Fabric Choice is Everything! a chat with LaTisha Porter

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LaTisha Porter

LaTisha Porter was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, where she currently resides. She is a mother of two amazing daughters, Maiya Nicole and Makenzie Elise.

LaTisha decided to make garments for women adding later both children and men to her line of custom sewing. The choosing of her company’s name, NicoleElise LLC, was developed by her desire to leave a legacy for her daughters using their middle names, Nicole and Elise. Her love for all things fashion has been since she can remember.

Lisa Woolfork

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English, specializing in African American literature and culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, Black identity, trauma theory and American slavery. She is the convener and founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she actively resisted the white supremacist marches in her community, Charlottesville Virginia. The city became a symbol of lethal resurging white supremacist violence. #Charlottesville. She remains active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the Community Engaged Scholars program. She believes in the power of creative liberation.

Insights from this episode:

  • LaTisha’s sewing story
  • LaTisha’s transition from a reluctant apprentice to where she is now
  • What sparked LaTisha’s interest in sewing
  • Philadelphia’s sewing scene
  • Latisha’s experience in a magazine
  • How she overcomes the challenge of fitting another person

Quotes from the show:

  • “The feeling that I got when I got into a fabric store was just overwhelming, so it just made me want to make things” –LaTisha Porter in “Stitch Please”
  • “The Philly sewing scene is unscripted if you will, it’s very organic. No one is scared to be themselves and present what they like for themselves. No one sews alike, but everyone is bold in what they do, that’s the major thing” –LaTisha Porter in “Stitch Please”
  • “I try not to conform to what everyone else does. If I like a pattern, and I wanna wear that pattern, and I’m gonna make that pattern about 50 thousand times. I’m not a one and done” –Latisha Porter in “Stitch Please”
  • “One of the things about making 50 dresses in the same style: the difference between you doing that and maybe some fast fashion house is that every single one of yours is different”  –Lisa Woolfork in “Stitch Please”
  • “A lot of times, people want something that they have seen me in. I mainly sew dresses and skirts for people” –Latisha Porter in “Stitch Please”
  • “There’s no better time than now. If there’s something you wanna do, just do it. We have to turn the volume down on life, and listen to ourselves, and hear our hearts, and follow our path” –Latisha Porter in “Stitch Please”

Stay Connected:

Lisa Woolfork

Instagram: Lisa Woolfork

Twitter: Lisa Woolfork

Latisha Porter

Instagram: LaTisha Porter

Website: https://www.nicoleelise.shop/

This episode was produced and managed by Podcast Laundry.

Read Full Transcript

Lisa Woolfork  0:10  

Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax and get ready to get your stitch together. 

Hello everybody and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. You are listening to the very first new way of recording the podcast. I am trying this new method to see how it goes. But there are great benefits for this method if you are a Patreon supporter, because I'll be able to share things like photos, and this person that we are talking to the day, y'all, you are gonna want to see the photos, because I am talking with Ms. Latisha Porter, also known as the Head Executive Goddess in Charge of Nicole Elise designs, LLC that houses Nicole Elise fabrics as well as the Nicole Elise custom sewing. Latisha Porter is setting Instagram on fire with her amazing reels that are funny and classic and beautiful. And they show such a beautiful sense of her style, which is so unique and just active is what I think I think. The colors are bold and active and fun and bright. And I am so glad to have you here with us today. Thank you so much for being here, Latisha.

LaTisha Porter  1:42  

Oh, hi, thank you, Lisa. You're about to make me cry. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me. It is a pleasure just talking to you.

Lisa Woolfork  1:52  

I'm so grateful. So we're gonna begin at the beginning. Latisha, can you tell us your sewing story? How did you get started? How did sewing come into your life?

LaTisha Porter  2:02  

I am a third generation seamstress. And my grandmother had six girls. My mother was one of six. She was the second oldest. My grandmother was a seamstress. She taught all of her girls how to sew. My mother and my oldest, they took it up professionally. Growing up I really didn't have an interest in sewing. My mom used to make me cut out the pieces. That's about all she let me do. I think I did something in Home Economics, probably like 7th or 8th grade. 

