Accompanied by her Great Dane Fanya, Yevgeniya Alexandrovna Yushkova arrives for this interview in distressed jeans, a breezy vintage blouse, and a long, gray sleeveless cardigan with black trim.
When the interview ends, Yushkova’s cardigan takes on numerous permutations—halter, shawl, poncho, scarf, even variations of a stylish top that includes one “designed for those fat days,” she demonstrates with a grin.
Yushkova is a designer who is after our own heart. As the purveyor of convertible fashion identified by her initials, Yushkova intended YAY Clothing for today’s woman, “who travels a lot, does a lot, and is more powerful,” she says.
Inspired five years ago, in part by a client who complained about having to pack too many clothes for a trip, and the designer’s own car, a Mini Cooper that transformed from sporty convertible to conventional auto with the push of a button, YAY Clothing “allows our consumers to save much-needed time and money in this fast-paced universe,” explains Yushkova.
“A single outfit will take her from the workplace to a dinner with friends, followed by an eventful and fun night. She can accomplish all three looks with YAY without going home to change. A YAY woman loves to be in control of her look and destiny,” says the designer.
Unlike other convertible clothing that is essentially a piece of fabric worn several different ways with a few clever twists, YAY Clothing begins with a finished, wearable garment. A cardigan is a cardigan that can be converted into several articles of clothing; same with a skirt. To achieve this, the designer draws a lot on her background in math.
Every piece fits
“When you make a pattern, you have to make sure that every piece fits,” she says. “If you detach a piece, you have to make sure that piece is functional, that you can wear it on its own. We’re one-size-fits-all, so the garment has to work for every body type.”
Even with these options, Yushkova still considers the scores of women who hesitate to experiment with fashion. “At the end of the day, you don’t even have to convert it if you don’t want to,” she says. “You’re more than welcome to wear it the way you bought it.”
Made of georgette, boiled wool and rayon hatchie imported from the US, Canada and Japan, and constructed with rust-free snaps, each YAY Clothing comes with a hangtag that includes written and illustrated instructions on how to convert the piece.
In case you misplace that, there are videos on her website (www.yaydesigns.com) and YouTube to guide you.
Yushkova offers at least 12 ways to wear YAY Clothing, but the designer is just as thrilled whenever customers e-mail her with other ideas on how to interpret her convertibles.
“The feedback I get from our clients is that YAY Clothing makes them discover a stylist within themselves,” she enthuses. “They become more confident and less afraid to step out of their comfort zone to try new styles and clothes. That is the best reward I could ever ask for!”
Born in Russia, Yushkova had set her sights on fashion design since she was four years old. She certainly showed potential: Her first “convertible” clothing, she recalls, was a dress made out of her mom’s old wool skirt.
Juggling academics with subjects that supported her dream, she earned associate degrees in art and design and then pattern-making and sewing by the time she was 15.
She would continue to pursue her passion for fashion in America, where she migrated with her family in March 1999. After high school, she left Salt Lake City, Utah, for Los Angeles; there, she picked up another associate degree, this time in fashion design, from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Long Beach University.
All these while working as an associate designer and later head designer for LA-based labels known for their mass-produced, ready-to-wear casuals.
Striking out on her own was only natural for the talented designer, who began her business by accepting custom orders. “I didn’t want another T-shirt or dress brand,” she says. “I wanted to keep it intimate and create something that others weren’t doing.” Then a client made that innocent little comment about lugging along too many clothes for a vacation, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Still, like its apparel, YAY Clothing continues to surprise with new and exciting possibilities. In May 2013, when Yushkova and her husband moved to the Philippines so he could manage his analytical center, she found opportunities for her own venture to expand.
In the recent Philippine Fashion Week, she showcased her collection of convertibles as well as an array of jackets, skirts, pants and other chic separates that could be worn in other ways. She also launched her Travel Essentials—lightweight, handwoven totes and hats that utilize the materials and skills of local weavers and dyers. And after being available online, YAY Clothing will soon be found at Rustan’s Makati.
Drawn to Filipinos’ friendly nature, Yushkova also likes “to be a part of something that’s still growing,” she says of the country. “It’s exciting to me and I like to be able to contribute to that.”
Besides setting up the Philippine office of her US-based design company, she’s also working with the Garment Business Association of the Philippines, and is eager to collaborate creatively with Pinoy craftsmen. Yushkova swoons as she tells the story of a group of dyers who call on spirits as they mix colors.
“How amazing is it to bring that into our clothing and share it with the world?” she enthuses. “This is something we take for granted when we buy our clothes today; we forget how many people worked to put that garment together. That’s why it’s important to have quality, timeless clothing. It preserves the resources and skills that went into the piece.”
Since calling the Philippines home, this daring designer has proven to be as adventurous with what she eats. “My favorite food is chicharon bulaklak and sinigang sa guava,” she announces with a laugh. “And I recently tried ant eggs from Ilocos. They’re delicious!”
She also spends a lot of time outdoors—hiking, camping and seeking inspiration “from the greatest artist and designer in the world,” declares Yushkova, whose convertibles are named after flowers and other elements of nature.
Indeed, with such a muse, she’s only skimmed the surface of her specialty. In time, Yushkova would like to introduce a printed line to complement her solid-colored collection, and is looking into fabrics suitable for Philippine weather. She’s even toying with the idea of applying the convertible concept to footwear. Flats that transform into heels—why not? “There are many ways to convert clothing,” she says, brimming with excitement. “This is only the beginning.”