By Hannah Yakobi
Photography courtesy of Ali McEwen
Ali McEwen (Baby On Board Apparel) may have only been on the fashion scene for two years, but she is a true example of a very successful fashion career that has taken her as far as Los Angeles. Her clothing targets “mommies and mommies-to-be,” with a focus on style and comfort. In this special feature, she tells us all about Barbie dolls, stitching and schmoozing with Hollywood celebrities.
What was your earliest fashion experience? I never watched TV as a child; instead, I was way more interested in dressing up my Barbie dolls. My Mom sews for pleasure, so she would make me Barbie outfits and I would mix and match their clothes, help pick fabric for their dresses and have Barbie fashion shows.
What do you like best about fashion? The fact that I can combine creativity with a business sense.
How and why did you become a fashion designer? I officially started when I found out that my sister was pregnant. Immediately, I wanted to get her a T-shirt to celebrate her pregnancy and I wanted a T-shirt that wasn’t tacky. But I couldn’t find anything. So I started to seriously think about it.
Around the same time, two things happened: I went to visit one of my best friends in New York and saw an ultrasound picture of my soon-to-be nephew. So there we were, shopping in Brooklyn, and we went into a store that sold T-shirts with screen prints of dead rockstars and dead movie stars. So I started thinking of screen prints and said to my friend, “Wouldn’t it be cool to put an ultrasound picture of a baby on a T-shirt?”
And that’s how it all started.
I did 50 shirts, and did about 25 surveys in self-addressed envelopes, asking people what kind of maternity product they would be interested in. This all happened during Christmas 2008.
By February 2009, I had a bunch of these surveys back and in April I officially launched my company. The ultrasound T-shirt is now one of my bestsellers.
How do you find out what’s hot in the market and what exactly the expectant mothers are looking for? I go to consumer shows. This year I did about five of them. People love to share their opinion – they often give me advice on what I should do, what they love and hate about maternity shows and what they’d like to see in maternity clothing.
I also pay attention to what the mainstream fashion is doing and I have a pretty decent list of friends who are expecting mothers, so that helps too.
Plus, I’m very engaged in social media and I ask people what they want to see all the time.
What is your fashion background? I studied merchandising and marketing at the International Academy of Design and Technology.
After that I worked for a promotional company, which focused a lot on design, cut-and-sew, fabrics and promotional campaigns. That was where I made a lot of contacts in the industry.
How are your designs created? I create the style, work with a pattern maker, source out cut-and-sew and outsource my own fabrics.
What is your biggest achievement to date? The growth I’ve gone through since I started my own business. If you look at my work back when I started – I wanted to have lots of colour in my designs. But then I realized that women who are pregnant generally don’t buy colour, instead, they prefer neutral tones. So now I focus on monochromatic colours: black, white and grey. Instead of colour, I offer comfort, seasonless fashion that works with any wardrobe, functionality and affordability. You only have a client for nine months, so you have to have very practical items.
Tell us about the most fun experience you’ve had so far. I was at the Emmy gifting suite, called the Boom Boom Room, in LA this summer. The event takes place the day before the Emmys, and celebrity Moms and expecting celebrity Moms are invited to the suite. I got to meet some very famous Moms and presented them with my product.
The Boom Boom Room has now invited me back for the Golden Globes in January. I am super excited to go!