Meet Sisu Susie, A Brand Favourite Of Maximalists:
Previously, we’ve talked about the potentiality clothing has on our emotional state– the power of dopamine dressing in particular. Whether on Instagram, TikTok, or little blogs like this, you will notice some accessories the community LOVES while exploring the maximalist style corners of the interwebs. From funky tights to headbands that reach the heavens, adherents of maximalism use bold accessories in colors and clashing prints to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Introducing the creator of some of the best independent designs in the dopamine dressing world: Carla Nivala of Sisu Susie! I have had the distinct pleasure of forming a friendship beyond our IG feeds with Carla as we collaborated together on a custom detachable collar! (More on that below.) I just fell in love with her authenticity, our similar mental health battles, and her openness. Carla kindly agreed to be interviewed to share her history, process, and some fun facts about herself (and her adorbs pets) with YOU.
Heads up while reading:
- My added notes are in italics.
- Though the interview has been edited for clarity and continuity, the voice is all Carla!
1: Starting with the Basics: Who is Carla?
“My name is Carla Nivala. I’m located in the small town of Keremeos, British Columbia, Canada, and my label is Sisu Susie. Kait asked if I would be comfortable sharing my age. I’ve never had any problems saying my age, but since I’ve been noticing crow’s feet, and until I can afford regular Botox, I think I’m where I’m going to stop sharing it.”
I totally get the age thing, but babes, you are BEAUTIFUL. Plus, your unique style takes the focus from any wrinkles you may or may not have and may or may not be comfortable with! One of the things Carla and I bonded over talking about was our experiences living in small towns- especially when paired with dressing unconventionally.
2: Her Design Journey And The Start Of Sisu Susie.
“If memory serves me correctly, I think my mother initially taught me to start sewing as a child. Then, I continued by taking it as part of Home Economics in Junior High and again in High School. Next, I would make various things for myself, like Halloween costumes or bell bottoms.
I was 24 or 25 when I finally decided to go to school for Fashion Design. There were pretty much three options for me to apply for school, and I chose to apply for the quickest one. A two-year fashion design certificate program crammed into one year. I wore my hand-embroidered Gucci-inspired black pleather bell bottoms for my entrance interview. More than half my class dropped out. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice because when I finished, I didn’t know what to do with it, claiming they didn’t teach enough about the business side of things, and I wasn’t about to go back to school to take a fashion business class.
My first foray into making:
We were going to a lot of car shows and hanging with a rockabilly crowd. My boyfriend said, “Hey, you could make your own headscarves.” I started my Instagram page @scarves_from_mars. A few people had asked me, “Have you ever thought about using old bedsheets to make them?” Hmmm, that’s a thought, but I never saw any that I thought would work at the thrift store. During the pandemic, my boyfriend suggested making masks to sell, so I used my already purchased 100% cotton quilting fabrics.
Instagram inspired me to create new things. I saw bedsheets being used for sustainable fashion and a lot of upcycling and reworking, which I absolutely loved. I built up my collection of sheets for quite a while before I forced myself just to get started. Now, I know that this is what I’m meant to do.”
3: What is the core philosophy of Sisu Susie, and how does it influence your designs?
“I’m not sure I know what my “Brand Philosophy” is yet. I’m just really enjoying reworking fabrics and evolving. I have so many thoughts swirling around in my mind that I just have to keep plucking those ideas out and continuing to create.
Why did I choose the name Sisu Susie?
Sisu is a Finnish word that encapsulates a trait that all Finnish people have.
There is no exact translation, but Google says: “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity”.
Susie is short for my middle name, Susanna.
I like how it sounds and reminds me of Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
In five years, I hope to be finally doing this full-time, having my skills better honed, and being able to work more efficiently. I spend quite a bit of time on things, trying to make them as perfect as I can. All of this will come with being able to focus 100% on my creations.
In this age of social media, being present online is a big thing. It’s something I need to work on myself. A lot will come with the interactions that you make with similar-minded people. Follow those people that you admire and help promote others, and they’ll help promote you. Your work will shine through!”
4: Tell us more about your designs and process!
“I’m still working on my signature style. I’ve got dresses that are inspired by babydoll dresses of the nineties. I’ve been working on weird girl T-shirt maxi dresses with mixed prints. The uglier combinations, the better, I think, but I do find that I tone back what I would pair together based on what I think more people might be more into. My signature collar has what I call a Lightning Bolt edge. A detachable collar isn’t even what I set out to do at first, but I was able to design one that sets mine apart from other makers. One of my favourite pieces is my 70s black light-inspired sequinned collar. It’s very Elton John with hand-sewn orange “shag carpet” trim at the back.
I use vintage bedsheets that I source by going to local thrifts and scouring Etsy to find bedsheets that I love or think other people would love. Primarily, I like using sheets from the early 2000’s or earlier. However, I have worked with new materials in the past, but I’m happier using something that has already existed and giving it new life by repurposing it. My contrast fabrics are also bedsheets from the same time period, as they just feel so much nicer. I also try to place the pieces in a way that covers less surface area of the fabric. The smaller leftover pieces are saved and sent to a friend who does quilting and uses pieces for stuffing in things that she creates.”
My experience with Sisu Susie:
When I discovered Sisu Susie (through the maximalist goddess @saracampsarcone!), I was immediately drawn to the brand not only for its unique pieces but Carla herself! Carla may start by saying she doesn’t have a brand philosophy. However, I think she goes on to explain it perfectly. She is thoughtful and intentional in all she creates, but also in her relationship with her customers and followers.
One day, Carla shared a piece on her feed made out of a Star Wars sheet- which I fell in love with. I DM’d her and said if she ever did another Star Wars piece, I was her purchaser. Little did I expect that one message would lead to not only one of the best pieces in my closet but also a new friend!
She responded promptly, saying she did have more Star Wars fabric available if I wanted a custom collar! Carla went out of her way to provide lace and ribbon options to make the detachable collar uniquely me. Even better, she made it reversible with a different sheet on the backside- double Star Wars!
5: Who inspires you?
“There are many designers that I admire who have been creating sustainable and upcycled fashion. A few are @TaylorDorry, @MakMakhandmade, @madgroovy_, @shopfranklinjay, @lillzkills; I actually own pieces from all of these makers. @dianarikasari is another designer from whom I hope to own a piece.
I remember first being aware of reworking existing pieces from @imitationofchristofficial when they began in 2000. I’ve also been extremely inspired by @discountuniverse, which is what led me to the pieces that have elements of hand sequining. It’s something I really love to do, but takes quite a bit of time.”
If you aren’t following the designers Carla mentioned, I highly recommend it! Inspiration GALORE.
6: The Challenges and Triumphs of Sisu Susie
“Getting started; just building that follower base and having that first sale. I interacted with a lot of Instagram pages of designers and current maximalist icons.
I reached out to Sara Camposarcone (@saracampsarcone), Kristen Bateman (@kristenvbateman), and Anna Golka (@annagolkaypez), offering pieces to them. Having these incredible people share photos and or reels with my pieces really helped a lot.
My first sale was to Elise (@elijx). I was absolutely blown away when she wore her collar to attend the Miu Miu fashion show in Paris. Within 1 month of launching my first pieces for sale, my design was being photographed. It was even in a photo featuring the best Street Style at Paris Fashion Week in The New York Times “The Cut” online fashion magazine. Kristen Bateman was also featured in this article. She wore the collar I gifted to her during a later during Paris Fashion Week!
The icing on the cake was also having Sara Camposarcone wearing her Barbie Collar in numerous fashion shoots, including Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper. I owe a lot to these Icons!”
“I love her work because it’s super unique and nostalgic. I have a SpongeBob collar from her, and it’s one of my favorite collars in my closet—the colors, textures, prints—everything together makes me so happy!” – Kristen
“I love their work because, for me, it evokes a sense of nostalgia, like I’m transported back to when I was 10 years ago. I own a few pieces by Sisu Susie, and every time I wear them, I feel like a princess, like the princess I wanted to be at 10 years old. It makes me happy and brings me back to a time when I didn’t have a care in the world.” – Sara
“I love Sisu Susie because it’s colourful and playful! It’s a dream to wear pieces made by Carla, she is such an angel.” -Élise
“I love Sisu Susie’s designs. The cartoon prints are so nostalgic for me. I love how she mixes prints and plays with vintage fabrics. Her one-of-a-kind pieces are some of my favorites in my closet and are statement-makers!” – Anna
7: Random Facts With Carla.
Favourite food: “Lobster and some really good Szechuan; the spicier, the better. Not together, of course!”
Favourite movie: “Valley of the Dolls.”
Favourite Celebs: “Tori Amos, Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne.”
My pets: “A feral black and white cat named Wendy (Named after Wendy from The Shining). She was living under the floorboards of the local tavern where I worked when I first moved to this little town. I also have two Chihuahua crosses named Hector (named after Hector Salamanca from Breaking Bad) and Tammy Fay (named after both Tammy Fay Bakker and Tammy Wynette). She’s the baby; she’ll be 1 year old on Christmas Eve.”
Where to buy Sisu Susie?
First, I want to give my sincerest thanks to Carla for taking the time to talk to me about her magical brand and what it takes to make her creations come to life!
Next, I want to extend my thanks and hugs to Sara and Anna for providing their words of love for Carla!
Lastly, please know this interview and my purchase are unpaid and NOT an ad! I genuinely love this designer, brand, and my purchases.
Now for the big question: do you own a piece of Sisu Susie? Or are you planning to add one to your wardrobe? Let us know in the comments below!