My grandmother passed away in 2012. Our lives changed because our matriarch was gone. Us being grandchildren. I don't feel like I was able to properly grieve, because I was holding up my mother and my aunt. Fast forward to 2015 I was missing my grandmom. And out of nowhere literally one day I just said, "I wanna sew." And I had mentioned it to my mother. And my mother was like, "Yeah, right. You run the streets too much. You always on the go," like, basically I'm not disciplined enough. It just was really strong. I wanted to connect with her. I put it out on Facebook that I wanted a sewing machine. A friend of mine got me a sewing machine from New Jersey, brand new in the box. And the rest is history.

Lisa Woolfork  3:13  

Wow. So your sewing story has two beginnings. One is in 2015 when you made this proclamation, "I want to sew," and then you had friends and folks in the community they were like, "okay, we can help with that. Here's that." But before 2015 and your decision to choose sewing, sewing had chose you way before you were even here. 

LaTisha Porter  3:39  

That's right. 

Lisa Woolfork  3:40  

You know, with your great grandma and grandma, and your mom and then you. It was here waiting for you. 

LaTisha Porter  3:47  

That's right. 

Lisa Woolfork  3:47  

And so when you finally started to pick it up, and that's really nothing, at least for me. I don't usually consider myself a really, really super bad patty. But all it takes is somebody tell me not to do something. 

LaTisha Porter  4:00  

Right 

Lisa Woolfork  4:00  

Or you can't do that. You can't focus. You too busy. You won't be, "Oh, Oh really? Can I not really? I can't have a podcast or say bye. Let's see about that shall we?" you know. And so like how did it turn out? Well, obviously it turned out great. Was your mother surprised that you were able to stick with it? Or was she just happy that you finally saw the light?

LaTisha Porter  4:25  

She was for a long time my mother would call me a grasshopper. She would say "oh, you're coming along grasshopper. You're coming along, grasshopper." And I think maybe like a year and a half to two years in she finally gave me my wings and called me a butterfly

Lisa Woolfork  4:40  

That's right. "You have learned."

LaTisha Porter  4:42  

Right I had learned, but here's another beginning before I even got into my fabric.  I had started buying fabric before I even started sewing. Like I made the proclamation in 2015, but I didn't start sewing until I think 2016. But I had a bunch of fabrics. My eye just was going crazy when I went into fabric stores. It was like I was in the candy store and I was just buying up fabric.

Lisa Woolfork  5:07  

But tell me when did the fabric buying happen? Is it prior to 2015? Or was it just in the interim between 2015 and 16?

LaTisha Porter  5:15  

In the interim, after I had declared that that's what I wanted to do. 

Lisa Woolfork  5:20  

No you're right. You need fabric to sew. Like what's the point in declaring it. It's not like you were buying fabric and telling everybody, "I hate sewing and let it go get these eight yards of fabric for no reason."

LaTisha Porter  5:30  

Exactly. And my mother was an amazing, she is an amazing seamstress. She only sews for herself at this point. She does alterations. But she had me in the fabric store when I was younger, so and the fabric store is where I still go, not so much (unclear) all the time, but for personal projects. It is the staple in the community and in our family. 

Lisa Woolfork  5:51  

Isn't that beautiful? This kind of generational thing? And also how fortunate that there's a brick and mortar store that's been around that long that you can go to. 50 years?

LaTisha Porter  6:01  

Yes. 

Lisa Woolfork  6:02  

Wow, that is incredible. And so you made a proclamation in 2015. You said, "I would like to sew." And you started collecting fabrics. And then a sewing machine came to you. And so I'm thinking right now, here we are in 2022 and this is I guess, you know, mathing, it's like seven years or so after you've made a declaration. And you have a fabric business and a custom sewing business all under the heading of Nicole Elise LLC. And that's the Instagram account, Nicole Elise, y'all, that is like hot fire. There's reels, there's stories, there's posts. It's all bangers all the time. Really wonderful. So how on earth does someone who just decides to say in 2015, "I want to sew," go from a reluctant apprentice who was as a child, you got to cut the patterns, which is not the funnest part of sewing because it's not really sewing They made you do the grunt work. I bet they let you pick up the pins off the floor too. I bet.  "Come over here and bring them young eyes over here." Before they had needle threading machines, they had children with small hands and we were the needle threader. So like how did to get from there to where you are now which is two sewing businesses.

