Wow. Feeling like I made it. My first job in the industry. I was hired to be the Assistant Designer to the Creative Director for 8732; a clothing line under the Rocawear umbrella for rapper Young Jeezy. It was a small group of close knit creatives. The Head Denim Designer who was always willing to lend his advice told me “Day Day (A nickname he gave me because I came to work one day with a scarf on my head) don’t mistake this to be the standard for every company. This is a special company and a unique experience.” He was basically telling me that I had started my career at the top and I would spend the rest of it chasing this high if my expectation was that any other company would be like like this one. On any given day you could run into the owner Jay-Z, his future wife Beyonce, A young Chris Brown/ Rocawear spokesmodel making grown women act like starstruck teenagers, June Ambrose and star athletes. I literally bumped into Kareem Abdul Jabbar once as I rushed out of the kitchen. As tall as I am my face rammed into his belly button. In the middle of the day all worked stopped for parties sponsored by Ciroc, free concert tickets, fashion shows, photo shoots, company outings and business trips. I even went to an airing of BET’s 106 and Park to prepare Jeezy for his appearance and exchanged smiles with Terrence J. This is just to give you an idea of the perks.
I am a fan of Hip-Hop so going in to it I knew who Young Jeezy was. At least the mainstream Young Jeezy. I knew to drop it like it’s hot when he gave us a shout out on his hit collaborations Go Getta and Love in This Club. “8732, whud it do?!” Heeeeeeyyyy, he’s talking about us!!! When I arrived 8732 was a new clothing line still trying to find direction. Jeezy wasn’t much of a fashion guy so he was relying on his Head Designers to tap into who he was and translate it into clothing. This was to be a brand for his fans. Not just the surface level fans like myself but the ones who knew him back then. Usually when I think of lifestyle brands I think of brands like Tommy Hilfiger. You know the guy who wears the clothing. Their design aesthetic clearly says all-american. Jeezy was no Tommy Hilfiger. He was from the streets and was heavily involved in the crack epidemic of the 80’s. I had no idea that the 8732 logo; that looked like a crest with 2 eights was actually a snowman. The snow representing crack. This information may have bothered me a bit but not enough to make me quit. I guess your convictions mature as you do. Besides, I heard the story of drug dealer turned rapper before. One day one of our graphic designers was at his desk conflicted about his work. He was drawing an image of a heap of crack for a t-shirt. He expressed that he felt like he was contributing to a problem instead of being a solution and didn’t want to continue the graphic. He was faced with the decision of promoting crack to get a paycheck. Center front on a t-shirt as if it were glamourous and not the cause of depravity in our community.
Designs from the 8732 “Never Sell Out” Collection. Inspired by life on tour.
I don’t remember that graphic making the collection and it wasn’t his last day at 8732. Rocawear was kinda cut throat. More people were escorted out by security than the amount of employees who had job security. If you wanted to go they would show you the door. Fashion Food 4 Thought: What would you do? 1. Stay and try to affect change? 2. Put up with it and enjoy the perks and the paycheck? 3. Leave! Comments are welcomed.
The NFL also partnered with Cover Girl and selected a date with all 32 teams for a pop-up shop; glamorously referred to as a Style Lounge. Cover Girl provided complimentary manicures and each team displayed their most chic licensed apparel made just for women. Yours truly (a Designer at Outerstuff Ltd.) was chosen to be a stylist at the Bears vs. Saints game. Shoppers were treated to a personalized consultation. Plenty of VIPs stopped in to take pictures at the photo booth and a DJ supplied the music.
Right now my music is very fun and fresh so that is how I like to dress… It is a different kind of sexy. It’s not “oh, my whole body is out sexy.” It’s sexy in what I’m saying and how I’m saying it or what I’m doing. -Elle Varner
Testimony: You can be sitting in your town home in St. Paul, MN and get a linkedin message from Sony Music asking you to interview one of their artist!
the women of the University of Minnesota’s Athletic Department wearing their DIY tote bags!
