When effortless grace, uncompromising values, fierce attention to detail and inspirational style come together you probably just encountered Ayanna Listenbee. Completely wowed by her designs and charmed by her humility, we recently met with this ageless beauty in Pasadena, California to talk about her work and to find out how she does it all and makes it look so easy…
Why did you start designing?
I have always designed clothes and sketched things I wanted to make as a child. I was tall (and super skinny) for my age in elementary school, and pants were never long or skinny enough, so I would alter my jeans and taper them to get the look I wanted.
When did you ‘surrender’ to designing as your dream?
Designing has been a passion of mine since the beginning. But early on in my college years, I was just unwilling to embrace it, because I didn’t think I could make a living for myself in fashion. Thankfully I got past that belief! Designing is kind of like a natural state for me and when I am not doing it, I don’t feel as alive. I started doing custom clothing while I was working for Liz Claiborne Swimwear, just after college. That lead to creating my own capsule clothing line. Then, with the impending birth of my first child in 2005, I began creating leather handbags and from that, the Ayanna Listenbee Collection was born.
We gotta know- is Listenbee your real last name?
Lol! Yes, Listenbee is my maiden name. I decided to use a bee as my logo to reflect my last name, but I fought that for a long time because initially I thought bees were corny. Then I did a little research on bees and discovered that they have a great work ethic and are very adaptable. More importantly, of the 100 crop species that feed the world, bees pollinate 70 of them which feeds about 90% of the world. Bees are critical to our quality of life on earth!
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs?
Usually my first point of inspiration comes from filling a need. For instance, if I have an event to attend, or somewhere to go and I don’t have the type of bag I need to complete my outfit, I design it. Nature is also a big source of inspiration. I have to continuously put myself in new surroundings or else I get restless and uninspired. I love to travel, but Pinterest, foreign fashion magazines and books also provide tons of inspiration for me as well. As an introvert, so does people watching.
How has being an introvert affected your work?
Having the courage to be yourself despite what others may think or say has often been something I’ve struggled with. Society seems to place a lot of value on extroverted personality types and when I was younger, that sometimes made me feel as if I wasn’t enough. That’s one of the reasons why I really LOVED the Two Weeks to Better Biz Photos eCourse you created at Seeing Beauty. The tone of it, the examples, the exercises- it was truly made for me! I wish I had been able to take this class when I was new at Instagram, but just the same, I still learned from it and most especially, I learned that being an introvert, I tend to do things differently, and they still work. I want all introverts to know that its okay to do things differently, you just have to discover what works for you and play to your strengths.
Any advice for other designers out there who are thinking of turning their ideas into a business?
I would say if you want it go for it, and take note of where your strengths lie. In the areas where you are weak, study up and get stronger until you can hire someone to do those things for you. Eventually it will be best to focus on your strengths, but in the beginning, you may be wearing all the hats. This is actually a good thing, because once you are able to hire employees, you will know how to direct them to do the job the way you want since you have had experience doing it yourself.
We love your blog and IG. How important are they to your business?
Thank you! My blog provided a place for me to share things that inspire me, as well as the opportunity to curate a visual space online that reflected my style and taste. I absolutely fell in love with Instagram for this same reason. Both my blog and Instagram have been crucial to growing my business. I get most of my sales via Instagram, and I am able to keep my customers up to date with launches, and new offerings as well as grow my email list with my blog.
How do you feel about the phrase ‘having it all’?
I think this phrase conveys a sense of perfection, which is unrealistic to me. I’m more about having what’s important to me than having it all. The term “balance” is relative. What might be balance for some may not be balance for others, and that’s ok! I don’t know if I am ever balancing it all. I love my work, so I could honestly do it almost all day everyday, which makes it hard to find the shut off valve. I am a wife and mother first, and I tend to feel guilty when I am in my studio working and everyone else is free. Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who helps me carve out time to work, and is active with the kids when I can’t be. Trying to find balance requires support.
So, you feel balance and community are linked?
I think collaboration and support is key in business, especially for small businesses! It can be very isolating running a business by yourself. That is what I love about Seeing Beauty, you guys encourage connection and creating community, which I feel is so important and necessary!
Finally, is there a single style item you simply can’t live without?
I hate to admit it, but I have to say it’s my phone. I have a love hate relationship with it. It makes my life much easier because I can sign invoices, email customers, take notes, record ideas and keep track of sales with it. I LOVE all the amazing things it can do, and it takes fabulous photos (it was the main camera I used to complete the Change Your Lens eCourse), but I hate actually talking on the phone. I’m definitely a serial texter. “Text Life” is my motto. If you want to get in touch with me, text me or email me. Never call me. Lol! All my friends have been thoroughly trained in the art of the text and know that’s the best way to contact me!