LaTisha Porter  7:18  

I think it was just drive and passion. I found something that I was passionate about outside of what I do professionally. It seemed like I was over exerting myself ever because I love to do it. In the fabric store, it was just like me going literally in a candy shop. I'm not a candy person. I don't have any cavities. 

Lisa Woolfork  7:42  

All right!

LaTisha Porter  7:43  

But the feeling that I get when I go into the fabric store was just overwhelming. So it just made me want to make things. In addition to that on the flip side, I am a single mother of two. And so I was sewing my clothes so that I could spend less money on me, so I thought, and more on my daughters.

Lisa Woolfork  8:02  

Yes, yes. I love that sewing myth that you got going on there, like, "I will save..."  In 2015 you still had that 1973 attitude that saving money is something you can accomplish with sewing, and in fact "haha" right? So that didn't exactly turn out that same way. How did it turn out instead?

LaTisha Porter  8:23  

It did not. It ended with me with loads and loads and loads and loads and loads of fabric. But I'm okay I'm okay with it. Obviously. Cause I've turned it into a store. And what happened was people started asking me, I was more or less more active like on Facebook. In the McCall's pattern group, I was more active on there until I learned about IG and I had no idea about the sewing community on Instagram. Someone had inboxed me and asked me if I sold the fabric from the dresses that I wore, because they lived in rural areas and they didn't have stores or shops other than, let's say a Joanne's, where they could find other varieties of fabric. Really what kind of sparked or I would say, that was the catalyst to the business. I had the interest, but it was just the interest. But that propelled me.

Lisa Woolfork  9:16  

That's really wonderful. Because in some ways I feel like not only are you a role model, you are also a very powerful enabler because now I think that maybe I too, could have a fabric store in my studio. Sure I could except that I don't want to sell anybody my fabric, Latisha. I want to keep all the stuff that's here is for me, and I couldn't have a store because that would mean I would have to release some of this fabric that I have voluntarily.

LaTisha Porter  9:45  

Or you can do some work, do some homework, do some research, get yourself a good distributor. You have a great fan and base and following. I have no doubt that you could. I have no doubt that you could. 

Lisa Woolfork  9:57  

I really appreciate the faith you have in my ability's, and we are going to leave the conversation there. Because I am of the opinion that I cannot take on not another nam one thing. Not none. Not a thing. I'm just like, "there's a lot of great ideas in the world and I am glad that there are other people to do them, especially when they do them as good as you!" Here you are, you are about that Philly sewing life. And I want to hear about it. Not only you live in Philadelphia, so you obviously sew in Philadelphia. And Philadelphia has a lot of really great sewing stuff, actually with Michelle Morris, editor of Sewn Magazine, that's in Philadelphia. There is Sarah Bond, and she's a well known like world renowned quilter and she's in Philadelphia. And you run Philly Sewing Style. You've got to tell me about that. What is it about Philly that's unique for sewing? You know, all the regions have their own things. LA has its own sewing scene, the New York sewing scene, what is the Philly sewing scene like?

LaTisha Porter  11:02  

I think the Philly sewing scene is unscripted, if you will. It is very organic. No one's scared to be themselves and present what they like for themselves. No one soul's alike. But everyone is bold in what they do, and I think that's the major thing with us. Even down from Fabric Row down Fourth and South on Dale, Michael Daddy Dress me by (unclear).

Lisa Woolfork  11:28  

Yes, yes.

LaTisha Porter  11:29  

He and Ava own their style. And I think we just buy, make, and wear what we like. 

Lisa Woolfork  11:37  

Wonderful, wonderful.

LaTisha Porter  11:37  

I think that's the Philly thing.

