To people who call it impractical to study fashion design, Joe Faris, 45, says, “You’re probably right.” Faris admits that had he stayed in New York City where he graduated from Parsons: The New School for Design, he would have had an easier go of things. Coming from Troy, Mich., Faris says that instead of fleeing to already established fashion capitals such as Los Angeles or New York, he has taken on the responsibility of “spearheading” an industry at home.
“Detroit” may evoke images of sleekly designed cars, but hardly ever dresses, and that’s precisely what Faris hopes to change.
“It’s because I’m from here; it’s because my children are here and my family is here that I want to pave the way for an industry to be born here,” Giles said about his choice to stay in Michigan.
Fellow designer Julie Lindsay from Montrose, Mich., shares Faris’ loyalty to Michigan. The luxury handbag creator has also chosen to set up shop locally. Lindsay said her training and love of fashion came from her grandmother, who was a seamstress and designer in her own right. Grandma Lindsay handled all the alterations for the historic Hudson’s Department Store in downtown Detroit. Lindsay said her grandmother was also a men’s suit designer, and her clientele included many “very wealthy” Detroiters from back in the day.
As risky a business as fashion design may be, Faris cites a meeting with the reps from Ralph Lauren in which they “ripped apart” his designs. Like Lindsay, he has creativity in his blood. His father was an interior designer, he said, and when faced with his son’s decision to pursue fashion design, he told him to “go be the best designer you can be.”
Faris hopes to provide similar support to young designers and others who want to start a career in fashion — and want to do it in Michigan.
A fan of Faris’ efforts is Ly’Kenda Marshall, 31. A former fashion merchandising and marketing major, Marshall was never interested in moving to New York. “Everybody goes there,” she said. In her opinion, it’s more of who you know versus what you know that decides whether you make it in fashion, especially in New York.
“Every place has its own style,” Marshall said. She connects to the colors and edgy, street style of places like Tokyo. This true fashionista wears red, wide-rimmed glasses, reminiscent of those popular in the
‘80s, and a busily printed blouse. Marshall said she thinks it would be sensible to take influences and inspiration from places like Milan or Tokyo, bubble wrap them, stuff them in UPS boxes and ship them home.
She wants to see Detroit develop its own unique style, perhaps only borrowing from other places.
“Nobody wants to give a chance to a new place,” Marshall said. “There are so many things going on in fashion in Detroit, but people just don’t know about.”
She believes that the runway light needs to be focused more steadily on Michigan. She has not faltered. though. When questioned whether fashion is still her lover, her response is as transparent as black tulle.
“Of course!,” she says, “Come on, now.” Faris says despite the current state of the economy, now is one of the best times for fashion. This is in the midst of the age of the trend, he said.
He brings up the public’s love affair with the skinny jean, and he believes the relationship has far from fizzled. The current generation differs from past eras, in Faris’ opinion, because there isn’t just one great trend — there are many. Design students, and anyone interested in this deceptively tough world, have the unique opportunity to attach themselves to one of these trendy waves and ride it out, he said. But Faris says designers must define themselves early on. They should carve out their niche and then perfect it.
“Fashion is constantly changing,” Faris said. And whether doing it in Detroit or elsewhere, designers have a responsibility to take inspiration and influence from other eras, like Marshall’s beloved ‘80s, and update it.
“Copy is the mother of all inspiration,” he says. But when the ruffles have fallen and the glitter has settled, you have to believe in yourself and just go for it, Faris said. He recently heard a quote that he likes to share: “More businesses fail by doubt than by economy.”
Faris assures that he, and others like him, will continue their efforts to create a fashion industry in Michigan in which others can succeed.