Daniella Samper on clothing that empowers and environmental consciousness

Daniella Samper is the designer behind Ajaie Alaie, a mindful clothing brand that celebrates women and positivity in its craftsmanship. Her thoughtfulness, creativity and joie de vivre is embodied in each garment, from each understated detail designed to invigorate specific energy points to how each piece is cut to facilitate movement and ease. From her serene studio in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Daniella shared her thoughts on sustainability in design and taking on whatever comes her way, and gave us a preview of her upcoming collections.

Daniella, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in New York to Colombian parents, and moved back to Colombia when I was 4 years old. Then we moved to Florida when I was 12. When I was 19, I moved to New York to study fashion Design at FIT, and I’ve been here ever since. My husband is from India and I have spent a lot of time in India experiencing the many cultures and traditions. We like to travel a lot, visiting Colombia and India frequently, but spend most of our time in New York. At this point I have absorbed so much from my travels; I very much feel part of these three worlds that my life has shaped into. I have deep appreciation for cultures. I’m a very curious person and I ask a lot of questions all the time. I’m very visually stimulated and I observe and analyze a lot. A lot! I'm very inspired by unconventional beauty. I’m a very shy and sensitive person, very interested in all and everything!

What attracted you to fashion design?

Beauty, elegance, and sophistication. The elegance and sophistication that women can feel while wearing something that fits their bodies well, that is comfortable and flattering lured me into wanting to design for us women. I think elegance is the visible layer of feeling strong and powerful, and a confident woman is so elegant! My mom was my first muse. I always wanted to emulate her style and wanted to be elegant like her. I was really never into trends, fashion shows or anything “fashiony”; I just really admired the female body and the power clothes can have, and I just wanted to dress it in the best way possible. I had always been crafty and loved being creative. I guess that in combination with me being enamoured with elegance was the natural path to take for me. Beautiful but a bit sensual, or strong and poised but sensible at the same time is my approach to design.

What is the Ajaie Alaie ethos?

It’s about nourishing the self-love in us that we take for granted. It’s about reminding ourselves to be the better version of ourselves. I strongly believe in energy, movement, flow and to love oneself first to be then be able to pass it on to others and I think that clothes despite being something we wear every single day has the power to make us feel good, attractive, confident, and strong. We want to remind our woman to feel proud of her accomplishments, to speak her truth, and to feel grounded. It’s a lifestyle and a practice, 'Ajai Alai' – the power within us can makes us invincible. Through our clothes we promote it with visuals and affirmations found attached to the labels and magnets found on each garment.

Your clothing is packaged in reusable mesh bags, and you no longer use clothing tags in your designs in order to minimize your impact on the environment. What motivated you to take these steps towards sustainability in design?

I have a soft-spot for animals and nature. I feel very strongly about plastic because I don’t think we are doing enough about it or are acting fast enough. Plastic is destroying our oceans and our ocean creatures. Plastic is everywhere and the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. I felt responsible to make a change in the way I work in order to minimize my footprint. My consciousness began winning over my actions and everytime I threw a plastic bag in the garbage a thought of a whale eating it came vividly into my mind. We dispose of so many things post purchase – tags, the packaging, another layer of packaging, and it’s only creating more trash. Our aim was for our customers to only have to recycle the paper mailer it was mailed in, which is made of recycled paper and is recyclable as well. We don’t include receipts, tags, or anything else besides the paper mailer. And my hope is that people will use the mesh bag instead of using plastic bags when buying fresh produce – the whole vision behind the mesh bag replacement was that. I’m focusing strongly in eliminating trash and plastic. We can all do better at that.

What can we do in our day-to-day to be more mindful of our Earth?

Compost, recycle and use reusable bags and water bottles. Don’t buy plastic bottles. I think it’s important to begin by taking baby steps, and soon you will see how only using reusable water bottles expands into always having reusable bags handy and then you’ll find yourself bringing the compost to the bins, and then using mesh bags for your produce! We tend to expand on what feels good to us and when you get a taste of it, it’s only natural to take a step further and further into sustainability. One thing affects the other, and you have no idea the impact you are making by carrying a reusable bag. When you begin paying attention to your actions, it begins to stick in their consciousness. By doing these small changes in our own lifestyles, we can slowly but surely influence our communities to make more mindful decisions.

