We hope you enjoy the fourth installment in the Alumni Profile Series, which features profiles of the Handwork Studio graduates (and some current members) and gives you an inside look into their lives!
For a shorter biography of Lizzy Gee, check out the alumni page of our website!
Who is Lizzy Gee?
From perusing Lizzy Gee’s website before our interview, it is easy to tell that she is a colorful person, an imbues that sense of boldness and brightness in her designs. Seeing Lizzy’s outfit and a small section of her apartment on our video call only confirms that she loves color, and I can’t want to hear what she has to say. Lizzy graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York just a few months before our interview with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design and is currently working as a head teacher at The Handwork Studio as she makes plans for her future.
I ask Lizzy a few fun questions to get us into the interview, and in the process learn that the night before our conversation she watched the movie Stardust on Netflix. (Lizzy is a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan.) If Lizzy could be any animal, she would be a flamingo because she loves pink, and her website is full of vibrant shades of the color. Lastly, I ask Lizzy what she wants to be when she grows up, and she laughs. “Well, I’m being it! A fashion designer!”
Early Involvement in Handwork and The Handwork Studio
Lizzy started knitting classes at the Handwork Studio when she was eight, and after a year of that she started machine sewing. Lizzy also did Fashion Bootcamp at the Handwork Studio for four or so years, and credits her experiences there with helping her develop her entire fashion skill set before she went to college. “Without them, I wouldn’t have known any of it, because no one in my family can even hand sew. So I’m officially the seamstress of the house, thanks to them.” Lizzy was interested in handwork before she began attending the Handwork Studio classes, however, because she was always intrigued by the idea that she could draw something and have an idea and then actually bring that idea to life. She dabbled in making board games when she was younger, but nothing clicked with her more than knitting and making clothes.
While she was 13 (and still attending Fashion Bootcamp at the Handwork Studio), Lizzy also started working as an assistant instructor, helping out at birthday parties and camp during the summer at the Narberth studio, an experience that foreshadowed her current position as head teacher. Lizzy tells me about a time during Fashion Bootcamp that stands out to her as a perfect representation of how great the Handwork Studio was in helping build her as a person and a designer. “I remember Ms. Alisha and Ms. Julia tried to help me figure out how to thread a serger. That’s a much more complex machine than a sewing machine, and it uses five threads, and they sat with me for like two hours trying to figure it out. That was the next step, and they were happy to help me through it.”
Because Lizzy has known that she wanted to go into fashion for so long, she was able to start having incredible job and internship experience at a relatively young age. When she was still in high school, Lizzy took classes at the Moore College of Art and Design and interned at the costume department at Villanova University (where they thought she was a college student until the very end of the internship, when they found out she was only 16!).
Once she arrived in New York for her freshman year at Pratt, Lizzy started interning right away, even though her university advised incoming students against doing so because companies might try to take advantage of them. Lizzy heeded the warning but once met a woman near her school named Julie Mollo who had her own studio and made performance-wear for different musicians, Lizzy jumped at the opportunity to learn from the business and see what it takes to run your own brand. Lizzy planned to intern for bigger and bigger brands over the years to gain a variety of working experience in different environments, so her second internship was with a designer named Mara Hoffman. Hoffman taught Lizzy all about print design, something she had been interested in ever since she attended the Handwork Studio. Lizzy’s third internship was with her “idol, Christian Siriano. When I got an internship with him, I was like ‘I think this is the pinnacle. I don’t know how I can get any better than this.’ I just love that he does plus size too, and I’ve only ever made designs for myself, and I’ve been plus size since middle school. So it was really nice to meet someone who doesn’t care what size you are, and is going to make something nice no matter what.”
I, like Lizzy, attend university in New York, so I ask her what it was like to move from outside of Pennsylvania to the city. “I love it. It’s definitely a different pace than any other city. But I love it. I think it helps that I went to a school that still has a campus feeling, so you feel that calm amongst the crazy. If I had gone to Parsons or FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] I would have felt very overwhelmed and I wouldn’t have stayed after graduating. But I plan to stay for at least a year.” I agree. I love the city, but without a quiet, collegiate campus, my university experience would be very different than it is now.
Like many people, my sense of the fashion industry, especially in New York, is that it can be pretty cutthroat. Movies like The Devil Wears Prada depict a very specific image of what that world resembles, and I ask Lizzy if it was at all daunting to enter that universe as a young designer. “There’s definitely stereotypes for a reason,” she tells me, “And I’ve met all of them. Surprisingly enough there’s all different kinds of personalities and brands out there, but you can find a really different experience than the harsh, cutthroat environment they make it out to be. My very first big brand internship was Mara Hoffman and...it was one of the most welcoming environments. So it depends on the environment, and there’s definitely brands out there that can take advantage and make you feel like you can’t do it, but there’s also brands that want you to succeed. Even though The Devil Wears Prada tries to tell you different.”
Apparently, other people in Lizzy’s life were concerned about how she would fare in the New York fashion industry as well because she would get a lot of "'Oh, you’re too nice to be in fashion. Oh, you’re too sweet, you’re not gonna make it. But you can always be like a teacher?’” Lizzy ignored all those comments. “My main thing is to run my own brand, and the only way to do that is if I work for a brand...Why not try to go in there and make a change? I love it so much; I’m not gonna give up just because some people tell me they think my designs are ugly or something.”
