Original fangirl creates couture for chic geeks

Sandra L. Botero’s Captain Carol top.

As an OG fangirl who grew up with Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Lindsay Wagner’s Bionic Woman, and Joanna Cameron’s Isis, not to mention the Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes, Sandra L. Botero knows fangirls don’t “age out” of their geeky passions. And those fangirls need something to wear.

Back when there weren’t a lot of geek fashion options for women, Sandra would take men’s T-shirts and style them to suit her needs. After graduating to making her own dresses to wear to comic-cons, she received so much positive feedback, she realized she wasn’t the only one in the market for sophisticated fashion with subtle geek themes.

So Sandra founded Heroicouture, her online custom fashion business, which caters to “chic geeks” of a demographic often overlooked in the geek community. The shop offers an array of scarves and accessories, as well as an option for customers to customize their own dresses and skirts in a variety of styles and house-made fabrics. What could be more fun?

When she was younger, Sandra entertained dreams of becoming a fashion designer, so it’s a happy twist of fate that she’s now living those fantasies, designing fabrics and hand-sewing sophisticated custom apparel featuring such fandoms as Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and strong female characters like Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Black Widow, Batgirl, and real-life icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A self-described “curvy Latina,” Sandra is working for inclusivity, more fashion choices for all women, more consistent sizing, and more representation in the industry, all while living the artist alley/convention life with her husband, veteran comic book colorist Paul Mounts.

You can snap up her styles at www.heroicouture.com.

Wearing one of her creations using another maker’s fabric — a ruffle top with circle skirt — Sandra L. Botero poses with friend Tracey Maknis at TerrifiCon in Connecticut.

You’re the CEO and founder of Heroicouture, which offers “sophisticated clothing and accessories for chic geeks.” What inspired you to start this business?

I started Heroicouture because I saw a need for clothing that was fandom in nature but that was not “junior” type clothing. I am a lifelong fan, a curvy woman, as well as being over the age of 30. There just wasn’t anything out there for me to wear in which I felt comfortable. I would buy men’s T-shirts and refashion them to be more flattering for a female hour-glass shape and sometimes adding little touches of embellishments.

One day, I decided I was going to make my own dress to fit me and be a style that I liked with Wonder Woman. I wore this to a comic-con and was asked repeatedly by women (and even men) where I got my dress. After that kept occurring, I then realized that there was a need that wasn’t being filled.

Heroicouture specializes in more “classic” pieces designed for sophisticated women who are maybe a little older than the customers most geek fashion companies cater to. Do you feel this demographic tends to be overlooked?

Most definitely! Just because we are not teens doesn’t mean that we aren’t fans of different fandoms! Think about it. When were comic books created (all genres)? In the 1930s. Women were huge fans! When sci-fi became a standout genre in the ‘50s and ‘60s, women became great fans! Think about how old those women would be today. Those women never stopped being fans, they just had to express their fandom in different ways.

One of your mottos is that women can be “stylish and a fan of comics, sci-fi, video games, and all things geeky.” I read that when you were a kid, the option to be both these things didn’t really exist. What was that like for you as someone who became interested in nerdy things at the age of 7?

It was really challenging! It was the ‘70s at the time of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman, and even Joanna Cameron as Isis. You could find some T-shirts of these actresses portraying the characters in children’s sizes but there weren’t many. That was my only option at the time. I used to make the Wonder Woman tiara and bracelets out of construction paper. I also did that with Isis’ amulet.

In what ways does Heroicouture cater to a more mature geek clientele?

I will say that it caters to women who are looking for clothing that isn’t junior in style. In other words, you could say it is a bit more sophisticated, more subtle than overtly geeky. Women have different tastes and different shapes. Not all women want to wear T-shirts, miniskirts, or bodycon dresses.

We offer different options for the silhouettes of apparel and fabric with hints of geekiness. I am not going to tell someone what they should or shouldn’t wear. I just know what I feel I shouldn’t wear and apparently there are many women who feel the same way. There maybe are even younger women who just aren’t comfortable wearing a form-fitting dress and would rather have a fit and flare dress that is a bit more modest.

I guess you can say we cater to women of any age who just wants something different that they can wear to work or a gathering and feel chic and sophisticated while discreetly showing their passion for different geek genres.

Women can actually go to Heroicouture’s website and customize their own dresses and skirts, which is a really fun option. Tell me more about how that works.

Currently, there are five dress silhouettes that we offer as choices. Our HC client can choose the style and their size (from the size chart) and their choice of fabrics that we offer. All dresses are made to order, therefore the processing time varies. However, for one dress, it is 7-10 days.

You also design accessories, including scarves, and your own fabrics. Where do you find inspiration and ideas for these designs?

I love accessories! I’m an accessory hoarder! I have always loved scarves. I feel that it is a wonderful way to dress up an outfit. You can also wear them so many ways. Also, this is a one size fits all item.