For your Fall ‘18 collection, you’ve introduced some new elements into Ajaie Alaie, including outerwear and water-wicking fabrics. Can you share more about this direction, and what you’re most excited about?

Yes! I'm very excited about this. I’ve introduced outerwear in air dye fabrics. As we grow and expand our offering, we are making sure to mindfully choose sustainable fabrics. We loved how this fabric uses no water to be dyed. So that meant no water and no toxic chemicals being dumped into the faucet and ending up in waterways. We are also introducing knits made in Peru made of natural fibers. Outerwear and knits have been a favorite of mine since I began designing, but I steered away from them in the beginning because of the complexity in them. I appreciate changes and I get a kick out of challenging myself and I was ready for a new challenge so I began doing knits and outerwear. Now that we took the plunge it will be more about experimenting with these sustainable textiles and incorporating them into our collections more often.

You perform several roles within Ajaie Alaie, from design to photography, and travel often for sourcing and production; what are some challenges you’ve encountered which you’ve learned greatly from?

I started very young so I was diving into the unknown all the time and everything was always a leap of faith. I have faced many challenges but they are all part of the learning curve. Today I am very grateful for all of them. However If I have to think of a constant challenge the only thing that sticks out is manufacturing. For some reason no matter how much I prepare and organize myself, something always seems to go wrong. I am in control of everything except production so that has been the most challenging. Late deliveries, quality issues, having to fix the straps of 100 dresses last minute at my studio. I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’ve learned so much from it that things are running smoother now, but I think production just comes with the stress built into it. There will always be something, so I am trying to just work really ahead of schedule to have enough time to correct mistakes, accept these mishaps and not take them so seriously. “I am not saving lives; it’s just clothes, it will be okay” is what I repeat myself when I am having a meltdown.

You were born in New York, and was raised in Bogota and Miami, and have now returned to the city. How have these distinct cultural climates shaped the person you are today?

That’s something I constantly think about. I love my Colombian background passionately. When I hear Colombian music, I feel so, so happy and recharged, and I crave Colombia all the time. The happiness and warmth that I feel when I am in Colombia is inexplicable and in some way I think I try to add that warmth in my lifestyle and aesthetic. As a person, I’ve grown to be more open-minded and empathetic to others, and I think that’s what has made me such a curious person, always wanting to test my limits. When it comes to my design aesthetic, New York has shaped my balance. When I put these two together, I’ve come to realize that my clothing is my language and my expression to keep both worlds alive in me. A bit sensual but balanced with subtleness because of where I live. Colombia is the spirit and New York is the character.

Where are some places you have been most inspired by?

I go to India a lot because my factories are there, and also because my husband's family is there. I’ve been very inspired by India – the colors, the philosophies, traditions, clothing. I love going to Rajasthan because the culture is so alive there, the architecture and the history piques my curiosity. Another place I felt profound in was Arizona. What a beautiful place. The contrast of colors in the desert landscapes, the art, jewelry. It totally took me by surprise. Istanbul is another great city full of energy. I loved the contrast of the modern social lifestyle, the Muslim traditions, and the culture and architecture of the city.

How do you disconnect and recharge throughout the day?

If I’m in the studio, I sit or lay down on the couch and eat a piece of chocolate and make myself a cup of tea. If I’m home, I love taking showers to think clearly and feel better about anything – I find so many answers in the shower! And when it’s summer I love going to Prospect Park and laying on the grass and looking at the sky. It reminds me of how lucky and blessed I am. Everytime I am surrounded by just green, a feeling of gratitude overcomes me. Nature has that power, seriously.

What are some intentions you have set for this year?

Find more time to leasure read. Reading is my escape and whenever I feel stuck, I resort to reading. It opens my views, my perspectives and feeds my curiosity. Lately, with so much going on there’s very little mental space for leisure reading because my mind is always thinking, imagining, problem solving. This year I am being very mindful to control my thoughts and I want to meditate more. I am also practicing to become a better listener. Listening is a skill.

What does home mean to you?

A place that when I think of brings me back to a sense of peace, calm, and warmth. A place that makes the end of day exciting because I am heading there afterwards to feel safe and meet my husband, cook dinner together or watch a movie or show together. Home is where my mind takes rest from the world.

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