As I guessed from looking at her website and seeing her for the first time, Lizzy loves color. She elaborates on her art and vision, and why she creates the way that she does.
“I always have had a lot of color and boldness with my designs. I try to balance femininity and edge, so I design for a girl who wants to wear pink and wear bright colors, but also, you know, don’t mess with her. That’s the vibe I’m trying to bring out. Also when I went to Pratt, I started to learn about menswear, and I love the idea of helping straight men not have a fear of dressing flamboyant and wearing what they want. I have a lot of friends who are guys, and they love my designs, but they’re too afraid. If they want to wear a really bold print, they’re worried people will assume certain things about them rather than think they just really enjoy color."
"I want to create a brand that blends that aesthetic together and is not really defined by gender or a demographic; it’s just a personality. And that is a more feminine edge, I guess. It would be made sustainably. What I tried to learn in school is the best way to sustainably create prints and textiles, because that’s where most of the pollution comes from in fashion. All that dying, all that manipulating of materials to create the fabrics we have. Which ones are the best in terms of decomposing, which ones last the most so we won’t be throwing away garments? I’m trying to find a universal quality to having fun with prints and color.”
Lizzy’s artistic vision changed significantly while she attended Pratt, and she expects more change to come. She made five mini-collections before she even started college, so she thought she knew what she wanted, but learning about menswear, prints, and accessories at Pratt helped expand Lizzy’s horizons. She’s now more open to starting her brand with accessories and building into clothes or experimenting with a more versatile range of techniques and demographics.
Trials and Successes
One instance immediately comes to mind when I ask Lizzy if there’s anything she’s done over the last few years that she’s especially proud of.
“I’ve always dabbled in costume design, but that’s never been where I definitely wanted to go because I want to design for the everyday person as well. I’ve never wanted to design clothes that feel exclusive, you know? That’s why I get rigid if I know I have to sell something for slightly more expensive than I’d buy it at. But there was a costume design competition at Pratt. They partnered with a famous boutique in Manhattan to do this competition, and the winner’s costume would be displayed in the front window. Which is a dream come true for anyone who wants to show their own designs. I initially didn’t think I was going to do it because I was stressed out with what I was doing, and the theme was under the sea, and I was like, okay, a million people are gonna do mermaids and jellyfish. I like to put a humorous spin on my work, and I couldn’t think of anything for the first week. My professors kept telling me to apply and try, and midnight the night before it was due I remembered The Amanda Show, and my favorite part of that show was with Judge Trudy, who always yelled “Bring in the Dancing Lobsters!” and I was like ‘Oh, my God. I’m gonna make a dancing lobster. But I’m gonna make it sexy and elegant, but it's still gonna be the dancing lobster. A costume that you can dance in.’ So that’s what I made.”
Lizzy describes the lobster dress as “kind of cartoonish but elegant,” with sequins, long antennae, and a tail like a train. “And I ended up winning,” she tells me, with a smile. It was the first time Lizzy had a window front with her name on it, and she was thrilled when she was it in person for the first time. After the competition, Lizzy ended up getting a contract with the store and sold a few more dresses to them.
When I ask Lizzy if she would change anything about the last few years, she has a surprising and refreshing answer. “I don’t know if I would change anything.” She pauses for a long time to think, and I make sure to tell her that she doesn’t have to have something and that it’s a good thing if she doesn’t want to change anything about her recent life. Ultimately, however, Lizzy tells me that if she “had to choose something...I did a summer abroad in London, and I loved it so much; I applied for the college experience and decided not to go. I wasn’t sure if I should do that, because I was so young. But after going, I totally could have done it. But I love New York. So if anything, maybe I would have done that as my fashion degree. So if I decide to get my masters I’d go there.”
Lizzy’s final words prove to be fantastic advice for anyone reading this, but especially for kids at the Handwork Studio who wish to pursue careers in fashion. “Don’t listen to anybody who says what you’re doing is weird or out of the ordinary or that it can’t happen,” she says, “Because you can make it happen. That’s literally what being a designer is. You design clothes you’ve never seen before. What makes you different is what makes you succeed. That’s not pushed in the classroom enough. There’s multiple ways to get to where you wanna be...Having patience with yourself and learning the skills to create is the hardest at the beginning. I’m teaching a group of machine sewers right now, and they already think they’re bad at it, almost. Every time they make a little mistake. That’s probably the hardest thing. Once you learn all those mistakes are learning experiences you can build upon, fashion will come so naturally to you, and you can go and have a career in it.”
Photo 1: Portrait of Lizzy Gee
Photo 2: Lizzy wearing clothes from her "S/he's a Rebel" Collection, 2016
Photo 3: Model wearing clothes from Lizzy's "Wilder Wo/mann" Collection, 2017
Photo 4: Model wearing clothes from Lizzy's "Wilder Wo/mann" Collection, 2017
Photo 5: Model wearing clothes from Lizzy's "S/he's a Rebel" Collection, 2016
Photo 6: Lizzy's "Dancing Lobsters" costume in the window of Screaming Mimis
Photo 7: Lizzy and models wearing clothes from her "Wilder Wo/mann" Collection, 2017