My daughter is an artist and she began doing some of my fabric designs for me. I would just tell her what I wanted and to be creative. She did beautiful styles that we still carry. She started tabling in artist alley at comic conventions, so she really didn’t have the time to work for us anymore. I decided to get back to designing and illustrating my ideas.

I find inspiration everywhere! Comic books, films, TV shows, patterns, nature, etc.

Tell me a little about the process that goes into designing one of your pieces.

I’d like to say there is a formula to it, but really there isn’t. An idea will just come to me and I sketch it out. Then I ask for feedback from husband, daughter, and friends. I then just make the pattern design for the fabric. Usually there is quite a bit of editing going on. My husband, being a comic book color artist, is very helpful with that. He is very honest with me and I don’t get offended.

If it is for clothing, I will draw that out also and then make a paper pattern in my size, then make it. Again, usually there will be edits to the style after making a muslin, and then, when I’m satisfied, I will make the actual silhouette using one of our fun fabrics.

An Avengers-themed layered skirt designed by Sandra.

I read that you wanted to study fashion design but were discouraged from pursuing that. Now you’re kinda realizing that dream anyway. How does that feel?

It feels great! I love art and fashion and truly believe they go hand in hand. I love being able to create something that I like and want to wear. It is especially gratifying when others are happy with what I have made for them and feel good about themselves in it.

How and when did you first learn to sew and make patterns?

I learned to sew easy things when I was probably 10 years old. My parents gave me a red and white Sears sewing machine for children. I would make pillow cases for all my toys. I really didn’t get beyond that because I just relied on my mother to make whatever I designed. Ironically, when my daughter was born, I really wanted to sew and make her clothes, and this was when I was 30.

I learned to make patterns from my design/sewing mentor about three years ago. She used to be a professor teaching fashion design at an art school in our area that has since closed. She has been amazing! She has taught me so much and worked so much with me. I still go to her to learn as much as I can.

You’ve credited Wonder Woman as one of your earliest role models. How did you discover her and what about her appealed to you?

I watched the Wonder Woman television series and that was the gateway to this great genre! I loved that she was strong, intelligent, independent, and still feminine. I even took karate as a kid because I wanted to be able to fight like her. I was the only girl in my class and it was the only time I didn’t get made fun of for doing a “boy activity.”

I did try to do gymnastics so I could learn to do flips like Wonder Woman did over fences. However, the coach said that I was not the right body type. I didn’t care, I was determined to learn to be like my role model.

It was Wonder Woman who drew you to comic books and then you discovered other strong female characters. Tell me about your early experiences as a comic book reader and how those characters impacted you.

My first exposure was the comic book characters portrayed in the television shows. That did lead me to wanting to learn more about other female heroes. Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes were my main favorites. I still read Wonder Woman, of course.

What was great about Legion of Super-Heroes was that it was all based on teens and it made me think age didn’t matter. I loved seeing the interactions between all the heroes and how they came together as a team to tackle the big issues they had to deal with.

As an OG Wonder Woman fan, was seeing DC’s recent movie an emotional experience for you?

It was a very emotional experience for me! I was skeptical at first but as soon as I saw the scenes on Themyscira, that skepticism vanished. I appreciate Patty Jenkins’ vision for the movie. She really did an amazing job telling the story of Wonder Woman.

You’ve always been a fan of comics and science fiction. What were some of your other early fandoms?

That’s an interesting question. There weren’t any home video games until Atari and we were pretty much limited to PONG for a while. Therefore, I really can’t say video games had any part in that. I did read a lot, so I would say fantasy. I remember reading The Hobbit when I was in 6th grade and trying to find more books like that. I also liked to read books that were supernatural in nature.

You also used to cosplay. Tell me about some of your cosplays. Did you make them yourself?

I did cosplay for a bit. I did Wonder Woman and Cheetah. The Golden Age version of both. That was when I was the only Wonder Woman cosplaying, if you can believe it! I wasn’t as confident in my sewing back then so I did have someone make them for me. Now, it would be different story. Maybe one day I’ll cosplay as Hippolyta or Granny Goodness.

Many of your Heroicouture designs feature Marvel characters, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Wonder Woman, and other strong comic book women. What would you say are your current favorite fandoms?

Television has gotten so creative and taken such big risks with their shows now. It is really great! I do tend to like fandoms that have strong, smart, independent women. Having said that, I need to say that sometimes I like the villains too. The Umbrella Academy, American Gods, and Doom Patrol are some of the things I have gotten into lately. Does Lucha libre count as a fandom?

One of Sandra’s Captain Kree scarves.

I love the Captain Marvel fabrics you recently designed. What are your thoughts about Carol Danvers finally getting her own movie?

It is about damn time. They should’ve done this long ago. It just goes to show you that even today, decades after the women’s movement, we are still not thought of as equals.

You also frequently feature some fabulous Ruth Bader Ginsburg patterns. Why are you inspired to feature her?

