100 Creatives

Phoenix Dressmaker Monique Sandoval on Why She Became Her Own Boss

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 43. Monique Sandoval.

Monique Sandoval got where she is by following her heart and trusting her instincts. 

"Do what you do best, so it doesn’t feel like work," she says of her personal philosophy. "I always like to say you only get one life, do your best, be who you truly are, share your talent, inspire others to do the same, and live the shit out of life so the regrets you have are minuscule in comparison."

For the 37-year-old Phoenician, that means dress-making. She owns Cleo and Clementine, a boutique on the Melrose Curve that specializes in unconventional formal wear designed for memorable experiences. "I’d like to think that creating a warm environment has encouraged inspiration, creativity, and nostalgia for my employees, friends, family, and clientele," Sandoval says. "Our work is unique and sentimental."

More than that, it's personal. Sandoval's work is interwoven and inseparable from her personal life. She wakes up and mentally scans her plans for the day — everything from prepping lunch for her daughters and dropping them at school, posting on Facebook, and keeping tabs on her inbox. 

Some days, she's dyeing fabrics and veils and sourcing fabric online, though she hopes one day Phoenix's fashion industry gets a big-city fabric resource. Sandoval works closely with her clients, often brides-to-be, to craft airy, dreamy gowns. She collaborates with vendors on projects, makes time for meetings, coffee, administrative work, production management, and then heads home for "dinner, homework, illustrations, a Modelo with my husband, and maybe a movie or an episode of Game of Thrones."

Sandoval grew up with a single mom who worked nights, and as a kid she hated going to a babysitter. She knew she wanted something different for her kids. "Hanging out with my family is my favorite part of the day," she says. "The main reasons why I chose to work for myself — the ever-changing day, the flexibility, and being available for my kids."

I came to Phoenix with all of my belongings packed into my car, at age 19, and a drive to create my own life in a “bigger city”; most of my family lives here too. I was born here, but I grew up in Central Valley, California. I knew in my heart that it was not a place for me to flourish.

I make art because creating allows me to think only about what I’m working on for that time; it allows me to get ideas out of my head. Especially with clothing, there are times when you just can’t find what you’re looking for, and the idea literally scorches and the only way to stop the concept obsession is to make it happen. The feeling of bringing flat fabrics together by certain cuts and seams into something dimensional and wearable still gives me butterflies. Creating just feels good, and it’s all I know. I love seeing people happy. I’m here to give women the option to step away from mainstream wedding ideals.

I love the feeling, right after a meeting, after communicating our processes and when I know my team is sharp, inbox is clear, a healthy breakfast was had, and there are absolutely no distractions. I’ve had to learn to turn the phone off and let voicemail do its thing. Staying in the zone is important for the kind of work we do. Late nights were always the best time for me creatively, but that changed after I had kids; I’ve learned to make the most of my day while I’m at the studio. Also, having a clear goal produces the fuel to keep going and staying productive, whether it be travel, an editorial project, the desire to buy more fabric — even small goals help me stay focused.

My inspiration wall is full of photos of places I’d like to travel, luxurious landscapes, florals that inspire color ways, iconic women who have changed the world, photography that inspires mood, illustrations from our team, dreamy silhouettes, and couture detailing we aspire to create.

I've learned most from mistakes, of course; I have learned to immediately document what bothers me and then write down things that I have the ability to change or ways to refine. Art is also a way to creatively problem-solve; no one has all the answers, and what makes you grow, I feel, is working your way up, on your own, by deep thinking. That feeling of empowerment is unparalleled when a mistake has been conquered by deep thought and change. Talking with other business owners helps, too. Thankfully, I have two business-savvy brothers who inspire me to be courageous, and Rachel of Bunky Boutique and Theresa, owner of Melrose Pharmacy, as friends who I can talk to for business advice. Having a network of friends who get it and admit to their own anxieties makes me less nervous to fail and allows me to get out of my own head and move on.

Good work should always make the viewer walk around it, want to touch it, and linger for a bit before speaking. Good work should be given your all, even if you go over time, have to stay late, it should be meaningful between the maker and the receiver.

I love Phoenix and I love the food and art scene here. I can’t really say how it could be better. I understand most people bloom here, then move on and out of state. I’ve felt that way many times and it’s usually in July, BUT I have learned to give in and let the seasons work in my favor. One of my favorite programs is Art Masterpiece, designed to introduce art and artists (along with the tragedies of most) to school-age children so they develop an appreciation and an understanding of techniques, the story behind the artist, and the historical significance each piece holds. ART APPRECIATION is what I would like any city's creative scene to have more of.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski