yuliya-raquelYuliya Raquel is the CEO and co-Founder of BootstrapFashion, and the Founder and former Fashion Designer and Creative Director of IGIGI by Yuliya Raquel brand founded in February 2000.

An award-winning fashion designer, accomplished creative director, brand and women’s fashion e-commerce expert with strong skills in fashion design, merchandising, visual brand and marketing, Yuliya has a passion to produce results.

Yuliya is an outspoken women’s empowerment activist and entrepreneur with the mission to transform the world’s view of beauty and to democratize the fashion industry. She is also a forward-thinking leader with a keen entrepreneurial background and an eye for identifying new and innovative opportunities for fashion and ecommerce businesses and providing insight and strategies to capitalize on them.

I had the privilege of discussing with Yuliya her thoughts and experiences in the fashion industry, being a woman in business, and her visions for her new business BootstrapFashion.  Here is what Yuliya had to say!

Yuliya, you were very successful with your fashion label IGIGI. What compelled you to start BootstrapFashion, and what problems in the marketplace did you see that you wanted to solve?

There are several reasons I left IGIGI in 2013. I recently found myself a divorced, single mother of two and chose to use my new-found energy to propel my career to new opportunities where I could continue to do what I love yet make a bigger difference and positively impact the world. For me it’s a priority to be a positive role model for my children and to empower them.

I had recently found myself a divorced, single mother of two and chose to use my new-found energy to propel my career to new opportunities…


When I started IGIGI without any funding and manufacturing experience, I discovered that the process of running my own fashion business was extremely complex, expensive and simply said, grueling; there were no easy-to-use, affordable tools available.

For me it’s a priority to be a positive role model for my children and to empower them.

I realized that there could be thousands of designers out there with the ability, talent and skills to create fashion that would allow women to know themselves as beautiful and feel powerful and confident in the clothing that they wear. I dreamed of creating a social marketplace where anyone could simply design a custom dress or launch and operate a multimillion-dollar fashion business. It is then the idea of BootstrapFashion was born.

In BootstrapFashion I have used all my experiences to provide a solution to every obstacle and hurdle I had to personally overcome while running a fashion business.

Where did you get your inspiration for BootstrapFashion?

I spent over 20 years in the fashion industry, first as a custom dressmaker, Indie designer and later Head Designer of an international fashion company. I dreamed about finding easier, less expensive and faster ways to design a production-ready collection. Yet nothing of the kind was available. The variety of patternmaking CAD software that existed on the market were expensive and required specialized skills in both patternmaking and learning the workings of each CAD system, which took time.

The creative fashion design software for illustrations was also expensive, and conceptualizing, sketching and drawing a technical flat illustration for each style took hours and sometimes even days, greatly reducing productivity. It is from these experiences that I wanted to completely automate the design and product development processes.

My goal was to create online software where ANYONE – even people with no experience – will be able to create an original design, get a technical flat sketch, and a color/fabric rendered illustration with a custom-fit sewing pattern of that design, in less than 30 minutes – while actually enjoying the entire process!

Where do you see BootstrapFashion having the most impact?

I foresee the biggest impact will be with Indie designers and DIY sewers, who will be able to create unique designs and offer them for sale or make them for their own enjoyment, hassle free. However, there is also a huge opportunity to disrupt the larger fashion industry as well, allowing design companies faster delivery of their products.

What do you see as the biggest challenge of the future for the fashion industry?

I believe that the biggest challenge the fashion industry faces is it’s inability to quickly deliver fully customized fashion items, designed and made to consumers’ unique style preferences, their body shape and size, while providing superb quality at reasonable price and turning a healthy profit. Instead, there is a need to stock massive quantities of inventory that was produced based on the subjective point of view of merchandisers. Additionally, the time that it takes fashion companies to design and develop each item and then produce the inventory reduces their profits significantly, forcing them to make it up by using significantly cheaper fabrics and paying extremely low sewing costs.

How do you think that social media has impacted the fashion industry and how can designers leverage it effectively?

Social media has played an important role at taking the first steps at democratising the fashion industry and creating a two-way dialogue between consumers and fashion manufacturers. For the first time in history consumers have an opportunity to become fashion critics, expressing their desires, likes, and dislikes publicly through comments and blogging. Designers have an opportunity to leverage social media, to listen to the feedback from their targeted customers, as well as building relationships with fashion bloggers, who have become a force to be reckoned with influencing fashion trends, promoting brands and designers. This is one of the reasons we have developed a social platform in Bootstrap Fashion where designers can collaborate with fashion influencers, brand themselves, and even develop a following and a customer base before ever going to production.

