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designer EMILY WANG with Mandana Vakil: A Collection of Flowering Sustainability

Mandana: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Emily: My name is Emily Wang. I’m a freshman from Long Island, NY. I’m thinking about studying Economics and Literary Arts. I’ve really had a lot of fun in the fashion community here at Brown so far.

M: What has your experience with fashion been before you came to Brown?

E: When I was a senior in high school, I had to pursue a thesis-internship project. I wanted to work with one of my friend’s parents. They have worked with a lot of major designers such as Marc Jacobs and even did a line with Reese Witherspoon. They’re mainly involved in the production side of the fashion industry, so they taught me about the process that takes the designer’s original sketch and turns it into a model meant for mass production.

M: So you decided that you wanted to pursue fashion further in college as well?

E: Yeah, fashion was definitely something that I didn’t have a lot of experience with in high school. That little internship project was something that whet my appetite. I wanted to give it a little bit of a shot here in college.

M: So how did you choose to design for fashion@brown?

E: I think that coming into Brown you get a clean slate to try whatever you want - especially since everyone is really encouraging you to “go for it” here in freshman year. They say that there is no better time to do it! So I wanted to dip my toe in a few pots that I hadn’t quite had the opportunity to stir up yet. I thought that it would be a fun little project to take on.

M: Sounds like you really are taking advantage of all the opportunities that we have here at Brown. Do you maybe have a role model or someone that inspired you to pursue fashion?

E: I think that from an early age, my grandma and my mother were large influencers in my life, so to say. My mother, well, she dressed me probably until the age of like 8 or 9. Head to toe - it was all her doing. From that point I remember going through that angsty, middle school phase. Then, I think in high school, where you get that clean slate to start fresh if you want to and look back at what worked in the past, I think my grandma really played a large role in developing my interest in fashion because that’s when she started introducing me to her closet. She has this obsession with hats, scarves and jewelry that I absolutely love. She was always really open about sharing things with me. I think that’s why fashion really comes from a place of love for me. Other than that, some fashion designers that I am inspired by right now include Elie Saab and Christian Siriano. They design a lot of big ball gowns and elaborate dresses. I just wanted to play off of their vibes a little bit for my collection.

M: Tell me a little bit about your collection.

E: When I interned with my friend’s parents, one of the main concerns that they had with the fashion industry was sustainability. When they created a rough sketch of what the designers wanted and brought those prototypes to fittings, oftentimes they would have to rip those pieces apart. For example they would bring a prototype dress to a fitting in order to work with the designer one-on-one. Then, the designer would tell them what they wanted. Sometimes they would be like, “oh, it’s too long here,” and they would take a permanent marker and draw a line where they wanted the change. Or they would take a seam ripper and cut through a seam - just like that. What I saw was that there are a bunch of prototypes that ultimately are discarded unless somebody takes the time to revamp them or rework them in some aspect. So my collection has taken a lot of those prototype pieces and is working on transforming them and putting my own little twist on them. Another thing that really inspired my collection was an upcycling workshop that I participated in here at Brown. There was this sort of pink, tulle, almost satiny-looking material. I was just hand-sewing some of it together and I randomly ended up turning it into a flower. I thought that it looked kind of cute, so I took that as my inspiration. Now, I am trying to work on incorporating these sort of ethereal, pink, blue-grey muted tones into my collection. My design style is very classic but it also has some twists in the whimsical aspects or includes dark tones. Overall, though, I like how fashion has made people feel empowered.

M: Wow that sounds so cool. It really  seems like you are interested in the sustainability aspect of fashion...

E: I think a lot of that comes from my science-research background. One of my main projects in high school was trying to figure out how to purify and desalinate water. I have always been into the idea of sustainability involving water. Now, that same interest has extended into fashion.

M: That’s wonderful that you can fuse those two things together. Did you have a specific difficulty that you had to overcome in creating this collection?

E: I think that one of the biggest obstacles that I faced was probably the fact that they prototype pieces that I am working with are full pieces - a couple of dresses and a skirt, really. I’m trying to remake those pieces into something new and unique. It’s kind of hard when you’re already given a template and it’s something that has already been worked up - the pieces already have their own trims and mark-ups. Trying to deconstruct that and create something new from that was something that I really struggled with in the beginning. As I started taking the pieces apart and I really gave myself a blank canvas to work with, that’s when I let my imagination take over and it helped me work through that difficulty.

M: Could you tell me about your favorite piece in the collection?

E: I think my favorite piece fluctuates depending on my mood. But I am working on this one piece, which kind of inspired the majority of my collection. It’s this purple skirt - well, it has purple lining. It’s almost a sheer grey on top that is a little tulle-like I would say. It  brought me back to my internship experience especially since I was given almost the exact same piece to work with when I was there. It sort of kickstarted my whole collection and drive to really focus on this project. It’s a relatively small collection of probably three pieces right now. I think that one piece specifically  really started the fire in me and desire to bring this idea to completion.

M: I have one last question for you: Do you have any projects planned for the future that you see yourself pursuing past the fashion@brown show?

E: Definitely in the future - working closer with my friend’s parents. I know that they have a lot of connections not only with the production aspect of fashion, but also with photography and modelling. I think that might be something I could be interested in pursuing in the future. Maybe, writing for a fashion magazine too because that’s really where my literary arts interest comes into play.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.