Los Angeles - based fashion designer Maxie James used her local celebrity status to build her clothing brand. "I've always been popular. So I used my popularity to fuel my business," Maxie tells me over the phone one afternoon. Maxie is a 29-year-old black female entrepreneur with two successful companies. The first is Ellae Lisque which is her clothing fashion line. On the heels of her third fashion show which will showcase her Fall 2017 collection amongst a crowd of black Hollywood socialites, including confirmed attendees Draya Michele, DomiNique Perry (HBO’s Insecure) and Media Mogul Karen Civil, the self-taught fashion designer breaks down her journey to success and gives advice to inspiring fashion designers. Go inside our conversation.
Tell me about your background. Where are you from? How did you end up in LA?
I was born and raised in Englewood. I would always win Best - Dressed and Most - Popular since high school. All my friends called me “popular patty.” I couldn't go anywhere. Being popular is like a gift and curse. Being popular helped me build and grow my brand. I was already giving fashion tips since junior high school. There was a white tee party every weekend, and I would make all my friends a customized white tee. I was always making things. I didn’t think I was going to be a fashion designer; I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be a backup dancer, dancing next Beyonce.
What inspired you to make fashion designing a career?
What inspired me to pay attention to fashion is a youtube video from Steve Harvey, where he broke down what it means to be passionate about something and being gifted. When it comes to fashion, I was very confident about fashion. I started to pay attention to my gift, the fashion aspect.
When did you know you wanted to participate in the fashion industry?
Six years ago, I started out styling because everyone came to me for advice. However, I didn’t really like it because it still felt like a 9-5pm. I was also returning stuff, and I didn’t feel super entrepreneurial. When I went to search for looks, I couldn’t find the outfits that existed in my brain. So that’s when I taught myself how to design.
Tell me about Ellae Lisque.
Ellae Lisque is for risky and sexy women. My clothing line started in 2014. My first collection took me six months to make six dresses. I still sell my first collection today. When people wear my clothes, they feel confident. They want to shut down wherever they are going down. My goal is for my customers to feel confident and sexy. I pay attention to the fit. Sometimes I add boning to the dress.
You have three brands ( including your personal brand), how did all three of these brands evolve? What are they inspired by?
Since I was young, I would have friends/family/strangers, of people pouring out their whole life to me asking for advice. I get my advice skills from my father and his aura. I am very open about being god-fearing because I was raised in a church home, but I am also realistic, open, and transparent about my hardships and how I overcome them. The fact that I'm so honest about my journey, people trust me and my advice. They’ve believed me because I am always open. “Ask Maxie." My father said, “if God gave you individual gifts, there’s nothing wrong with turning your knowledge into a business.” My heart is too big, I just feel for people.
Did you have any funding in starting these brands?
I use to work full- time and style part - time, but I didn’t like styling enough to quit. But then I got laid off and received and a $10,000 severance. So I invested it and took a leap of faith. You have to sacrifice. The minute you start making money, you have to reinvest. The minute I started making money, I started reinvesting. I wasn’t buying clothing or shoes. I chose my business over any and everything. I always just used my money.
What are some of the challenges with designing and promoting your brands?
If I could look back on my journey, starting it was super easy. Keeping my business is the most difficult part. Keeping it growing it and staying there is so hard.
You’re planning a huge fashion show in a week, tell me about that?
This year I turn 30. I dreaded turning 30 in my early 20s. I wanted to take the time to celebrate my accomplishments, I never really give myself credit. Every year I apply myself for something I’m not ready for, and I accomplish it. I decided to have a huge fashion show this year. The after party will be my birthday party. I am collaborating with Karen Civil because we share the same ambition. She is impactful to the black women’s empowerment movement.
What can we expect from the collection?
It’s called the showstopper collection. It’s red carpet ready. The clothing is very “birthday dress” inspired. When you want to look good at your birthday or your man’s birthday, you wear Ellae Lisque.
What are you looking forward to this coming season?
I’m really looking forward to the fashion show production. I hired the best people. It took everything I got.