Leotards were too expensive, so she made her own

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The yellow crystals glimmered as sunlight from the window ran across the table, setting the crimson leotard aglow.

Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar’s eyes, squinting with intent, scan the leotard on the table as she ponders the placement of more Swarovski crystals throughout her design.

“Bolor means crystal in Mongolian,” Tamsagbaatar said. “Together with tsetseg, it means crystal flower.”

She drew inspiration for her brand, Crystal Leotards, and the general designs for her products from her name but she would have never imagined herself as a leotard designer eight years ago.

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These are other design ideas by Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar. The left most design is for another leotard while the others are more standard outfit designs. Taken April 12 Photo credit: Jaime Solis

Tamsagbaatar is from Mongolia, where she said she lived a comfortable life with her young daughter Khuslen “Molly” Tamir, as the manager of a department store.

However, in 2011, Tamsagbaatar decided to migrate to the U.S. with her daughter.

“I was thinking about my daughter’s future,” Tamsagbaatar said. “It’s a better life for her here.”

Soon after arriving in the U.S., Tamir, who practiced contortion between the ages of three and seven in Mongolia, delved into rhythmic gymnastics when she turned 11.

“I was watching the Olympics and saw the rhythmic gymnastics,” Tamir said. “And I was like ‘I wanna do that’.”

Tamir’s natural flexibility as a contortionist got her accepted onto a team where she learned the basics and soon she was ready to compete in the Level 4 Region 1 Rhythmic Gymnastics competition.

But she didn’t have a leotard to compete in.

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Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar posing between two of her creations on Friday, April 12. These leotards were worn by her daughter in past competitions. Photo credit: Jaime Solis

Her first leotard was a hand-me-down that cost $250, simple but pretty with shades of pink, Tamsagbaatar said. There were bits of purple and black that flowed through the body while neon-yellow and hot-pink flourishes adorned the sleeves and torso.

“It was used by my coach’s daughter,” said Tamir. “I was a little nervous but it wasn’t that bad.”

Tamir won first place in her competition and continued to compete, winning several more including the All-Star award at the 2018 LA Cup Rhythmic Gymnastics Invitational and first place at the 2018 Western Regional Championship.

However, as she continued to compete, she would need more leotards, eventually custom ordering one from Russia.

That was the last leotard Tamsagbaatar would buy for her daughter.

“It didn’t come how we wanted and my mom got mad,” Tamir said. “So she was just like, ‘oh, I can just make this myself’.”

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Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar comparing her current project with her design on Friday, April 12. Photo credit: Jaime Solis

Tamsagbaatar went on to make her daughter the leotard she originally envisioned: a purple and nude colored leotard adorned with crystals that followed and highlighted her daughter’s figure and a white branched pattern, also flowered with gems, on the front that would make her look like a crystalline bloom swaying with the wind.

From then on, Tamsagbaatar decided she would design any leotards her daughter would wear during competitions.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Tamir said. “The other girls on my team were definitely shocked that my mom made my leotard.”

Despite having no prior experience making clothes, her passion for clothing helped her develop the skills needed to make her daughter’s competition leotards.

“I love fashion and I’m always checking how the clothes I buy are made,” Tamsagbaatar said. “I learned by seeing the clothes I like and figuring out how I can make it.”

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Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar planning the crystal layout on the leotard on Friday April 12. She uses various different crystals because the wearer “must shine.” Photo credit: Jaime Solis

As Tamsagbaatar continued to create for her daughter, she flourished in her designs and style, even getting attention and some commissions from others.

“The girls on my team wanted my mom to design their leotards,” Tamir said. “Even the coaches.”

Her success in designing leotards has extended even to a state level, getting larger projects including a commission to design a competition leotard for the California Miss Majorette Baton Twirling Championship Competition.

Regardless of her success, Tamsagbaatar decided to enroll in the fashion design program at El Camino College in an effort to improve her craft.

“I wanted to learn more about the professional patterning and professional sewing industries,” Tamsagbaatar said. “And I wanted to get my fashion design major to be seen more professionally.”

Something Tamsagbaatar was really eager to get more experience in is making costumes, a field she already has some unintentional experience in.

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Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar runs her current project through a sewing machine to attach the exterior material to the interior material of the leotard on Friday, April 12. Photo credit: Jaime Solis

“Competition leotards are like show costumes,” Gayle Baizer, adjunct professor of fashion illustration at EC, said. “They’re not for a casual or classroom setting like regular leotards.”

Baizer has designed leotards for various clients in the past outside of the competitive realm, such as the Los Angeles Ballet Company.

“Is it body-flattering, is it functional, is it going to work well,” Baizer said. “Those are things you have to take into consideration.”

When designing her leotards, Baizer avoided crystals and extravagant accessories, things reserved for garments with specific purposes like a competition leotard.

“I would be afraid if someone were partnering or something in a class setting and the crystals got stuck on someone’s clothes and ripped the leotard, or god forbid someone falls on the crystals,” Baizer said. “But you can interpret a costume any way you want, sequins, feathers, crystals.”

While Tamsagbaatar may not use feathers or sequins, gems are a major piece on her designs, often using between 3000 and 4000 Swarovski crystals on some of her larger projects despite how time consuming it may be, because it is important the leotard wearer shines while they move.

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Bolortsetseg “Crystal” Tamsagbaatar setting up her work station on Friday, April 12. The leotard on the table is to be worn during the California Miss Majorette Baton Twirling Championship Competition. Photo credit: Jaime Solis

“My dream is to open a studio for my leotards and support young girls who might not be able to afford a leotard,” Tamsagbaatar said.

Tamsagbaatar looks to soon move beyond working as a part-time Uber, dedicating herself full-time to her passion—leotards.

Updated: 5:50 p.m. Wednesday, May 28. A headline was added.

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