Lisa Woolfork  11:39  

I love that.

LaTisha Porter  11:40  

Sometimes tooI think we go against the grain.

Lisa Woolfork  11:42  

Say more about that. What do you mean, "you go against the grain." Give me an example.

LaTisha Porter  11:46  

For me going against the grain, I try not to conform to what everyone else does. If I like a pattern, I'm going to make that pattern about 50,000 times. I'm not a one and done. I don't agree with that. I agree with make whatever you want however many times you want. I have a pattern right now, I have worn that pattern out. I've mean over 50 dresses for myself. I'm not ashamed of it. If you grew up in Philly. You have a no nonsense type attitude.

Lisa Woolfork  12:16  

All right now. All right now.

LaTisha Porter  12:18  

And not too much affects you like that. Because you got to (cut off).

Lisa Woolfork  12:22  

Because you got to be strong. That's right. I love that. Because one of the things about making 50 dresses in the same style, the difference between you doing that and ,you know, maybe some fast fashion house doing that, is that every single one of yours is different. 

LaTisha Porter  12:37  

Yes. 

Lisa Woolfork  12:38  

And every single one of yours, you could probably wear that same dress pattern every single day to work. And people would not realize that you were wearing the same pattern. Because that is what creativity is. That's what it means to put your own flavor on it. And that's what you do so often so beautifully. And you see it just like a radiant light when you see that on Instagram. You know, you got your strut. You know, she's looking, she's like, "I know you'all looking I know, I know." Now tell me a bit more about what was it like to be in Sewn Magazine. And I'm not sure if you spend a lot of time with the magazine editors, because I know you're all both in the same city. But what is that like? Have you been in the magazine more than one time?

LaTisha Porter  13:24  

No I've only been in there once. 

Lisa Woolfork  13:26  

But once is great. I was in there once, I was very proud of myself. I showed everybody.

LaTisha Porter  13:30  

Yeah, I did too. I couldn't believe it. Like when I received the email. Kind of like when I received your inbox. I was like, "I got like, seriously!?" It was (unclear) to me. And as I was filling out your questionnaire, I'm like "she doesn't even know that Black Women Stitchers, the Stitch podcast. This is major right here." So it was a learning experience. I had anyone like judge my garment before, so I initially started out with one dress and had to switch to another. I had to have a little bit of thick skin cause probably half of them back there, I was going to just throw in the towel, and a couple of soul sisters talked me off the ledge.   The day I did the photoshoot of the first dress that had the stitch. It was 94 degrees outside.

Lisa Woolfork  14:17  

Oh my gosh. 

LaTisha Porter  14:18  

So hot. Sweat was pouring off my (unclear), but then the second one, which was what I was want to do initially, it just all fell together so nicely in my studio. It was just really nice to see myself from the beginning to the end of the project and then to see it published. I was telling everybody, "I'm in a magazine!"

Lisa Woolfork  14:40  

Exactly because it is a process. You know, people don't realize all the energy that goes into a photo, especially one for a magazine that's going to be like in print and you can't delete it or change it. Once it's in print, it's done. You know and so there is a lot that goes into it. So I'm really glad to hear that. It's kind of like that Philly spirit shown through, and you were like, "I'm not giving up. I'm not giving up. And I'm not giving up on myself." And so at the end, you came through on the other side and ended up getting this. This is amazing. It felt good. This is really amazing. 

Hey, friends, hey, stop on by the Black Women Stitch Patreon page and help us gain 200 new subscribers by the end of 2020. The Black Women Stitch Patreon page has been recalibrated to reflect three levels of giving with excellent benefits in each tier. Beginning at $5 a month the Black Women Stitch Patreon includes benefits such as videos of the Stitch Please podcast, monthly stitch ups, direct video messaging, a quarterly gift and more. So check out the Black Women Stitch Patreon and help us get 200 new subscribers by the end of 2022. The link to the Black Women Stitch Patreon page is in the show notes. Help us help you get your stitch together. And thank you. 