Who doesn’t love RBG? The woman IS a superhero! I saw a documentary about her and was really inspired by her and all she has done, not just for women, but all Americans. After that, I started to look up RBG wearables like what they showed in the documentary. I just thought, how can I do something that represents her and is sophisticated enough for business wear or something dressier?

Just at that time, there was a contest on VIDA (shopvida.com) for RBG designs. I submitted mine and got in 3rd place. At the moment, it is my most popular print. Men have even asked for ties with the print, so I’ve started carrying that as well.

You’re also known for your signature recurring jaguar pattern. What’s the significance of that design?

Hahaha! Yes! I’ve always loved animal print but specifically jaguar. I would say that has mostly to do with my heritage. My family is from Colombia, South America, and the jaguar is an important shamanic symbol to the indigenous people there. I have strong ties to the culture of my heritage and wearing jaguar print just seems to honor that heritage in my own way.

You’re a comic convention veteran, attending frequently with your husband, veteran comic book colorist Paul Mounts. You’ve really lived the artist alley/con life. What are some of your favorite memories and what do you enjoy about con culture?

I absolutely love to see how excited and happy fans are when they meet Paul! It is so sweet how they react. I really enjoy talking to them and in some cases, we became friends and have kept in touch.

I remember going to a con where a Harley Quinn fan came up to us and was so excited and upset because she didn’t realize he was going to be there, so she didn’t bring any of her books for him to sign. She also couldn’t buy a print because she had already used all her money.

Paul just told her that she could any print she wanted and he would give it to her. She was so shocked and grateful that she started to cry. I asked her if she wanted me to take her picture with Paul and the signed print and she really started to cry! It was tears of joy and that was just so sweet, how that meant so much to her.

Sandra and her husband, comic book colorist Paul Mounts.

How did you and Paul meet?

That is a very interesting story. We even used it for our wedding invitation. I’m going to try to give you the short version.

My daughter, Jaime L. Botero, was being mentored by (comic artists) Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti for some time and when she turned 15, they suggested we go with them to New York Comic Con so she could see what it was like as an artist in artist alley.

I was off doing my fan thing (waiting in line to get my picture taken with Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny of X-Files), and my daughter started to call me, telling me to go back to the table, that she wanted me to meet Paul Mounts (he had missed the first two days of the con). I told her that I wasn’t leaving the line and that he would still be there when I was done and, if not, then it wasn’t meant to be.

I finally went back and she introduced us. He gave me some of his prints of Wonder Woman pieces that he had worked on and I asked him to sign them. He offered me the empty chair next to his at his table and we started talking. Before long, we were finishing each other’s sentences.

He invited Jaime and I out to dinner the next evening and that was it. From then on, we spoke on the phone every single day for 2.5 years and took turns visiting each other every month until he finally moved down here to Florida from Chicago when we got married.

You’ve gotten an insider’s glimpse into the comic book industry. As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change?

I still hear and read a lot of misogynist comments. It is really a shame that some people have to be so short-sighted. I’m glad though that women are beginning to be appreciated as strong, smart, and intelligent women, not just sex symbols. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with women being sexy, but that is just one facet of who we are. I am glad to see that there are more complex female characters that we like to read about and that can be great role models for today’s girls.

A damask print Sandra made featuring an illustration of her and her dog Ignacio by daughter Jaime.

You’ve described yourself as a “curvy Latina.” On this blog, we have an ongoing discussion about size issues in the geek fashion industry. Do you have any thoughts on this issue and how geek fashion makers can be more inclusive?

Inclusivity is something very, very important to me. Options for curvy women are very limited. Many times there is clothing in plus sizes that isn’t accurate in sizes/measurement. I’m finding this to be even challenging with manufacturing. I had a dress made to be a 2X and it fit my daughter just right and she is a Medium.

It is going to take extra steps and money to get these sizes right but I think it is important. I think everyone should have the opportunity to wear clothes they like no matter the size. I really would like to see other geek fashion makers do this as well. The more choices women have, the better. No one should be left out of the fun because of their size!

What are your future goals/dreams for Heroicouture?

Right now, we are very small and do mostly custom clothing and accessories. However, little by little, we are adding ready to wear items. I’m working hard to get stock of more ready to wear items in all sizes. I am making some designs of silhouettes that would appeal to many women and that would also be cost effective for them.

I would love to see Heroicouture grow and be one of the various places a woman knows they can turn to for a fandom fashion choice. There are several geek fashion companies and up and coming geek fashion makers out there and I think it is important that we all support each other because we are all different and offer our own unique takes on what fashion is to us. I would even love to collaborate with some of them.

I like to support other designers right now by using fabrics they have designed, in addition to mine. They are talented people and I’d very much like to help them showcase their fashion interpretations as well. One day I would like to have a place that carries not only my fashion line but those of others as well, so that it caters to different tastes, sizes, ages, and fandoms, and supports other makers as well. That’s a little ways away, but it is a goal of mine.

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