—Arshia Simkin, The Underline
Shaerie Mead is a local sewist with over 30 years of experience and founder of IONA Clothing, an online shop that sells Mead’s designs and handmade goods, including hand died linen dresses, T-shirts, crop tops, sewing patterns, and more.
Mead’s love of sewing began early: she was around eight-years-old when she began making clothes for her dolls and pillowcases out of handkerchiefs; her fascination blossomed when she was twelve and started attending the Sterling Renaissance Festival with her family. “I started making very, very, terrible historical costumes,” Mead said.
In the mid-1990s, Mead was in Boston and making and selling corsets—initially for friends. But the corsets were a hit and “so I started my first business, Lovely Creature Corsetry, doing off the rack and custom corsets for people. I did the whole gamut of people—I did burlesque people, I was doing drag queens, I was doing weddings,” Mead said.
In the mid-2000s, in Los Angeles, Mead began teaching sewing and opened her own classroom, “which morphed into a giant fabric store and sewing classroom.” By 2012, Mead had a 2000-square-foot store and multiple teachers, but the pressures of running such an endeavor in Los Angeles while also parenting her child soon mounted and Mead was forced to close the store. In 2015, she got a job working for a mid-sized women’s clothing company where she ended up being the head of pattern making and production. “I got to see a side of apparel that I hadn’t seen before,” Mead said. “It was the best education I could have had for figuring out how clothes are made and how I could make my patterns better.”
Lately, Mead has been especially interested in a method of dying called “ice dying”: Mead explained that it is “a method of low immersion dying where you take the clothing and you put ice cubes on top and then you sprinkle dye powder on to the ice cubes so as the ice melts it kind of ends up looking like watercolors…The die kind of flows. It doesn’t look like tie died at all; it’s a lot more interesting looking—it looks like paintings of flowers, some people say it looks like fireworks to them or gemstones.”
Of her design philosophy, Mead said, she favors the minimal and Japanese-inspired aesthetic: “I’m designing every day apparel that can be worn comfortably and practically.” She wants to design clothes that feel like you don’t even notice you’re wearing clothes at all, she explained.
Before the onset of the pandemic, and after her divorce, Mead and her 10-year-old son moved to Orange County, where she had family. “It has been so much easier to start another business here. I feel like the support for the arts is astounding…because trying to start businesses in Los Angeles was like banging my head against the wall, especially as a single working mom…It was prohibitively expensive, youth-culture oriented.” By contrast, Mead appreciates how she has managed to slowly build a following and a presence in Orange County. She has a studio at the Eno Arts Mill and participates in their First Friday events and vends at the Eno River Farmer’s Market, the Durham Craft Market, the Hillsborough Art Walk, and will be participating in the Magick Makers Summer Solstice Market in Durham on June 29 and Enofest in July. “I couldn’t have done it without this community,” Mead concluded.