What are your thoughts on sourcing and operating ethically and how do you see this is impacting the fashion industry?

I believe that ethical fashion production means combining sustainable textiles and fair trade manufacturing. Sadly, in my opinion, the fashion industry as a whole is challenged by this due to its struggles to recover exorbitant development costs, lengthy delivery timelines and inventory overproduction – while staying competitive! Thus companies are forced to use very inexpensive, low quality textiles and cut sewing costs, lowering the overall quality of the garment and paying minimal costs to the factories. This is one of the reasons we have also incorporated a service marketplace into BootstrapFashion, which we believe will lead to creation of over 2,000,000 home-based and small businesses, expanding local economies.

What are the biggest challenges you see that new designers face when starting their label and production line, and how best can they overcome these? 

There are a few equally significant challenges that beginner designers face. They include solving design, development, sourcing, production and distribution, and the “I’ll do it all myself” or “I can’t afford to hire anyone to help me” mindset.

The way to overcome these obstacles is to streamline the entire process.

The way to overcome these obstacles is to streamline the entire process. It is important to have textiles available in a way that can be easily sourced and procured; to have access to service providers who can accommodate manufacturing of various volumes, whether it is one piece or one hundred thousand, in a fair but competitive pricing environment.

What would be your key pieces of advice for anyone wanting to start their own fashion business?

  1. Have patience and be ready to work long and intense hours
  2. Don’t take mistakes made by others personally
  3. Be open to reinventing yourself several times before you ‘make it’
  4. Know your target market
  5. Listen keenly to your customers
  6. Build a team, and give interns an opportunity if you are short on funds
  7. Think strategic, always streamline and do not get stuck in a single area

What do you love most about being in business?

I love building my own dream and future and having the ability to run with my visions and ideas, without having to go through tons of higher-ups deciding ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I also love seeing my vision becoming a reality and the kind of impact that it creates. Additionally, I love the flexibility of hours, being a mother of two. However, I sometimes do end up working 12-16 hours each day, sometimes until 3 am, so the working hours are long.

Who are your business mentors/role models and what do you find inspiring about them?

I love working with business mentors and find their input invaluable. Being a first-time CEO, I work with a coach and advisor, Gary Jinks of GLG Group, who helps me to develop myself as a leader of a high tech company. In addition we are starting to look for funding and I work with a seasoned fundraising coach, who is helping me to fine-tune my pitching and presentation skills.

Regarding my role models, Oprah Winfrey inspires me tremendously. Regardless of her early hardship, she was able to build an empire by revolutionizing television and positively inspiring viewers to transform their lives. I also have always admired Coco Chanel, who in her time was able to revolutionize fashion.

What has been your biggest challenge in running your own businesses so far, and how did you solve it?

Both of the business I started by bootstrapping, so having very limited resources yet taking on playing huge games has always been the biggest challenge.

What I find extremely helpful is having a ‘can do’ unstoppable mindset and instead of focusing on what is impossible to accomplish, my team and I look for what we can do to move us closer to our goal. Although we were told that a project like this would cost close to $1M dollars and require a very large team of people, the entire BootstrapFashion platform and the Design Center app were created by a team of three people!

If there were 2 people you could thank who have helped you get to where you are now who are they and why?

First is my co-founder and life partner, Don Straub, who has been a powerful stand for the creation and success of BootstrapFashion. Second is my family – my father, mother and sister, who have been standing by me, regardless how ‘crazy’ my dreams seemed to them. Their belief, honesty and acceptance of me have been an enormous blessing in my life.

Who is your favorite designer or fashion brand and why?

Aesthetically, I’ve always liked Ellie Saab and Valentino and some of my favorite brands include Nanette Lepore, Catherine Malandrino and Milly NY. However, I now prefer to have my clothing custom-made. The feeling of wearing something that fits me impeccably and hand crafted by a person who loves what they do is incredible – custom-made items have become my most favorite pieces in my wardrobe.

Finally, what’s next in your development and growth of Bootstrap Fashion?

BootstrapFashion will be launching an Indigogo campaign on February 1st to raise funds for additional design libraries and hosting servers. I invite readers of Leaders In Heels to support our effort to democratize and revolutionize the fashion industry!

