Brandy Lee is this year’s Designer in Residence for Emerge II at Interform, and she is working on a five-piece capsule collection set to debut this fall. She recently showed a clothing collection at the Momentary as a response to Nick Cave’s fall 2020 exhibit Until. When she isn’t developing on her Interform collection, Lee works on custom projects through her fashion company Big Sister, which focuses on producing “feel good” fashion and upholstery. We talked with Lee about her work as Big Sister and what’s next (including a dream to eventually create her own Halloween costume collection).
INTERVIEW / JULIA M. TRUPP
PHOTOS / BRANDON WATTS
What was your initial pull into the fashion world? Did you always want to be a designer?
I did not always want to be a designer. My initial pull came from working in theatre. I was working in the costume department and people kept asking me to do alterations and make pieces so I really just leaned into it. My BFA is in Theatre Design with a focus on Scenic Design. Part of our practicum was working in the shop, which was where I learned about the basics of building and re-upholstering furniture. I didn’t add clothing and fashion design for another five years, after I started doing costume work.
What’s in a name? How do you name your pieces?
That is a great question. I’ve actually never thought too much about it. I think each collection is different. Some pieces require names that help better describe them to the viewer. Some pieces have more purpose rooted in real life and require names that are relatable to the garment. See, now I’m inspired to do a collection where the name comes first and then I build the garment based on the name instead of the other way around!
What fashion or design trend would you like to see fade away into the abyss?
The best answer that I could give would be none of them and all of them. What really needs to go is the expectation of “trends.” The constant rotation of “what’s in style.” I think we need a better relationship with our clothes and personal style, which would require us to forget all the trends and fads and move into wearing whatever we like because it makes us feel good regardless of what’s in style. I still think it’s okay to indulge in the latest trend, but it should be because you want to and not because you feel like if you don’t you won’t be “stylish.”
What do you think is one clothing item everyone should own?
I think that everyone should own a really nice winter coat. Not that Patagonia parka. I mean a coat that you wear over a suit or over a nice dress. Think about all those beautiful coats at the Presidential Inauguration. This type of outerwear is often overlooked because now you might only need it one or two times in a whole year, so people don’t think they need one until they need one. It may not come out of your closet very often but when you need it you’ll have something classy to complete that winter dress look.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I’ve always thought this was an interesting question. There is honestly not a lot that I feel guilty about. I do eat way too much sugar, I love a cigarette after a few drinks, I love network family sitcoms, talk shows and soap operas, and I like Taylor Swift. I will say one thing that I absolutely love that I do feel guilty about is falling asleep to the TV. We don’t keep a TV in the bedroom so I usually fall asleep on the couch.
What’s been your favorite part about your design journey so far? What’s been the most challenging?
The best part of this whole journey is the skills that I have acquired. It’s been so wild to think back to that one costuming class in 2002 and to remember how new everything was. And now, I can do so many tasks almost with my eyes closed. And then I count the years I’ve been plucking away at this and it makes sense. It’s really true, practice does make perfect. Sometimes I like to think back on all the early work and the countless lessons I’ve learned about my craft. The hardest part of this journey is transitioning this hobby [or] side hustle into an actual business. This is, by far, the biggest challenge ahead of me.
Anything else you’d like to include?
I want everyone to know that as a maker and a creative in the Fashion Industry it’s important to note that I am building this brand and reputation to be responsible. I want conscious capitalism. The fashion industry has a lot of issues that need to be addressed and as I continue moving forward I will make decisions that reflect solutions to problems we see in the industry now. I won’t be able to do everything at once so I am focusing on progress not perfection.
I hope everyone reading this will take a harder look at their clothes and contemplate more about where they come from and at what cost. Not just from a labor/worker perspective but from an environmental and social perspective as well. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of your wardrobe but one small change at a time. Progress not perfection.