By Isa Giallorenzo
Anastasia Chatzka runs an all-local fashion line from her charming Ukrainian Village boutique, and now, she shares the secrets of her trade.
Could you tell me a bit about how you started sewing and all the renowned designers you have worked with?
I started sewing when I was eleven years old. I was obsessed with the Beatles, along with other rock stars from the sixties and I really wanted bell bottoms! It was the nineties and you could not buy them in clothing boutiques. My mom suggested that I make a pair. I was floored by the idea that you could make your own clothes. This was a foreign concept to me. My mom took me to the fabric store and showed me how to use her sewing machine…and I had bell bottoms. When I was a sophomore in college, I took a semester off and moved to New York City to work with Betsey Johnson, which was a great experience in the middle of college to see how a big fashion house runs. After I graduated college, I moved back to NYC again and worked in the sample department at Anna Sui. This provided a deeper understanding of the nonstop fashion industry that never sleeps. After my experience in NYC, I moved back to my hometown of Detroit, then back to Chicago and opened up my first boutique on Division Street seven years ago. [She has since relocated to Damen.]
You make all your garments locally, right? What is that process like? How do you keep prices affordable?
Yes, all of our garments are made locally in Chicago! Designing and manufacturing clothing is a lengthy process. It takes about a year to go from idea to market. It starts with fabric samples, garment samples, fittings, production samples and then we choose production fabrics and finally we get to produce our items. All of which we make in limited quantities. We keep prices affordable by cutting out the middleman. We don’t mark up our garments ten times the amount like some companies do. We keep it at fair prices. When you buy an Anastasia garment, you are paying for the labor and time that goes into making a small batch manufactured garment. At most, we make a few size runs of something.
Now let’s talk about your YouTube sewing channel—Sew Anastasia—and in-store sewing classes. I was just watching your circle skirt videos, I’m so impressed! Why did you decide to do that? Isn’t sharing the secrets of your trade a bit counterintuitive?
I decided to start making a sewing YouTube channel because I think it is important for people to see what goes into designing and making clothes. I think the craft/trade/skill is getting lost in the new generations. I want to keep this alive in our culture. I think fashion design is a great way to express oneself and it would make me happy if I can help a new generation do that. I figure if I don’t share some of the secrets to fashion design then they could be lost forever and only live at a mass production level. If everyone started sewing their own wardrobes then hopefully everyone would take my sewing classes!
I once started a sewing course where I had to buy many different kinds of metal rulers and I see you use only a simple one and a piece of thread to make a skirt. What are the very essential materials one should have to start sewing? You talked about “serging” the fabric before sewing. Can a regular machine do that? What cost-effective sewing machine do you recommend for beginners?
Oh, we have piles of fancy rulers in the studio. Depending on the project we’ll choose what tools to use. I think design is one of those things where there is no right or wrong way to do anything. [There is] only a preferred method that works best for the individual. The essential materials for sewing would be scissors, paper, pencils, a two-inch clear ruler, seam ripper, thread, sewing machine and a few hand-sewing needles—but we have a studio filled with hundreds of supplies, so it’s hard to say. A regular sewing machine cannot serge, but there are other ways to finish the edges of your garment if you don’t have access to a serger. If I had to recommend a home sewing machine it would be a Viking. They sew so smoothly. I would also suggest getting an older machine that has metal pieces versus plastic. It will sew nicer.
You own a boutique, design the garments, oversee the manufacturing, promote fashion shows and shopping events, update your online shop and blog, create brand ambassador and apprenticeship programs, now you teach the sewing classes too… How on earth do you find the time to do everything?
I am a busybody, so it’s nonstop all the time—which I love!
What future do you envision for your brand?
In the future I would like to have boutiques in the major U.S. cities, along with Tokyo and Sydney. I would also like to start up full-time sewing studios where people can come and take classes and learn how to design and sew clothes.
Journalist Isa Giallorenzo was born in São Paulo, Brazil and has elected Chicago as her beloved home since 2009. She runs the street-style blog Chicago Looks and wants to see this town become one of the fashion capitals of the world.