Marryam Lum is a Muslim photographer based in South Australia and the founder of Life of My Heart. I stumbled upon on her artwork on Instagram as it captured my attention – she creates beautiful brush lettering quotes inspired by the Quran, the central religious text of Islam. She is different. I decided to reach to Marryam to tell Leaders in Heels her story for the first of my “Make Your Mark” interview series.

(P.S. Scroll to the bottom of this article to download a high resolution copy of one of Marryam’s beautiful designs for Leaders in Heels)

Marryam, what do you do?

I do brush-lettered and watercolor prints of inspiring quotes and verses that showcase the rich spiritual tradition of the Islamic faith.

Is that your full time job or do you do something else?

I currently work on both Life Of My Heart and my lifestyle commercial photography business; however I am trying to find ways to integrate them both so that I will eventually be able to put all of my focus on one brand rather than two.

Why do you do what you do? How did you start?

I started university when I was 16, and if there’s one thing that is for sure is I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life as a 16 year old! I ended up doing an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and went on to do further studies in Counseling and Life Coaching.I’m a bit of a serial entrepreneur so I started my first business at 19, which was life coaching for teenage girls and creating self-development workshops, and went through the process of starting a few more businesses until I finally came across something that I love and felt passionate about – photography. Through this whole process I learned through my mistakes and experiences that it’s vital (at least, for me) to go into a business that I am very passionate about and that I truly 100% believe in.

This is one of the factors that led me to starting Life Of My Heart while also working on my photography business. However, many other factors also led me to Life Of My Heart.

My husband and I started our family in our early twenties and we now have 3 awesome little sons. As a parent you are tested in so many ways, and I never understood how difficult it can be – never have I appreciated my own parents more than now! Taking a non-conventional career path that involved growing a business from home while also caring for young children turned out to be a challenge that I loved but also completely stressed me out and I needed to find a way to keep motivated and inspired :D

As well as this, my husband and I are both practicing Muslims who are in love with our faith and it’s peaceful way of life – in current news we could see that our faith was being completely hacked to pieces by people who use the name of Islam to commit atrocious acts with the mainstream media so bent on portraying these horrifying crimes as Islamic – the complete opposite to the actual teachings of Islam that I and so many others know and love…I found myself feeling so frustrated and down about it all.

To help motivate me to take some positive action in regards to this entire situation and to help me keep going in a positive way in my daily life and my family life, I tried to find lettered artwork with the quotes that I love and am inspired by. I am obsessed with hand lettering and modern calligraphy, so I tried to find faith-based quotes done in that messy modern type of writing. But I couldn’t find any at the time, which led to me lettering my own designs. I posted a few on Instagram and it seems that it also resonated with lots of other people, so I just kept going :)


Since then, there’s been a huge increase in the number of Muslim artists doing lettering as well, which is great – I’m glad that there are many Muslim creatives taking on this lovely artform to achieve some more positivity in the world!

Islam is well known to have an amazingly beautiful and rich spiritual tradition, so I really wanted to share the actual beauty of the faith with others in order to inspire and motivate everyone to become the best people that we can be, and to not lose hope that positive change can and will occur.

All of this together was how Life Of My Heart came about, and I’m so grateful – it’s been an amazing learning experience so far!

What was the inspiration? 

Apart from the factors I mentioned above, there is also so much beautiful Arabic calligraphy of amazing quotes that I love, but at the time that I started Life Of My Heart there were hardly any in English in modern brush calligraphy – so I really wanted to bring these translations to light, in a way that was modern, colourful, fresh and a bit messy!

(Thank you Marryam for creating this beautiful quote for Leaders in Heels.)

leaders in heels printable Love is Everything

Why did you choose this quote to share with our community, a community of business women. Why love?

I once read a beautiful book by a Buddhist nun that encouraged the readers to pause before acting, and then choosing to act with an open heart and with love – it can all sound so fluffy but I decided to take this on and try it myself as a daily practice.I found that on a day to day level as a work at home parent, taking a second to pause when I’m faced with a situation that I find annoying or challenging or frustrating, and then consciously deciding to act or react with love and an open heart, made an amazingly massive difference in my relationships with my children, and connected us all in ways that a more disciplinary parenting strategy or ‘time outs’ could ever achieve. That realization helped me to realize that I truly, truly believe that love is everything, which is why this Rumi quote speaks to me so strongly. When I read it, it instantly connected with me. If we all had more open hearts and more acceptance of differences and just let love and compassion be the way we primarily live our daily lives then I really believe there would be immense positive change within humanity.

(It looks so easy when you are drawing the quote, but I tried and it’s not!)

Where did you learn lettering and how one can start?

