We had the good fortune of connecting with Ilea Alfaro-Matthews and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ilea, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I never actually intended to start my own business it kind of just presented itself. I was making dog clothes for my little chihuahua and I started posting them online to show how cute she looked. The function of these clothes were mainly to help keep her warm since she has little to no fur on her body. She was also in-between normal dog sizes so I could never find anything that fit her correctly. As I started to post pictures of her people started requesting custom orders and that is how the business began. I eventually had a surplus of dog clothes that I had made for fun so I decided to open a booth at Markets to see if the general public would be interested. Turns out they were very interested and it brought me a lot of joy to see dogs dressed up.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
At my core I am an actress. It’s my greatest love. But I have learned over the last 10 years that my career in acting is only one aspect of my expression through art. I am truly an artist of many forms and my art is always evolving. I can never do just one art form. All of my creative endeavors come out of not being able to do a lot of what I love which is Acting. It is a really hard business to get into and I have found that I have A LOT of time on my hands since the jobs are few and far between. The lack of success can wear on you and really take a toll on your overall confidence. Over the last decade since moving to Los Angeles I have found ways to channel my idle hands, and through the lows, I have found a new love for myself and love for so many other avenues I never knew I was capable of.
My third year in Los Angeles I started learning how to sew. I started sewing for my dog originally but found I it soothing and a great escape from the troubles of the world. The more I learned the more I explored with making different items. 8 years later it evolved into making bags and purses. Sewing held my attention for a long time, there is just so much to learn. When the pandemic hit, Hollywood shut down and dog clothes were no longer necessity items so I took what skills I had and learned how to sew face masks. The first mask I made was in March 2020. To date I have made over 4,300 masks, 250 of which I donated to medical workers when there was a PPE shortage. I never thought that knowing how to sew would help me stay afloat in a pandemic.
In 2015, I decided to take on a new challenge. I wanted to teach myself how to paint with watercolor. I have always admired people who knew how to draw and paint. It was a skill I have never really tried because I always found that I would judge my work too harshly and then quit shortly after. This time I made a vow to paint a picture everyday for 6 months without any judgement. It was tough at first, as I tend to want everything I create to be perfect the first time. But I had to surrender those feelings of wanting perfection and just paint. I not only learned how to use the medium but also learned that practice really does improve your skill level. And depending on how often you practice you can really advance quickly if you choose to put in the time and effort. It is also SO IMPORTANT as an artist to not judge yourself too harshly. We are always our worst critic and it can hinder more than help at times. Releasing the judgment really helped me grow.
The year of 2017 I learned how to make miniatures. I have always loved miniatures. It’s partly why I love making dog clothes and why I have a 5 lbs dog. I got lost in the world of YouTube and watched tutorial after tutorial. I made a piece of furniture everyday until I completely furnished an entire miniature house. Then I made the structure of the house. After I finished that one I went on to make a retro home from scratch. My journey has led me to making several tiny homes as well as a micro home (about the size of a quarter). This year I completed making iconic movie houses like; The Addams Family, Beetlejuice and IT. Although I never sold any of these pieces, I learned that this would become and is still one of my most favorite hobbies. It is amazing what you can create from stir sticks, cardboard, and a little paint.
This year I taught myself how to do Amigurumi. I have always loved the look of toys made with crochet. My interest to learn was sparked specifically when the Bernie Sanders crochet doll went viral with his adorable mittens. That is when I decided to learn how to crochet. I am about 3 months in and I have fallen in love with it. It has taught me that if you put your mind to it you can create it!
Overall, I recognize that most of the art I make is charming and people like to purchase them.
What started as a dog clothing business has now evolved into more of an arts and crafts business that is surprisingly successful. On any given day I am filling orders in all the arts that I have learned; from making dog tuxedos, to making face masks, to making crocheted succulents, to painting a picture.
I feel incredibly grateful and flattered that people love my work enough to want to buy it.
Now if I could only get my acting career to go the same way. LOL.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Our first stop would be to a drag brunch show in West Hollywood at Hamburger Mary’s. I would take them to some great hiking spots in Griffith Park and stop by to get taco’s from a Local food truck. I would take them downtown to the Grand Central Market to eat, then show them around Santee Alley. At sunset I would take them to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for a night of a movies and food trucks. Stroll over to Santa Monica for an art walk on the weekend and finish off at a beach somewhere in Malibu.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d have to say most of the creative credit goes to my Mother, Lorraine Matthews. She is the one that taught me everything I know about sewing and most crafts. She would make me clothes when I was a kid. She and I are very similar, she is an absolute jack of all trades when it comes to crafting. There isn’t anything she can’t do. For the past 15 years she has operated her own successful business. She has a Longarm and finishes quilts for people. My mom has inspired me to learn how to sew and how to run my own business.
I also have to give a huge shoutout to my wife, Briana Alfaro-Matthews, who has been so supportive of all the endeavors I take on. Before the shutdown I had a dog booth that I would do every Sunday at The Melrose Trading Post. She was always there by my side helping me out. When I was getting loads of Mask orders she was helping me in anyway that she could even though she was still working from home full time. I wouldn’t have been able to it without her.
Instagram: @muttsnboltscreations @iamminiatureart