SEATTLE — Turning needle and thread into fashion is a kind of alchemy, and from the age of four, Gustave Apiti knew he wanted to create magic.
"I came to understand that fashion is my life,” he said.
He runs his design business, Gustavo Apiti Couture, out of a workspace in Ballard. But his line’s use of bold colors is heavily influenced by his early life, 8,000 miles away.
"I was born in the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kinshasa,” he said. "In Congolese culture, we like to look more elegant and fancy. We like bright colors. And I grew up that way."
His family members were tailors, and Apiti studied sewing in school. But at age 19, he left the war-torn country. He spent years in South Africa, before eventually immigrating to Seattle.
“In the beginning, it was not that easy. Because when you move from a different country in the beginning, for people to believe in you, to trust what you do, it's hard,” he said.
Apiti worked for Luly Yang Couture and Nordstrom but dreamed about creating his own line. In 2016, he used every penny of his life savings to sponsor a debut fashion show. His line blended the vibrancy of his youth with the aesthetics of his new home.
"Grey, blue, black - those are like the favorite colors in Seattle,” he said, laughing. "I'm not trying to change people's mentality, but I think I can try to modify it just a little bit."
His specialty is custom suits for men and women, using bright primary colors for jackets, shirts or pocket squares.
"People think bright colors are only for dark-skinned people, which is wrong,” Apiti said. “Anyone can go with bright colors, but you have to know how to play around."
The color pink is also symbolic. It was his late mother's favorite.
"She was like, 'Sonny, just be calm, take it easy, don't jump steps. There's a lot of challenges in life, so you will get there. Just be calm, take it easy,’” he recalled.
His goal is to create a ready-to-wear line for stores. But for now, he’s happy to do custom work in the city where he – and his bold designs – belong.
"I love Seattle more than anything,” Apiti said. “To me, Seattle is my home now."