We’ve all been there: it’s 8:20 a.m., you have five minutes to leave for your first period class, and you still don’t know what you’re going to wear. The clock is ticking, and everything in your closet is terribly mediocre. But what if you had access to inexpensive, sustainable items of clothing that were made to fit you perfectly and could bring you automatic confidence?
Students on campus have been exploring fashion design in order to do just that. Maddie Bialek ’23 has always loved creating things with her hands, such as building miniature models of dollhouses, but she only began making clothes during the COVID-19 quarantine of her freshman spring. Though the lockdown meant that buying materials would be more difficult, it also tested her creativity, and she ultimately made a dress out of an old sheet she had at home. Since then, she’s created a successful platform on Depop, an online fashion marketplace, selling her handmade corsets. Bialek has also had one of her clothing items featured in a New York Times article titled “Parsing American Style”. Additionally, she is currently constructing an AP Photography portfolio examining the ways in which people mirror their environments using clothing that she personally designed.
Bialek initially started off by tracing some items she already owned to create sewing patterns, which are paper templates of pieces of the desired product. When describing the designing process, she also recommended tracing cut up segments of older or thrifted clothes, “just to see what the shapes look like and how it’s put together.” Now, Bialek creates her own patterns completely from scratch by draping fabric on mannequins. Making these patterns plays an integral role in one of Bialek’s favorite parts of the design process, which is witnessing her projects transform from sketches
into tangible pieces by “bringing something on paper into 3-D existence.”
Most of the fabrics Bialek uses are thrifted or deadstock materials. Due to the current climate crisis, she tries to make her process as sustainable as possible, and strives to remain conscious of the overall environmental impact of the fashion industry. For Bialek, another notable benefit of making her own clothes is becoming more conscious of where her items came from and how they were made. She explained, “I think it’s really
valuable to be able to know where a piece of clothing came from to
have a more honest and ethical connection with it.” Bialek explained how such a connection can influence someone’s general feelings or attitude when wearing a particular item, saying, “When you wear some-
thing that you made for yourself versus something somebody else made for you, it feels really different and way better, because it can be fitted to you and personalized.”
Though she has many accomplishments under her belt, Bialek has had to face a fair amount of trial and error during her fashion design process. She said, “A lot of times I make things and then they get stuffed in a bag under my table, or taken apart and remade, so it’s not always perfect the first time.” Charlotte Halpin ’23 began sewing in eighth grade, originally
captivated by the concept of thrift flipping. Soon after, she tried experimenting with making clothes completely from scratch, and became hooked on the total independence she could enjoy during the process, as well as the opportunity to challenge herself to “make crazy, cool, and complicated pieces.”
Halpin is interested in fashion because “it is an expression of who you are as a person.” She believes “clothing is a visual representation of your history and your background.”
Though she originally focused on creating practical items for herself, Halpin has taken a more freeform approach to design this past year by expanding her idea of fashion to include items that are not necessarily meant to be worn. Through this new perspective, Halpin shared, “[the design process] has turned much more into a kind of art for me” and is “much more fun than it was when I only made things I could wear.”
Sewing clothes has boosted Halpin’s confidence in multiple ways. Despite the struggles she may face in other aspects of life, she said, “It’s really nice to have something like sewing that I can always turn to and know I’ll be good at.” She added, “I think the feeling of wearing something you’ve made is similar to when you wear your favorite item of clothing; you feel comfortable and confident… If you’ve completed something right and did a really good job making it, it’s the best feeling in the world to wear it.”
Last spring Halpin started Charkinis, a custom bikini business that quickly gained popularity on campus. She described, “Walking around on spring day and seeing so many people in my bikinis was really cool.” Halpin also recommends that other students try out starting their own clothing or garment businesses, as it is “a fun way to meet new people.” She added, “I think it’s just so fun to make it social.”
Ella Foulkes ’22 has also racked up quite a few years of sewing experience. Her older sister introduced her to the craft in 2016. Since then, Foulkes has made items using thrifted items from scratch, and has even knitted a few pieces. Foulkes appreciates the ability to pursue sewing in the form of focused projects, while enjoying knitting as more of a casual pastime, though both serve as significant creative outlets for her.
Foulkes recognized intimidation as an important factor that prevents people from trying out sewing, saying, “When you first get into sewing there will be some tricky spots and sometimes, the language can be kind of intimidating.” She said, however, “Once you get going, it’s really just following directions.. after you kind of get a handle on that, you can start getting more creative.”
Foulkes emphasized that sewing does not necessarily have to be a full-day endeavor: “I’ve drastically altered pieces in just a couple hours, and made something that I was just never wearing into something that I could wear every day.”
Fashion design offers uniquely personalized ways in which students can express themselves all while being environmentally and economically sustainable. Who knows? Maybe everyone on campus could benefit from picking up a needle and thread every so often. For those who may be fostering a new found interest in clothing design, Bialek’s fashion club meets every Monday from 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the iLab.