After running a successful fashion business for seven years — celebrities like Gloria Estefan and Katie Holmes have worn her stunning gowns — Fabiola Arias became disillusioned with her craft and closed her Manhattan studio. “I hit the brakes, I hit the eject button and just left,” the award-winning Cuban designer tells PEOPLE CHICA of the life-changing decision she made in 2016, when she sold her machinery and closed her business.
The 30-year-old Parsons School of Design graduate — who once sold her glamorous couture collection to stores like Neiman Marcus and a private VIP clientele — admits she reached a professional dead end. “It had gotten really difficult. It was hard trying to balance all of it and trying to have a normal life. My whole life was my business,” she says. After endless hours at work, she felt depleted. “I said, I can’t do it anymore. I’m exhausted.”
Arias — who got married in 2015 — wanted to have a baby and thought her hectic work-schedule wouldn’t allow it. “We were trying to get pregnant and there was no way it could happen because I was so stressed out,” she recounts. Ironically, two days after closing her atelier, she found out she was expecting her now 10-month-old daughter, Lulu. During her pregnancy, the designer and her husband moved to the quiet New Jersey town of West Orange, where she had a change of pace from the electric New York City life. “I enjoyed being able to slow down. It was very peaceful,” she says.
She dabbled in real estate and even worked from home as a matchmaker for an online dating company. “I thought, I could do this because it’s similar to working with clients in fashion. It’s finding the right fit,” she jokes. Although she matched couples who remain happily joined and had a touch for it, she missed her first love: fashion.
When Lulu was 4 months old, Arias attended a self-development seminar that led to a powerful awakening. “I realized that I had been blaming circumstances in my life. I had believed that you can only make it in fashion if you’re super wealthy. Those were just beliefs. I had allowed myself to get discouraged, and I had been operating with no integrity,” she recognizes.
Her daughter also inspired her epiphany. “I realized that I want to be present in everything I’m doing. I wouldn’t have had that without having her in my life,” she says of the baby. “Because she is so little I want to enjoy every moment with her.”
She also found joy in designing again. When a friend of a former client emailed her in November asking her to make her a special gown to wear to her daughter’s wedding, Arias agreed to take on the task. “I thought: How can I make this work? I’m a mom now. I don’t have a studio in Manhattan,” she admits of her initial hesitation. Her fear didn’t stop her and she set up a design studio at home, assembling a small team that includes a pattern maker and seamstress. “I got a lot of coaching and training in my personal development to be able to move forward and reopen my business,” she reveals.
The artist is now working with private clients on commissioned pieces that make her muses stand out in custom-made gowns at galas or weddings. “I’m not working on collections. It’s all one of a kind,” Arias adds. “It’s my art, it’s completely fulfilling,” she says of returning to her craft. “Little by little, I’ll expand. At some point, I want to sell to stores again, but I’m taking it one step at a time.”
Her husband is her No. 1 supporter. “He is such an encouraging voice in my mind,” she adds. “I have moments where I doubt myself and get discouraged and he is always there to remind me that I can do it.” The Cuban couturier tells her story in the hopes of showing other aspiring artists that there is no easy road to success. “I don’t want to pretend like everything is all glossy. We think that fashion designers have a very glamorous life, and it’s a rare thing to see what is really going on behind the scenes,” she admits. “I wanted to share my personal journey.”