I want to get back a little bit to the fabric business because I'm really interested in, it seems as though Nicole Elise LLC is a combination of two loves, two sides of your sewing life. It's the fabric side which some might say is the supply side, right? Because you really can't have sewing without fabric. But then there's also the custom sewing side, which is like the output, right? It seems like those things work really well together. When you think about these two halves of your business, how do the fabric business and the custom sewing feed into each other? Or do they? Or are they very, very firm and they don't cross paths? I would just imagine that when you're creating a custom look for someone. I just wonder if maybe, because you have connections to distributors, you can find a unique fabric that other folks wouldn't have for your custom work. I'm not sure how does that work?

LaTisha Porter  16:53  

I think it's both. Both things kind of happen. A lot of times people will want something that they've seen me in. I mainly sew dresses and skirts for people. I sewed pants for a little while but I'm not interested. Too many fit issues. Most of my fabric comes from my distributor. So then I already have it available. So they do intertwine a lot. If they don't or if my customers are looking for something specific, I do have the advantage that I can reach out to my distributor and say, "Hey, I need x, y and z." And then they get it for me.

Lisa Woolfork  17:26  

Oh, great. That's really wonderful. And so custom sewing, I think is such a challenging business. You know, I mean, when you said that you don't like to do pants because of all the fit issues. And there are you know, they change of the crotch depth and the waistband and the gapping and the booty blessings. Like there's a lot of steps but that's how I feel about custom sewing and alterations. That's just like this too much. No. But you do it, so tell me how do you get past I guess maybe for some of the anxiety or the challenge of fitting another body well, one that's not yours, making things for other people so that is to their custom taste. Tshat just feels so hard. How do you manage? 

LaTisha Porter  18:07  

Okay, so I think because in what, almost 7 years in, I've probably just this year come to the realization and knowledge like no, I'm only going to do certain things. I'm not going to let people rush me because I've been there early on. I had to learn some lessons. So the garments that I make for others, I can make them for myself with my eyes close, so that gives some confidence with making it for them and they're not always super complicated items, because my slogan is "Fabric choice is everything," but if your fabric is fabulous, no one will really look at all the detail unless it is just a very, very detailed garment.

Lisa Woolfork  18:49  

That is awesome. I really love that slogan, "fabric choice is everything." That's really powerful. I want you to talk about it. Do you have a good example of where a fabric choice made a difference in what you were making that, you know, maybe when you saw it at one point you had one opinion but then when you switch the fabric it gave you a different opinion?

LaTisha Porter  19:10  

Yeah, actually my birthday last year I made a jumpsuit. I think you had the picture, but there's that (unclear). I made a jumpsuit. It was a champagne color pants jumpsuit off the shoulder but then the skirt was made up this really pretty light brocade fabric. 

Lisa Woolfork  19:27  

Wow. 

LaTisha Porter  19:28  

The skirt part was going to be the same as the jumper and then that fabric, made it as the skirt. It just elevated the look, and I was super duper excited. I had so much fabric left .I still have a little bit of it left. I made a duster and I did like this, I call it the "Josephina Duster" because every panel was a different color or a different fabric.

Lisa Woolfork  19:50  

Oh my gosh. Oh man. That is amazing. That is amazing. Oh my. Wow. The picture, it's really very stunning because this recording, y'all is going to Patreon, we just shared this picture. Speaking of pictures, you've got to tell us about this. This y'all, we are looking at a picture of what can only be described as a fashion runway victory garment. This is made out of caution tape. Talk about fabric choices is everything, and even when you don't have fabric you can make some out of caution tape. Let us know how this beautiful idea come from.

LaTisha Porter  20:26  

So that idea came from, I believe it was 2020. January 2020 there was a sewing bowl. It was called the sewing bowl challenge. It was by Tabitha Sewer and Lynne. Well her last name is escaping me at this time. But (unclear) you had to sew a garment out of non traditional items so no, it couldn't be any clothing fabric or anything. And I probably died almost two times making this dress. The top part is the air filter and I spray painted the air filter.

Lisa Woolfork  21:02  

Oh my gosh.