A new season of Project Runway was around the corner just as New York Fashion Week was about to kick off. I was away from home as well as all my tools but I still wanted to celebrate the occasion. I took it as an opportunity to discover my signature style. My whole career I’ve been designing corporately taking on the company’s aesthetic never really honing in on my own.
Finding your signature style for some comes easy. For me I have always found it hard to narrow down. Every designer who authenticates themselves has a style that is unique to them.
Project Runway most often features designer who are in the developmental phase in their career. Challenge by challenge you begin to see them learning themselves as creatives. Once they have pinned it down and their collections walk down the runway the viewers and judges can often predict who made what.
I took a step back to view my creation and saw that I had finally made something that was as I call it “so me”.
My department was given the opportunity to design the debut collection for Cotton Candy Clothing by Amber Sabathia. Cotton Candy is an MLB line that represents all 30 major league teams.
Cotton Candy MLB- Fashion Week
New York Fashion Week is one of the biggest platforms a designer can display their work. It is the World Series of Fashion! I went from being a model dresser back stage with aspirations that one day models will be under the tents at Lincoln center wearing my apparel to seeing bite size little youngsters strutting the runway in clothing I contributed in designing.
Petite Parade is a fashion show for children held in Chelsea. CCandy show. NYC (photo by Christian Johnston)
Cotton Candy MLB- Petite Parade/ Fashion Week 3/14
The clothing was featured in the Petite Parade in collaboration with Vogue Bambini.
The best thing about Ready to Wear (RTW) separates is that you can make multiple outfits. Depending on your mood, venue or the occasion you can dress up or dress it down. However you decide to pair your pieces you will be super stylish!!!
Ever wonder why the intricate clothing that you see on runways are not the same as what you see in your local stores? A lot of a designers greatest works never see the production room floor let alone a retail rack. Every design is modified in board room meetings to make it relatable to the masses or affordable for the brand’s target market. Remove a graphic here, eliminate a seam line there or cut a style completely out of the collection. Sometimes a design is reduced to its most basic form completely removing all the creativity, love and attention detail that you put into it.
A basic screen printed l/s t-shirt
Early on in my career it was painful to part with my ideas. I wanted to fight for every style to remain exactly the way I envisioned it. Sooner or later you learn to pick your battles and as you design try to be creative as you can within the companies price point. Back to the drawing board aka my computer to make updates. At the end of the day it can be surprising what makes it to stores.
Below is a collection I helped design at Outerstuff Ltd. It reflects the designs leftover after the first couple edits. The catalog was later revised and minimized.
Team USA Rio Lifestyle Collection
Here are some of the designs from the collection above that I was able to find online.
As a young aspiring designer living in Chicago my mother decided I needed a glimpse of inspiration. She sent me an article from Essence Magazine featuring African American Designer Tracy Reese. As a board member of the CFDA and one of the few (or only) female faces that resembled mine that showed under the tents at Bryant Park I realized this was a big deal. I quickly ran to the computer to research her company and with a simple click of a send button I applied for an internship at just the right time. After a phone interview with her feisty Associate Designer Eva I was on my way to New York.
I was impressed by how hands on she was in every process of her products development. She even created her own textile prints. It was there that I learned what a repeat was and the difference between a paisley and similar floral prints. She explained to me that her design inspiration was the women of generations before her. If my memory serves correctly, she referenced her grandmother and the elders of her church growing up. How they took the time to dress up with their stylish hats, gloves and dresses. In those days, every time you went out fashion was a proper event not an after thought. At the end of the internship she allowed me to take home fabric left over from her in-house garment samples. Excited about my new treasure I decided to create a Tracy Reese inspired dress.
As a former athlete and current Fashion Designer, I am proud to have been given the privilege to make a contribution to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. The process of having an idea on paper (or computer), to holding the finished product is very gratifying.