Thinking Outside the Bubble

Before he was an amateur fashion designer, Travis R. Wood ’07 was a skater.

“I usually dressed in a skater-brand sweatshirt and jeans,” says Wood, sporting painted jeans and an inside-out Garment District sweater. “My father looked at me one day and told me that I looked like everyone else.”

Realizing that his father was right, Wood was inspired during his gap year in China to start making his own clothes with the fabrics he found there.

Wood is one of a group of Harvard students who buck the Jasmine Sola/J. Crew trend and make their own clothes. Most have no plans to have their designs stocked in Saks, and they aren’t buying there either.

“Someone called me a terrorist for wearing this old army jacket of my grandfather’s,” says Wood. “I get a lot of stares. I guess it’s funny that I’m so fashion conscious, but I would never condemn anyone for the clothes they wear.”

But these fashion individualists endure the stares, brushing aside hurdles like a lack of materials and the incredible difficulty of seamstressing along the way.

Many, like Isabelle M. Berner ’08, began their experiments outside the ordinary fashion world by traveling abroad. Since she was seven, Berner spent her summers in France selling her beaded jewelry to passers-by.

“I used to stand outside and sell, until I got older. Then I would put my younger, cuter cousins out,” she says.

Although Berner quickly realized that she could no longer sell her jewelry based on her dimples alone, while her peers grew out of beading, she did not.

Sara L. Bartel ’06 says she finds it easier to craft clothes by studying different ways of dress, in particular, the clothing she saw in Nepal. “One of the best things I’ve made recently is a pair of these wrap pants I saw in Nepal, except with a more modern, gold fabric.”

Wood was also inspired by what he saw in China. “All of my ideas come from fabric I find,” he says. “There was a fabric market close to where I lived in China, and I came back with huge stacks of fabrics.”

The importance of fabric in fashion design is essential according to most designers. “Good materials make everything great,” says Gigi M. Garmendia ’06. And while the Boston fabric scene is less-than-stellar by any measure, travelling abroad, shopping online, and perusing hometown clothing stores provide options for many.

Berner says she buys most of her beads through eBay, although she says that it takes a long time to understand bead sizes and types.

The lack of good fabric in the area has led many student designers to think outside of the box. Garmendia likes to use a lot of random materials, including utility objects, Polaroids, and children’s clothes. Berner was inspired by a trip to the hardware store to start using washers as beads in her latest necklaces, as well as some Chinese coins she found in an antique store.

Once these designers have mastered the art of sewing and finding materials, they practice their skills by costuming for Harvard plays. Garmendia, Wood, and Bartel all list theater costuming experience as an important step in their fashion education.

The fact that the general Harvard fashion scene is radically different from their own personal style has not been lost on any of these amateur designers.

Wood thinks that a great way to encourage students to create their own designs would be through a class. Already, VES 123r, “Post-Brush,” allows students to create their own designs using silk screening techniques. Wood recommends creating a class focused solely on textile design. “A lot of people are interested in fashion, but they don’t know how to go about doing it,” says Wood.

Fashion 101, anyone?