I first started by doing a few online courses on lettering on Skillshare.com, there are so many amazing lettering and calligraphy courses on there! Also I spent a lot of time watching YouTube tutorials and reading blogs such as handletteringtutorial.com and handletteringlove.com which offer so many resources and links to learn from.

I found that lettering itself which is the art of drawing letters as opposed to writing them (which is calligraphy), was not the direction or style I wanted to take, but I learnt so much about creating letters, typography and spacing etc that was vital for my work. I then came across the amazing brush lettering artist Kal Barteski and did an online brush lettering course of hers that gave me the confidence to use my own handwriting and messy style to create my own style of brush lettering.

I also love the art of Modern Calligraphy, which I am currently learning by both doing online courses and reading/watching tutorials on blogs. The blog http://besottedblog.com/ has awesome tutorials and interviews with the best of the best modern calligraphers today :)

I suggest starting by taking some courses online or reading books on hand lettering, brush lettering, and modern calligraphy, and then finding which of these suits you the most – then practice daily, experimenting with different brushes and tools, as well as paints and inks. Experiment and practice until you find your own style, and then keep practicing and developing it further!

What keeps you going when you need to push, either for clients or through a creativity block?

Creative blocks are always a part of the creative process – if it’s a more intense block I tend to take a step back by taking a day or two completely away from what I’m feeling stuck with, either a complete day off work to just read or go to the beach. Otherwise, I’ll try to gain inspiration by other mediums. So if I’m feeling stuck with my lettering, I will go and look at beautiful photography that I find inspiring, and vice versa. This is doubly effective as it helps me clear my mind in order to create more lettering but will often help inspire me for my photography work as well.
If I don’t have the luxury of time to take a step back by taking a day or two off, then I will usually push through and create a whole lot of not very nice looking work until eventually something clicks and I’m able to produce a piece of work that I am happy with.

What’s next for Life of My Heart and how do you want to see it grow?

My husband is now on board with Life of My Heart as well so right now we are really focusing on growing our lifestyle blog and our brand, and as always constantly improving our content for the blog and Instagram as well as continuing to expand our online shop and product lines.
We are aiming mid-term to create a space and a community of like-minded individuals who will empower and inspire each other. Amongst other ways of doing this, we’d like to be able to showcase as many amazing, socially engaged, hard-working, inspirational, achieving-awesome people as we can.
Our long-term goals are a little hazy at the moment – still a work in progress!

Click on the image below for a complimentary copy of the “Love is Everything” print from our store. Download it in high resolution for your home or office!



Who is Canva?

Canva is an ambitious Aussie start-up changing the landscape for small business owners and bloggers. Created in Surry Hills by founders: Cliff Obrecht, CEO Melanie Perkins, and Cameron Adams. This (not so) little start-up is reaching great heights, securing 3.6 million in its second round of funding and growing to over 600,000 members as of July 2014.

What is Canva?

Canva is a simple design tool making Graphic Design accessible to all. Canva allows you to create everything from newsletters to blog graphics to a Facebook Cover; using drag and drop functionality with stylish and on trend templates.

How much will it cost me?

Well this is the best part about Canva… It’s free! That’s right for standard templates and images there is no cost. Premium fonts, templates and images are charged at $1 each – an affordable expense if needed.

So how do you get started?

Head to www.canva.com, enter in your email, follow the prompts and away you go!

Once logged in you’ll find a user friendly interface with drag and drop functionality to simplify the design process.

Select a new design template. Note* Canva takes all the guess work out for you. If you’re creating a Social Media post it will default to the dimensions required for each social network; a nice little touch.

On the left hand side you’ll find everything you need to get designing. Fonts, backgrounds, layouts, design elements and the upload tab for your own images and logos.




What do I do next?

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with it’s dashboard I recommend heading on over to the Canva Blog & YouTube channel

Canva has a support base for the amateur like you wouldn’t believe. Need help choosing fonts, colour matching or creating an eye catching title? Canva has you sorted! Head to the blog first and learn the basics. Next up visit their YouTube channel and then head over and actually DO their Mini Challenges. Mini Challenges will have you designing like a pro in no time.

 My Hot Design Tip!

K.I.S.S – Keep it simple stupid!

Think clean. Crisp. Fresh. Chant these three words as you design. Oh I’m serious! This little mantra will remind you that simplicity really is best.


Manuela Crescenzi

Manuela is a Social Media expert and Editor of SheBlogger.com.au – Australia’s newest ‘go to’ source for the She Blogger.