Big Brain Awards

Leonor Aispuro: 2015 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Design

You submitted nominations for the best and brightest emerging Valley creatives, and the results are in. Presenting the 2015 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the announcement of winners at Artopia on May 9, Jackalope Ranch, Chow Bella, and Up on the Sun will introduce the finalists. Up today is Leonor Aispuro.

Tears stream down Leonor Aispuro's face.

She's so lucky, she says, patting her eyes. Sitting behind the counter with her Pomeranian, Nosferatu, at downtown Phoenix fashion boutique Nostra Style House, she's dressed in a thrifted little black dress that looks anything but secondhand and wears simple gold jewelry and rich red lipstick and nails. A mannequin wears a sheer red dress the fashion designer has been constructing. A selection of her airy designs are for sale. Her name's in gold thread on each label.

See also: Angel Castro: 2015 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Performing Art

The youngest of six kids, Aispuro and her family moved to Phoenix from Mexicali, Mexico, when she was 8 years old. Sewing is something all the women in her family do, and she learned the craft working with a vintage Singer machine, complete with a foot pedal, as a kid.

Much of her extended family is still in Mexico, and sometimes feelings of guilt mixed with motivation bubble up. "I can't let them down," she says of her cousins who look up to her. "It's a lot of pressure."

The 29-year-old frequently starts sentences by announcing that she has an idea. She wants to present her next collection as a sort of art exhibition. To do that properly, she'd like to learn to weld, because she wants to create metal ribcages to display a selection of gowns alongside photos documenting the process of their construction. Telling each garment's story is important to her.

Aispuro worked in retail for Betsey Johnson, which led her to New York, where she worked in fashion showrooms, made industry connections, and styled for a New York Fashion Week show. She studied sustainable design at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

She wants more transparency and more accountability in design. Working in fast fashion, where there's constant turnover in styles and colors and trends, turned her off to the industry. Waste, outsourcing to inhumane overseas sweatshops, and low quality are all too prevalent.

"We consume a lot," she says. "We waste a lot. I couldn't turn away from that."

Feeling a little lost, Aispuro returned about a year and a half ago to Arizona, where she's since founded her eponymous label. It's a one-woman endeavor in which she designs and handcrafts each one-of-a-kind piece. Inspired by nature, her designs are colored by the Arizona landscape in greens and purples, with simple silhouettes that highlight the body's curving lines.

She works on her line a few days a week out of Nostra and is a pattern maker for Diego Milano, a denim company that manufactures in Scottsdale. "I love the old-school way of doing things," she says.

Building her business is high on her to-do list. She'd like to rent or own a studio space, start hiring interns and eventually a team to help her out. She can see the line expanding to boutiques in London, Paris, and Japan. But first, she has to complete this new line.

"The American dream is embedded in your head," Aispuro says. "I'm aware that I have to work hard, but I'm so lucky to be here and I have to do something with it."

The 2015 Big Brain Award winners will be announced onSaturday, May 9, during New Times' Artopia, an evening of food, drink, art, and music at Monarch Theatre. For details and tickets, $25, visit

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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