If you ask Sara Jaramillo how she ended up working for Yeezy, she’ll call it “something that you ask of the universe.” Though she works primarily as a designer, there is an air of poetry to the way Jaramillo speaks about her journey into the fashion world, working for none other than Kanye West for three years, and eventually deciding to strike out on her own as a freelance designer with multiple irons in the fire.
And as much as working with Yeezy helped her learn the basics and build a solid reputation, it’s Sara’s most recent collaboration with Alice Wang on the footwear and creative studio brand ILYSM, launched late last year, that’s beginning to turn heads. Aside from ILYSM, Jaramillo does work designing shoes for other brands — including And Them and Aquazzura — and she also recently launched a creative studio of her own, Le Due, which self-describes as an “art factory” and lives by the tagline: “we are humans thinking on art and bodies wearing sneakers.” See? The poetry is always there.
Born and raised in Colombia, Sara spent most of her early life devoted to tennis, but something in the back of her mind was always nudging her toward the arts. Jaramillo’s mother was an artist, and Sara remembers growing up “surrounded by artists and paints and oils and canvas” — an environment that impacted her just as much as her athletic background. When it came time to choose a career of her own, she wanted to pursue something that reflected a mix of athleticism and art.
Fashion design seemed to fit the bill, particularly as sneaker culture was on the rise. Jaramillo ended up pursuing a degree where she could combine the elegance of the fashion world with sportier shapes and styles. Coming up as a competitive tennis player, Jaramillo was constantly wearing sneakers herself and had firsthand experience of what worked and what looked good. But after graduating from a Colombian University with a Bachelor’s degree in fashion apparel and design in 2011, it became clear that designing sneakers required more specialized training.
“I started in fashion design, and I didn’t know I wanted to focus on sneakers at the time,” she explained during our phone interview a few weeks back. “But I loved the sportswear world, so I started to do more sportswear in my career, and I quickly realized that to work in the footwear world and the shoe world, I needed more specific knowledge.”
Jaramillo set out to attain that knowledge by pursuing a Masters degree in Milan, studying at the Domus Academy from 2013 to 2014 and through her degree, landing an internship at Proenza Schouler in New York. Immersing herself in the sneaker world there included another educational stint, this time at the Pensole Footwear Design Academy, a four-week intensive design class and competition. Armed with this additional knowledge, her internship at Proenza eventually turned into a full-time gig, but when her boss, Lucette Holland, invited Sara to make the transition over to Yeezy, it was a no-brainer.
“My boss there asked me to go with her to build the sneaker department at Yeezy,” Jaramillo remembered. “So I was like, ok this is the perfect mix that I was looking for — it’s still sneakers, it’s still this sporty thing, but actually he [Kanye] wants to make art and he wants to make fashion, so that was the most perfect mix I could’ve asked for. I want to keep being in that spot, between the sneaker world and the fashion world, and I want to keep mixing those.”
Her latest project is doing just that: ILYSM officially launched their first silhouette in December 2010, and the “Alice Wang” — named for the founder in the company — is a take on the split toe Tabi sneaker originally popularized in the ‘90s by Margiela’s interpretation, which was itself borrowed from the Japanese tabi sock, and re-popularized in more recent years. (Cardi B’s infamous shoutout to “those Balenciagas / The ones that look like socks” didn’t land without impact, either.) Though ILYSM is more than just shoes, self-styled as a creative studio intent on helping other artists create meaningful products, their first offering is both a nod to the past and surprisingly futuristic, leaning into the knitwear styles that Yeezy initially favored.
Their unisex Tabi sneakers are 3D knit using a blend of regenerated materials that come from both sustainable and traceable sources, and the upper is created with packaging and sewing practices that produce 30 percent less waste. With all of those eco-friendly and sustainable techniques, you’d think the Tabi sneaker would run pretty high, but it’s the opposite — these shoes are available for $99 a pair, across the board.
“We wanted to do the affordable price, because Alice said from the start she wanted even a teenager to be able to afford the shoes by working at their own job,” Jaramillo explained. “With our production partnerships, we can afford to lower the price and still have really good quality. We still have the luxury touches, but the way we’re doing things, we can make the price not crazy. We want to make shoes for everyone — we want a teenager to be able to buy it.”
With their first product officially out on the market, Wang and Jaramillo already have an eye to the future of ILYSM, particularly the creative studio aspect. Their goal, according to Jaramillo, is to work with “creative geniuses,” from music to film to art, when it comes to collaborations. “The goal of ILYSM is to be able to help give a voice to a lot of different artists and support them in creating amazing products that people feel connected to,” she said. “We want to keep making our products, and we want to keep making partnerships that make sense and that give artists an extra element to support their art.”
During the massive economic crisis spurred by the spread of COVID-19 and the Coronavirus pandemic, ILYSM has also launched a program that offers grants to artists. According to the brand’s site, they are giving weekly $500 grants to artists “with financial need whose main source of income has been affected by COVID-19 shutdowns.” The company committed to We offering the grants through the week of 5/14, “and for as long as we are able to after that.” It’s refreshing to see a company that portrays itself as a creative studio geared toward artists actually put their money where their mouth is, and hopefully more companies will follow suit in the future.
In a time of such uncertainty and grief, there is something comforting about a company named ILYSM who have sustainability and affordability already built into their model. The name, and the theory of care behind it, is part of why Sara is proud to be involved. “One thing I love about ILYSM, is that we have a sense of worth and hope in the name, in the brand, in the entire concept,” Jaramillo said. “Actually, that was our main concept for the name. We just want people to wear the shoes and feel the love, that they feel loved.”
This profile first appeared in shortened form via LA streetwear company The Hundreds’ blog for our Hint of Cinnamon monthly collaboration.