer. “It was a lot of desk work. I’m very much a hands-on person. I like the interaction with clients.”
She gets plenty of that as the owner of Vanya Designs and Custom Sewing in Derby.
Ybarra, 34, grew up in Wellington. She learned to sew in 4-H, making prom dresses for herself and her friends. At Kansas State University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and a master’s in apparel and textile marketing and product development.
“I was a pretty experienced seamstress before I went to college,” she said. “There I learned pattern and design skills.”
She started Vanya Designs in her basement, moving to a storefront in 2009. Last year, she moved to bigger space with work and fitting areas plus a little room for jewelry, veils and other accessories. She also rents tuxedos.
“We were just running out of space,” she said of the move.
Ybarra’s specialty is creating custom gowns for weddings and proms.
“Sometimes (customers) will bring me a picture of a runway dress or something like, or pieces that they like, and I’ll do something with all the elements.”
One trend in bridal wear is for brides to re-use their mothers’ gowns, updated into a modern design.
“Vintage is really in right now anyway, so it’s really easy to take those vintage products and turn it into a modern look,” she said.
While most wedding gowns are white, Ybarra said she has created black ones and red ones, among other hues.
“Pretty much whatever the client wants. I’ve put camouflage on wedding gowns,” she said. “That’s a big trend right now.”
Ybarra said there aren’t many custom dressmakers in the region. She’s had customers from across the Midwest. She employs two people and uses independent contractors to help keep up with the work.
Much of her business is booked a year in advance, she said, “but I try to squeeze people in when I can.”
Ybarra said she doesn’t try to compete with the prices of mass merchandisers but that her outfits can be cheaper than some high-end retailers.
“They (clients) don’t have to pay for the alteration charges at the end because we custom fit, so they usually end up saving money plus they have a unique customized gown,” she said.
Now happily self-employed, Ybarra said she doesn’t consider her corporate job a waste of time.
“I think it was really good that I had that experience, because it let me pursue my goal.”