LaTisha Porter  21:03  

I was Googling ideas and I might have been on Pinterest and I saw dresses made out of newspaper and I said, "okay I want to ruffle dress." One of my girfriends said,  "Latisha, why don't you try caution tape?" and I'm like, "Caution tape?" and I'd say, "you know what I'm gonna use it." It is yellow and black. I went with it. You know I wanted ruffle. I bought some muslin, not a muslin person. I typically don't make muslins before I make garments. I probably should sometimes learn that lesson. I still never go back and do it.

Lisa Woolfork  21:33  

I'm like "This one's gonna be fine without a muslin. This is gonna be the time it will work just fine."

LaTisha Porter  21:37  

Right. Exactly.  I just started taping in sewing, cutting and sewing. It was a great experience. 

Lisa Woolfork  21:45  

It looks like a great experience. It's really absolutely wonderful. It's such a beautiful and stunning piece. And it's so unusual. It really is. It's just so powerful. And I wanted you to talk a little bit about the way that you are taking over Instagram for the 99 and the 2000s. With all these amazing reels, and your 40,000 Instagram followers or something like that, give or take a few 1000.  Honestly, this is really wonderful. Talk about this kind of boom in creativity in a whole nother venue. 

LaTisha Porter  22:18  

So I think what happened was, anybody that knows me, my family and friends know I love to dance. I grew up in a church, but I love to dance. And this one video, I was follow Bishop Oldes and his wife and they did a video to a song, a reels, and I did a side by side reel, throwing off this puffy sleeve top that I made. I had already worn it but I literally was home, I think we were on a break, like 20 minutes. I threw some tights on and through this shirt on and learned to dance and I posted it. And that night, my following went from like 3000, I think to like 7000. But then it kept growing. And then a couple weeks later, and I really wasn't, I was just dancing. And these videos, I was learning the dances.  And a couple weeks later, there was a reggae song going on (unclear) and it took me back to my college days at Delaware State University, and I started doing the dance. I posted the video, and that's what really went crazy. I was like, "Oh my gosh, why are all these people following me?" And then I kept doing some dancing like when I felt like doing it. But that's literally how we grew. That's how we grow.

Lisa Woolfork  23:28  

That is wonderful. And what has been some of the most surprising thing about now having such a large following? Has there been a change that you noticed between when you had 3000 followers?

LaTisha Porter  23:40  

I think the change is that I don't get to see the people that I know as much.  Like I have to literally like go to their page. Obviously there are some that still come up in my newsfeed, but we kind of grow apart as far as them come on mine screen like they normally did. Other than that, not too much. Of course the opinions of others or people, I feel like people asking sometimes inappropriate questions.

Lisa Woolfork  24:03  

Oh yeah. Yeah.

LaTisha Porter  24:05  

But I take everything with a grain of salt anyway and there is the ignore and black button. 

Lisa Woolfork  24:10  

There is always the ignore and block button. And on that note, we are going to ask you the question that we ask all our guests when we get ready to wrap up an episode. I will ask you Ms. Leticia Porter. The slogan of the Stitch Please podcast is that "We will help you get your stitch together." What is your offering to us today? What is your advice, based on your experience and your enormous success, that you'd help us get our stitch together?

LaTisha Porter  24:36  

I think that my advice would be there's no better time than now. If there's something you want to do, just do it. We have to turn the volume down on life and listen to ourselves and hear our hearts and follow our path. Once you start doing that. It just changes your whole perspective. Don't let anybody tell you what you can't do, what you won't do or give a prescription of when you should do it. Go and do what's in your heart. You'll feel so much better.

Lisa Woolfork  25:04  

And on that note, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation. This has been wonderful. Thank you.

LaTisha Porter  25:12  

You're welcome. And thank you so much, Lisa. I really appreciate you. It's been a pleasure.

Lisa Woolfork  25:20  

You've been listening to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you joining us this week and every week for stories that center Black women girls and femmes in sewing. We invite you to join the Black Women Stitch Patreon community. With giving levels beginning at $5 a month your contributions help us bring the Stitch Please podcast to you every week. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your support, and come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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