A story of how an opportunity, one after another, led her to discover her true passion, true self, true belief and her true destiny
by Sarah Schwarz
“For years, I have been trying hard to pursue a different career and took designing only as a temporary station never realizing that it was actually what I was destined for. I did not imagine myself working as a fashion designer for all my life but I ended up working from one design field to another because I enjoy learning and understanding the art and business of designing along the way. But when I come to think of it, how I became I designer was unexpected. And then my business mentor opened my eyes to the fact that I was an entrepreneur all along. After that long process, I have to accept now that this is my destiny.”
We second the motion! What else can describe such a journey if not that it wasn’t predestined for Iman.
After high school, Iman wanted to pursue Psychology or Neurology, but her family were not financially able to support her. Although she graduated from a Science school, she was unlucky to get a full scholarships, thus prompting her to look for part-time jobs in order to attend college.
“There was no single fast-food chain that have missed my resume” she said with a laugh. “I even applied in companies as factory worker, as a housekeeping crew in a cheap hotel, as a sales girl in small departments stores and even with a Letter of Recommendation from my father’s uncle who is a politician, did not do me any good. I lined up under the heat of the sun for hours, traveled miles just to pass my resume while my friends already started working, yet nobody even called me for interview. It was depressing. Classes already started; I was one week behind. My maternal uncle realized this so he enrolled me for a semester in a Computer School. I was just doodling in the corner during one of my class when someone offered me a job and I was hired the following day. As if everything in the universe connived so I only take this path. ”
A self- taught artist, Iman’s prowess in the arts of illustration was observed by a classmate (from the Computer School) whose aunt is a fashion designer and owns a fashion house in New York. Initially hired as an illustrator, the company saw her potentials in fashion designing, so she was trained to become a fashion designer and with the help of books, actual workshop and mentorship, Iman was able to grasp the business and art of fashion in no time.
“I was of fond drawing/sketching since I was a kid, although I never had a formal training but I found the job easy. I enjoyed the learning process the most. For me designing is not just an art, its also science. Actually, it involves a lot of analysis, like how material works for a certain structure/ silhouette, what mould would fit perfectly for a body type, balancing elements and textures, studying and understanding how the customer feels and their psychology; aside from the joy of seeing the development of a product, is what interests me more than drawing designs.”
She worked full time during the day and attended college at night. At the age of 18, Iman was already designing gowns for the affluents of New York. One of her design she made for her boss was praised by the iconic designer Donna Karan. She decided to study Journalism just in time when the company decided to launch their self- published magazine and catalogues where she became its Editor- In- Chief.
Having had several positions in a company at a young age did not quench Iman’s thirst for learning. Her talent attracted the CEO of an Italian furniture company who offered her to work with a better compensation.
“I saw it as an opportunity to learn new things. It’s a different field and I love designing. I was young and clueless that I didn’t want to limit myself in one field.”
Working in the furniture company opened new doors for Iman, as she slowly saw the world getting bigger for her talent to explore around.
“It’s a new world all of a sudden with new materials, new processes to learn. Its intrapersonal, unlike clothing which is more interpersonal. In fashion design, you deal with what is in your body and how you want others to look at you. But here, it’s about spaces, the aesthetics of your surroundings, your mood and how you want others to feel- it’s beyond yourself.”
At one of the trade shows, she became fascinated with fashion accessories, which ignited her interest in the field and right away found a company who was ready to hire her. Iman hopped from one field to another adding up to her experience and expertise in every field. From fashion accessories, she explored designing luxury bags and bridal footwear. She also worked as a freelance ghost designer and illustrator for majour high- fashion brands and high caliber clients.
Not long after, Iman initiated to break free from working for other people and eventually established her own clothing manufacturing company that exports RTW and customized gowns in 2007, the same year she converted to Islam.
But recession hit three years later and the company had to shut down in 2012. This is when she decided to serve the local market. With no background in sewing and pattern- making, she learned by herself by reading tutorials in Google and watching it Youtube, and in no time she learned how to make a gown from scratch and eventually developed Bridals by Iman in 2013. And not long after, she was able to reach international market through her past connections.
We had to search a word that could best describe her, one is that she is “autodidactic” for the skills that she learns by herself, and a “polymath” for her knowledge in many things.
“My family barely makes end meet that is why I had to learn everything on my own because we couldn’t afford tutors. I was always so confident that I can do many things. And what really push me out of my comfort zone is the ambition to get out of the rat race. I have always wanted to become someone of impact and purpose. That is why I always wanted to become a doctor in Psychology or Philosophy or Neurology, to write a book one day explaining and unfold the mystery of Consciousness. You know things like why do we feel disgust, guilt and shame and what is the role of language in our cognitive behaviour, are topics that are intriguing to me. ”
She adopted the name Iman after she converted to Islam because it resonates her deep connection to faith. Her story of conversion is another wonderful story to hear but one article will not be enough to talk about Iman’s journey as a self-taught artist, entrepreneur, couturier, a writer, a spiritual coach and a lot more. Despite the enormous hurdles she went through, Iman is not giving up. She pushes through every tough storms with a defiant heart.
So, we will close this portion with some bits from our convo;
Sarah: You have been hiding about your Journalism until recently, why were you not open about it before?
“Who wants to talk to a Journalist? (laugh) let alone an Investigative Journalist. And I want to market myself as a Designer not a Journalist. I took Journalism in College just to have a transition but I never really imagined myself pursuing it as a serious career. I was a freelancer, I enjoyed it, it was fun. But as I grow older I just want to stay out of trouble and live a peaceful life that is why I shifted to a more wholesome writing. No drama and controversy. Investigative Journalism requires and consumes so much of my emotions and at one point put my life in limbo. There were stories I covered that made me so depressed for months because it affected me so much. “
Sarah: How do you describe or what is your design identity?
” It’s fluid, ultra- feminine, clean and simple silhouette. Minimalist. Realistic. But honestly, I haven’t really gone all- out with my design identity because I was still studying the market and finding the right timing to launch it. I have to be ready when I do because you know once your design is out there, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. So I was kinda reserved to show what Iman Montayre really is. I am hoping this show “CONNECTED 2021” will do it.
Sarah: What can you advice your clients when picking a dress/ gown
“The trend now here, in my country, is that designers let their clients choose the style and they do it for them. It wasn’t like 15 or 20 years years ago. Clients come to me to ask for a design. Nowadays, clients come to me with their design (giggles) But of course, there is the bargain there. You will have a client who will be very happy no matter what because you fulfilled her fantasy but sometimes the styles don’t work for them and this is where we interfere. The reason why we have so many identical gowns out there and designers are loosing their identity is due to this trend. I, for some instance, did that too because at the end of the day its not about you but your client. ”
Sarah: Why did you settle in the bridal industry?
“The bridal industry is all about being people- oriented and I think I am loving the “empathy” side of it, also the stories that each people I met leave behind. It’s very personal. Imagine being part of the highlight of a person’s life, there is a lifetime bond you can develop along the way that is beyond business. And of course, the art part. I love to get my hands on the gown. Its like my canvass. I feel that I am my authentic self when I am working on them. It makes me extremely happy when I see the bride looks great in the pieces I made. I found purpose as a designer here.”
Sarah: What is the biggest challenge as a designer?
“Finding the right people to work for you, who understands and can ride with your wavelength is really hard. I trained people but once they learn, they leave. You want someone who cares about what they do more than what they get. It’s a challenge to find someone whom you can trust and not screw you up- that I am still learning how to deal with.”