Summer will, undoubtedly, look a little different this year. One thing that doesn't have to change: the breezy, joyful wardrobe that usually ushers the season in.
Fanm Mon — a luxury ready-to-wear brand by Haiti-born, Turkey-based designer Sophia Demirtas — is built on that type of dressing. For the past few years, it has been putting out colorful, embroidered pieces, handcrafted in Ukraine, that make you want to twirl around. And in recent weeks, it has been getting a lot more attention on social media. (You may have seen Demirtas on Tina Craig's Instagram.)
Though fashion has always had a presence in Demirtas's life — she describes being surrounded by women who would make their own clothes from a young age and being told she should model as a teenager — her pre-Fanm Mon career was in social work. She started the brand when she moved to Turkey from New York City at the end of 2013, with her husband and two children.
Though it's now known for its dreamy, colorful dresses and separates, Fanm Mon actually began as a jewelry brand. "I think as a creative, it's really difficult to structure a direction of creativity. I felt I needed to just allow myself to explore whatever it is that I felt that I needed to create," she says, on a Zoom call. "When I started with the jewelry, it was because I felt like there was not something that spoke my language. That connected so purely and organically with other people who also felt, 'Oh, it says something that I'm not seeing anywhere else.' The jewelry started doing really, really, really well."
Clothing came into the picture around the end of 2015, beginning of 2016 — "roughly two years into the jewelry-making," Demirtas estimates. The pivot was born from a few personal, practical reasons. First off, she needed something to wear with her jewelry. "Because they were very bespoke and [had an] energy and a spirit of their own, I needed something more eccentric to compliment it," she explains. Then, there was the fact that she was a one-woman operation, making all the pieces by hand; with clothing, she would be able to employ an atelier to assist with product.
"With cutting the first piece of fabric, other creative visions started to present themselves," she says. "Luckily for me, embroidery started to become something that globally everyone wanted. I just felt like, well, if I'm going to create embroidery, I really want to bring it and design [in a] way that's more familiar to me, as far as my culture is concerned, as far as the women that I grew up watching dress are concerned."
The embroidered pieces Demirtas would see trending elsewhere reminded her of what she grew up seeing her grandmother, aunts and neighbors wear in Haiti. With the help of her husband, she found an atelier in Ukraine, a country that has a rich tradition of embroidery, to make the first Fanm Mon dress — a black linen style with orange and blue embroidery.
"I put it on Instagram and everybody was like, 'Oh, I want to buy this.' Within a week, I think we sold nearly 50 pieces," she remembers. "My husband said, 'Well, I guess this is not something you're just making for yourself anymore — you need to go into this.'"
That first design set an aesthetic tone for what Fanm Mon apparel would be, especially when it came to bold, contrasting color combinations. "Sometimes, you just need the clothes to be the statement piece," she explains. "That's what attracted so many people to [that dress]. Even though I made it for myself, I ended up not keeping because it sold."
Since the beginning, Demirtas has maintained an open line of communication with the Fanm Mon customer, be it through her posts on the brand's social media or by modeling the pieces herself. And the customer has been core to Fanm Mon: It's not uncommon for a single shopper to buy "a dozen pieces at a time," Demirtas says, "because it spoke to them so purely." At times, it has felt like the brand "was everyone's little secret — and that was okay for me, because it didn't put a bright light on us. It made us feel very in-demand to the people who saw us, understood the language and appreciated it. But now, it's like out of nowhere, everyone's noticed it. The love has been pouring in, and we're very pleased with it."
Fanm Mon's fan base has also come through to help the founder and designer through some of the challenges she's faced as a business owner, like almost losing her domain a few years ago and losing stockists. Demitras describes the former, as well as a trip to Paris Fashion Week last fall, as moments that have re-centered the brand, in terms of what it is, what it shares with the world and what it represents.
"I don't want to create this illusion of a brand to get on a woman's body and leave the middle blank," she says. "I want to focus more on relating to the people that are buying directly from me." That means posting about what she's growing in her garden, what she's seeing on her farm, what she's cooking, what conversations she's having with her son about race, and so on — without filter.
"If I'm going to continue to create, it has to be to speak truth," Demirtas explains. "And speaking truth doesn't mean that I want to create something and tell the woman, 'Here, buy this because it's this quality, it's beautiful.' What else can I offer, beyond the clothes? What else can I intrigue you with? How else can I encourage you?"
Fanm Mon's latest collection, for Spring 2020, was all about finding balance — between running a business, being a mom, spending time in nature, keeping up with everything that's happening in the world. "I wanted to have something that was settled, but still very beautiful," Demirtas explains. The best-sellers right now: the Demre, a ruffle-strapped maxi with red roses across the bust (pictured below); the Alanya, an off-the-shoulder, calf-skimming style with a delicate floral detail running along the hem (above); and the Aktur, a V-neck, short-sleeved, babydoll-style dress.
Demirtas describes Fanm Mon's aesthetic as "very elegant, feminine, sensual but not necessarily sexy. It's to build confidence, to know that you have on a beautiful dress and it's enough. You don't necessarily need to turn into somebody that you're not, because especially for me, I think the energy and wish that I create my clothes with is carried out to the woman that gets to wear it... It's something to make them want to swing around and be seen."