The first thing, I mean, obviously, I know a little bit about what you do, but maybe just run me through who you are, what you’ve been up to, the whole thing.
It sounds weird. I just graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. I was an apparel design major. I got my BFA. My thesis focused on inclusive design within a glamorous theme, so I wanted to make clothing that was fancy and uncomfortable and show stopping but meant for bodies that were not the types of bodies that we see on the runway and on the screen. It was really important to me that I could wear the clothes, and I all the time feel like I see these gowns that I love that I can never wear. That was important to me. Then, when the pandemic hit, I had to change every model that I was using because we all got separated, and I ended up using my family.
I loved that, by the way. That was amazing.
That was like a blessing in disguise. Thank you. It was awesome. I had my pregnant aunt who…
Is so hot and my grandma who is just eternal and gorgeous. Then I used my cousins. It was just this fun thing that all the women in my family came together in a weird time. I’ve always liked art. I’ve always been artistic. I didn’t know that fashion was something I was interested in until late high school when I started a blog that was a fashion blog.
I remember that. That was the best. You probably look back and think what was I doing? I look back and think, oh, my God, what a legend.
It’s pretty funny. I wish the website was still up. It’s gone from the internet somehow. It would be funny to look back on. I grew up in Los Angeles. I was always surrounded by fashion and trends, and that wasn’t a unique thing for me. A lot of girls at my school were super fashionable, and it was at times competitive.
I think when I got to college and I was around a lot of people that were not from LA and that did not value brand name and trend and more valued unique style that’s when I realized that there was something there that went deeper than the surface. I majored in that, and I now have done a few internships in New York and LA, and I definitely think that the fashion world has a lot to gain from new voices that want to see more sustainable environmental outlooks and also body positive collections. That is what I’m working on now. I love getting dressed, so the quarantine has been weird because it’s not fun…
I bet you still do. Knowing you, you probably get decked to the nines.
Kind of. When I just have to go to the market, or the bank, or something, the essential stuff, I will dress up. I hope people look at me. Yeah, I like it.
Honestly, I find that a lot of people are using this as an excuse to not ever dress up. Now it’s reminding me that getting dressed up is half the fun, A, and B, if you don’t celebrate things, then life just goes by. Getting dressed is a big part of that, I think.
I think, for me, getting dressed has always been what’s made me feel good about myself and happy, so this is such a horrible time that it’s a little happiness that you can give yourself. It’s not easy. It’s nice to be comfortable. I now appreciate that.
Yeah, I bet. You mentioned a second ago something about how you felt in LA everybody had their toes dipped in fashion and that you maybe didn’t have something unique I think I heard you say. Can you expand on that a little?
I guess I just mean that there – I don’t know how to say this that’s not bitchy. I don’t know if this should be included, but I went to a private school where everyone had Balenciaga bags when we were ninth grade. I feel like a lot of people have nice things, and unfortunately, having nice things can give you style. I wish it wasn’t that way.
Right, isn’t it upsetting? My mom always said that. I would say, “This person dresses so well,” whatever. She goes, “When you have money, of course you look good because you pick everything – you buy the whole rack at the coolest place.”
Exactly. You can get a lot. You can get the new thing all the time. I think that I didn’t know that that was what was happening when I was in it. Like I said, when I left, I didn’t bring any of my purses with me. That wasn’t cool. My idea of cool changed a lot.
That’s awesome, honestly.
Of course, I still like nice things, but I think there’s this beauty in originality when you have something from a thrift store that no one else has, and that’s what I try to do with my blog. I would wear things that were not – we grew up in the Brandy Melville era.
Oh, yeah, we did.
Everyone had the same outfit or the leggings era.
So boring – I mean, nowadays, girls that are 15 are sexy.
Oh, my God, what’s up with that?
I’m sure, with your younger siblings, you’ve seen it too. It’s gross. I was very body conscious in high school, so I never was sexy or anything. I think that that was a catalyst for dressing differently, and so I liked to get attention that way. I was also not very social, and I was not very loud. When I would wear things, I would just be really confident feeling when people would say something to me. All the popular girls, when they would say things to me, it made me feel good, so that’s where the love came from. I wasn’t the most fashionable person, and a lot of people did – not everyone at my school could afford these things. I felt like to differentiate you had to be more creative because the trends were so prevalent, and I would say that in a good way.
Yeah, I imagine that’s something very specific to LA. I always thought that you were the trendiest person in the world. Your style was great all the time, and it’s region specific maybe the way that we think about trends and things, which is interesting.
I guess changing the subject a little bit, what was the moment when you realized that you could actually go to school for fashion and art or use it as more of just a – or more than just a hobby or passion type thing?
I feel like my school like a lot of other schools was very – college was a big topic since middle school, and I had an amazing art teacher when I was in ninth – in eighth grade. He was super cool. He went RISD. I didn’t know a lot about art schools, so to me it was like, oh, that must be the one I should try to go to. Then I have a bunch of other art teachers, and I just really liked drawing, figure drawing. I started figure drawing in seventh grade, which is drawing naked people, which I was very lucky to be able to do at such a young age and through my school. That I felt like was something that was a step above just arts and crafts. It felt very professional and like a skill that I was practicing that would serve me.
My grandma is an artist. I’ve always been into art, and I’ve always been encouraged by my family to pursue it. I think, throughout high school with my blog and with my little shoe company that I had and with afterschool figure drawing and not going out on the weekends and instead drawing and posting it the next day, that’s what I would do. I would never see people. I would just draw, and then get great feedback online. I really liked that. It was my escape, very cheesy, but I did love it.
When I went to – I went to pre-college at RISD, which is the year before college, and I did painting there and not fashion. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. When I left my bubble and was amongst a lot of other great artists, I didn’t think I was that good anymore. I had a huge ego about being really good, and then it all went away super quickly. Then I realized that art is subjective, and also, there’s so many things you can do.
The moment that I knew I was going to do fashion was in freshman year of college. They had the fashion show of the apparel students, and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I just knew I had to do it. There’s something about seeing your work walk that is really cool. Too bad I didn’t get that, but it’s fine.
Are they planning on doing a late fashion show for you guys or no?
No, they were going to do it in October, but obviously, that’s not happening. Now they say that graduation and the fashion show and other art shows will be in June so with the class younger than us. I don’t think it’s going to happen. There’s so many people.
Other than not having this fashion show and not being able to put a bow on college, how else has COVID impact your life as it is now and your future plans?
I have struggled to find a job. Fashion week, which is something that I like to be involved in, is canceled. Fashion as in industry is not doing well. That’s why I have been making my own work and continuing to do photo shoots with friends and sell to friends is that there’s this push for the handmade again, which I think is super cool.
Yeah, I’m very excited about it.
It’s fun because people get to feel like they have a one-of-a-kind thing that someone that they like or admire created, and I think that that is super cool. On Instagram, I follow so many people that sell their stuff, and I buy people’s stuff all the time. I love handmade stuff, and I think that that is really important for sustainability and also for this move away from fast fashion, which is really tough. In a perfect world, everyone would hate it, but we don’t live in a perfect world. It’s the most accessible fashion for a lot of people, so it’s really hard to be like no more fast fashion. That’s a very classist thing to say. That’s been really cool, and it’s been inspiring me to make things for the sake of making and rather than for the job.
I did get an internship, and I just started today. That’s why I look like this. I’m working at a place called Simon Miller, which is in LA. They have this very romantic Los Angeles vibe. Because I’ve decided that I’m staying in LA for a year, which was not part of my plan before, I’ve learned to re-love it here. I think that there’s a lot of context here that isn’t West LA High School that I could explore. They’re very beachy and ‘70s and fun, so I’m excited.
That feels like your energy too, that fun but also glam and cool sort of thing.
Yeah, it’s fun. It’s, honestly, the perfect quarantine brand because it’s comfortable but elevated, which is cool.
Cool, yeah. It’s really cool. You mentioned that you buy things from other artists and creators on Instagram that you would follow. Do you off the top of your head have any that you recommend highly?
Yeah, yes, well, this is like a – this has a cult following but MaisonCléo. Have you ever heard of them? It’s like Maison, M-A-I-S-O-N-C-L-E-O. It’s French. I can’t pronounce it well.
It’s really cute, all handmade, but they definitely have a following. There are two online shops. One is called Café Forgot which features a lot of RISD students’ work, which I think is amazing, and one is called Mall. Yeah, I think their Instagram’s called ‘shopthemall’ or something. Both are selling, very small vendors, and then I’ve been buying from fellow RISD people like my friend Olivia. She knits, so I got a sweater from her.
What’s her Instagram?
It’s @oliviabanghamdesign. Also, I’ve been obsessed with TikTok, which is really embarrassing.
Yeah, it’s so fun.
I’m very into it, and I love the home décor and the DIY fashion stuff. I haven’t bought anything from it yet, but I do follow a lot of people that make things that I think is cool.
That’s awesome. If you think of or if you find any, just send them to me, and I can always update. We can keep it like a running list. Other than the whole – your focuses on body consciousness and sustainability I think you said, what are other ideas that you get inspiration from or that you are passionate about in terms of fashion and your art?
I think that shiny has always been attractive. I’m very inspired by Cher and Marilyn Monroe movies. I don’t know. I would say I like drag too. I’ve never even seen RuPaul, so I feel like I can’t say that. I like very in your face stuff.
On Instagram, I have tons of folders that I’ve saved that have thesis inspo, but now it’s moved on to – I have a folder called Make. When I see something that I think it looks like I can make something look like it, I have a folder so that if I’m ever wanting – when I get the itch to make but I don’t want to sit for a while thinking, I try to make things that I’ve seen but in my own way, of course. Then I have a photo shoot folder. I love photography. I don’t know much about it, and so I save things. I would love to be able to unpack what is happening there. I do love that.
I really do think Instagram is super good and powerful. I’d like to say I try to limit my social media, but I have taken a step back from posting, I would say. I used to post all the time. Now I really just look at what people are posting, which I also think is important right now with everything going on to take a moment and really think twice about what you post and what’s important and why, so I do get inspiration from Instagram by just looking and saving things. It’s been weird lately. I think it’s hard to be inspired.
I guess maybe this will go hand in hand with the inspiration thing, but what would you say is your biggest accomplishment or the thing you’re most proud of so far? It doesn’t even need to be fashion centric, whatever you want.
Probably an award that I got from school. It was something that I knew about all through school. I always was like you have to get that. That’s something that your work has to be that good to be that, and it was something that was really iffy towards the end of – when COVID started, it wasn’t even going to happen at all. There wasn’t going to be this contest, and then, literally, two months post-graduation it came through. I was very proud of myself.
In the apparel graduate world, there are a lot of contests, so there’s a ton of things you can win and be a part of when you go to a set of ten schools in America. I kept not being chosen for them and watching my classmates get chosen, and it was really discouraging. I was about to be like you know what? This doesn’t matter. Everyone’s good, so it’s hard to say people don’t deserve things. I was really proud of my friends because it’s just as exciting to see other people succeed, but it was disheartening. I felt like I was definitely not getting this, so to get that was really a big deal for me just on a personal – it’s not even like that big of a deal itself. It was a personal goal that I had always wanted, so I was happy.
Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s really exciting. I’m so happy to hear that you got it.
My best friend got it, so it was nice that we got it together. We can get competitive because we’re in the same major, but yeah, we both got it.
Was that hard having your best friend in the same major? I was an English major at school, and none of my friends were. So I could do whatever I wanted, and nobody would ever know about it. I could give a terrible presentation and…
No one would know.
No one would ever know, which I liked.
Yeah, I would say that – well, we became friends in the major, so we didn’t go in it together. I don’t know how I would’ve done it without her, and that’s not even in the friendship supportive sense. That’s like she taught me more things than my teachers did in terms of how to think critically and to push myself in ways that were beyond the classroom, like to find inspiration in every single day rather than when it’s homework. It was helpful that her and I have opposite style, so there was never a point where we had similar work, which I think is difficult. That also happened. I went to a small school, and you subconsciously copy people sometimes. I felt like that was happening sometimes with people, never happened with her. She was a natural dyeing, sporty – it was so different than what I was doing.
Right, it’s like yin and yang.
Oh, my God, so different. The reason why I think it worked so well is that we both appreciated and understood the taste and style. Most of our texts – we text every day still. Most of our texts are inspo images that – she’s better at than I – better at sending them than I am. Whenever we go to a museum, or open a coffee table book, or see something on the street or in a store that we think the other person will like, we always take a picture, and we always send it.
That’s important. That’s an important…
Oh, it’s awesome.
…relationship to have, just inspiring and supporting each other.
Oh, yeah, it’s crazy, but a lot of my design decisions have been because of her asking me why or how I could do it in a better or a different way. I’m very thankful. I really don’t know how I would’ve done it without her.
Maybe this will tie back in with her, but what would you say is maybe the best piece of advice or the best couple pieces of advice that you’ve been given?
I think that, after graduating, I’ve been given such great advice. I can’t even think of something. I guess to not freak out is the best advice that I’ve gotten to – it’s tied with my advice is that I think there’s a lot of pressure when you’re our age to emerge in a certain way, especially once you’ve just graduated and especially when your focus is visual. I think that you – there’s a pressure to be at your – ready to take on the world or be at your best already when – and for half of my senior year, I believed that this collection of five looks was going to be my…
That was your mark.
Signature, that was what – exactly, what I was to the world or to the industry and that it meant so much importance what I did and how I did it. Then I realized that was so funny. No one who’s spectacular in the fashion world had a good senior show. I mean, it was good. Yeah, people had good ones, but nothing like what the many years of experience and growing up did for them. That was my best – my feeling at the end was like it is what it is, especially when COVID hit, and things were not perfect anymore. I had to change my designs based on not having access to machines and people and fabric. I was like that’s fine. That’s fine because it’s a response to the time.
Yeah, that’s an amazing perspective to have, though. I would imagine that – I was upset to leave Michigan. There was nothing keeping me there. Of course, friends but all of your work was there. Can you maybe expand a little bit on how you overcame that? I know you mentioned that you use your family as models but like fabric and making and stuff.
Yeah, I had a sewing machine at home from middle school. It was like a Project Runway sewing machine that I got. That I never figured out how to use.
You should keep that forever.
Oh, it’s special. She’s special. I was lucky that my grandparents had a room that they were not using, and so I would make myself – they live down my street, so I’d walk over every day. I tried to do no work in my room or at my house because I wanted to have that feeling of going to studio. My grandma would knit and hang out with me. It was hard because I felt frustrated that I couldn’t – I had made three outfits for specific bodies that I didn’t have anymore, so I had to use…
The bodies or the outfits?
The bodies. When you make clothes, it’s not like – when you make your own pattern – it was custom, basically, to the measurements of these people.
I was really fortunate that they fit my cousins because my clothes can’t fit one person. There’s one thing that’s a little small and one thing that’s a little big, so you can’t put it on the same people. I couldn’t wear a lot of the things, so it was hard because our teachers were urging us to use ourselves as models or to put it – to not have a body and take pictures of it. I just think having a body is super important because it gives it life. I was very lucky that I have – there’s just one other machine that I needed, which was a serger. It’s used for knit, like stretchy, and then I had a soldering machine, which is what you use to connect rhinestones. I had that already, so it wasn’t too hard for me. I didn’t need any buttons. There’s a certain machine to make buttonholes and grommets and all that. I didn’t need any of that, but it sucked for a lot of people.
Yeah, it was a very disappointing time, and it was so frustrating. While we were in it, I remember saying to myself this is the worst. This is it. This is the worst thing that could ever happen. Then, now, however many months later, six months later, I’m like wait a second. I had no idea back then how bad it could possibly be.
Yeah, when did your school send you home?
We ended up coming home at the end of March, and I was in the later shift. I waited until most of my friends left and then just drove home. Yeah, when did you?
Same, same time. Do you see your friends? Are most of them Michigan based?
Actually, it’s funny you say that. There are 13 of us, and the only ones in Michigan are me and Jenna. Yeah, so the rest are in New York. We have Jess in LA, and we have some others in East Coast cities.
I want to go to New York actually, but I’m scared.
That’s exactly how I feel. In an ideal world, I think I’d be moving soon, but I’m not, at least until the New Year.
It’s scary. It can wait. It’s not even fun. All the things that make New York awesome are not awesome right now. Can you even imagine when we’re going to feel comfortable being in a bar again? Yeah, I’m just thinking of how sweaty the summer was and being in those bars that are so crowded. You don’t care. When you’re drunk, you share everything, and you kiss people. It’s so gross.
Right, maybe hook up culture will finally end. I think this is the universe telling us it’s time.
It’s so time.
It’s been time, but yeah, now the universe just got the hint.
It’s a weird time, I’m sure. I’m really sure that – it’s very strange. It’s weird to start things right now too.
It’s nice, though, in some ways. Not that it’s good at all, but there is a little part of it that’s letting us slow down and reevaluate and prioritize what we actually want to do. I don’t know. There’s something to be said about that, definitely.