Alaina otherwise known as “Lai” is a thrifting and upcycling maverick. She creates one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that reflect her own bold and colorful style. I personally have a special admiration for those who are makers and create something with their hands. It reflects a kind of creative intelligence that is hard to come by. I wanted to interview her to find out more about the inspiration behind her creativity and why it is important to pursue your passions in life.
You have such great style, where does your unique style come from? How does someone come to develop their own unique personal style?
Thank you. My style is personal. Ever since I was a little girl, I loved playing dress up. I always wanted to wear what made me feel happy. My love for fashion was nurtured since that time. My mother allowed me to express my creativity. I would paint on my clothes, reconstruct them into new pieces, and change my hairstyles to compliment my “outfits”. I have an affinity for color, and I express it through my style. In high school I was voted “most colorful” and “most creative”. Those “labels” are actually ones I wear with honor because when it comes to fashion, I am a firm believer that labels don’t constitute style. However, style is who you are. It is what is innately within you and expressed outwardly. What I love about style is that it’s personal. Even if you are influenced by someone or something, ultimately your style will be unique to you because there is only one you. When developing one’s own personal style, I’d say experiment with what you like and focus on what makes you feel good. Wearing clothes should evoke emotion. If it doesn’t make you feel good, keep experimenting until it does and I’m talking about…really makes you feel good. So good that that same emotion is felt by others when they are around you. Personal style is just that…personal.
You are a master thrifter and seller of vintage fashion online. How did you come to love vintage?
I began shopping in thrift stores my ninth-grade year of high school.
Ultimately, I started thrifting because I wanted to get clothing I could reconstruct or paint on at a fraction of the cost. I’d always admired the style of my mother, aunts, and my father. I kept photos of them from “back in the day” on my bedroom wall as inspiration. The vintage clothing was as unique as the people wearing them. I immediately knew that I too, could achieve the “looks” I admired by shopping for vintage in the thrift store. I also rummaged through my grandmother’s attic in search for my mother’s and aunts’ old clothing. I found so much to add to my growing collection of vintage. Vintage clothing has so much character and it tells a story. The quality is amazing. The clothing has literally traveled through time and kept its integrity. My love for wearing vintage turned into an idea to also sell it. I wanted others to have access to the amazing pieces I was curating. So, I began selling my vintage finds my freshman year of college.
What inspired you to create your “Peculiar Treasures” collection? What kind of stuff do you sell?
Peculiar Treasures came from an idea of wanting to separate my vintage reselling business from my handmade wearable art passion. I’ve always been a creator, making jewelry, clothing, painting, doing hair, if it was creative, I did it. I wanted to create a space where I could share my love for it all. So, in 2020, Peculiar Treasures was born. The name actually came to me one night while I was reading my Bible. I knew then that I was given confirmation to take this idea and bring it to life. What I thought would be separate forever, is now slowly all coming together as one. The pieces I make by hand are Peculiar. The vintage I curate are Treasures. Let’s just say God has a sense of humor. I thought I had it figured out by separating my two passions and He is giving me every reason to bring them together under one umbrella. Peculiar Treasures is created and curated for the set apart. There is no way one can “blend in” when my goal is to help them to stand out in style!
Why is upcycling so important to you?
Upcycling is important to me because it allows me to give clothing a second and sometimes a third chance. I love the idea of taking something old and making it new. It’s a sure way to reduce waste and save money. If I can create an entire new look from pieces I already own, that’s a win-win! Upcycling also allows me to push the limits on my creativity. It keeps me on my toes and opens doors for new creative opportunities.
I read a quote somewhere that said, “Creativity is a combination of discipline and childlike spirit.” Do you feel this to be true and why?
I agree. Discipline is key in everything we do. In order to do any and all things we must have discipline. To be creative is to also have a childlike spirit. Children don’t think too deep about things being perfect. They create because they like to and they love what they create because to them it’s a masterpiece. They take risks, color outside the lines, and splash paint all over the place. As adults we take that art and we hang it on our refrigerators or tape it to our desks at work. We admire the work of the children and make it grand! In turn, the children believe that their art is the best thing ever. So, they continue to create and allow their imagination to guide them. They don’t hear any critics. All they hear is their imagination telling them to go for it. I believe we should take that discipline and couple it with that childlike spirit and create without ceasing.
As a business owner and mother, how do you balance both? How do your children inspire you when it comes to your creativity?
To be honest, I don’t think I’m actually balancing both. However, I am holding each part of the weight to the best of my ability. I’ve been a full-time educator for 11 years and a part-time business owner. In 2021, I became a full-time entrepreneur and stay at home mom to my youngest child. It is not easy all the time but having my 2-year-old by my side reminds me that I can do hard things. All of my children inspire me in different ways. My oldest daughter has been there with me for much of my creative journey. I even created a children’s vintage and accessory boutique in 2012 when she was born. Now, she takes charge of that creatively. My son helps me to cut fabric when I’m preparing to sew. I affectionately call him my “cutter boy” and he loves it. My youngest daughter watches me during the day as I paint and sew, and she never fails to remind me of how great of a job I’m doing even on the days where I am overwhelmed. She says “Mommy, that’s amazing!”
What challenges, if any, do you think you are encountering in your industry?
I can’t put my finger on any specific challenge I’m currently encountering in my Industry. My biggest challenge right now is a challenge I’ve given myself and that is to create my own space and lane in an industry that is full of so many creatives. I challenge myself to remain true to my calling and to be set apart.
Give me three words that describe your unique brand and why?
Three words that describe my brand would have to be Love, Art, and Inspiration (LAI).
What do you plan to do next?
What’s next…hmmm. I plan to continue growing Peculiar Treasures into a household name. I am not just limiting myself to clothing, but all the things I love, such as home decor and more. I am also working on building my mural and process art business. The educator in me is forever, so working directly with youth and adults as it relates to the arts is something I am passionate about. I am also passionate about applying art on larger canvases such as school bathrooms to promote love, art, and inspiration.
How can others find you online?
You can find me online at shoppeculiartreasures.com and on Instagram @shoppeculiartreasures and @thelaicollection.
I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. She is truly an inspiration to anyone looking to make what they love into a business. Creatives are on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic and a lot of people are making their passions into their full-time business. I’m not saying this is what everyone should do, but for those who do, I applaud you. Life is short and why not make money doing something you love?
I also think it’s important to build creative intelligence in our future generations. Our children’s books reflect that with each character having some creative passion that helps them through their own personal challenges. We hope you will visit our online library to shop our one-of-a-kind book selection! Also, be sure to check back with our blog that will have other exciting interviews coming soon!!!
Love and light,