Updated: Jun 7
Hello Dear Readers!
Today we are featuring Portland's own Sloane A. White. I met Sloane about 5 years ago when we were preparing for a Design Week Portland Event. We collaborated with Bora Architect Firm and were looking for models to show our wearables at the event: Comfortable? Fabric And The Threshold Of Shelter. That was back in 2018 and since then, Sloane has been on quite the journey- Here we share exclusive behind-the-scenes story of their journey
Join us Thursday, March 16th for a live chat with Sloane! Free and open to all! RSVP is required to receive the zoom link. Create your log in and view EVENTS to RSVP
IFD: Sloane, tell us about your background and education
SW: I attended the Pacific Northwest College of Art in the Pearl district in downtown Portland. I have a bachelor's of fine art in animation, which inspired me to learn how to sew. My major has a focus on stop-motion animation. Stop-motion films such as Laaika House and Tim Burton's
films like James and the Giant Peach and Nightmare Before Christmas, you can see that the films are created with real puppets and real lighting, so I was getting interested in making tiny outfits for my puppets.
I grew up sewing occasionally, but I didn't take it seriously. Then, when I
graduated college, I got commissioned to do a music video for a musician out of Seattle. I was making this one character, and she had many outfit changes. So when I finished the music video, I decided to mess around and learn how to make full-sized clothing since I had gotten the hang of making clothes for the miniature puppets. I had little income then, working out of a food cart downtown, and barely had any money. So I was using fabric scraps, buying old sheets and curtains from goodwill, and just seeing what happened. I made 23 dresses by hand that summer of 2014, and they were all imperfect, but I was learning more and more with each failure. By the fall, I had saved enough to buy a cheap singer machine from target and was getting more invested. At one point, I was finishing one dress every other day.
One time I was out with my best friend McKenna, walking around shopping downtown at some boutiques. We walked into this boutique called Billy Goat Vintage, which is no longer around. The owner asked me where I got my dress. I wasn't trying to call attention to myself, so I told them, "oh, it's just vintage," My best friend snitched on me, and thank goodness she did since it set me on this whole new path. McKenna said, "they are lying; they made that dress!" And the person working there was interested to see more of my work and told me that if I had anything extra that I wanted to part with that, I should wash my garments that night, press them and bring them in the next day, and I could choose what price I thought was fair and I could be in their store! So that night, I got all my stuff ready, and I came back the next day, and over time many of my garments sold in that store. Through the shop, I met Sundari Franklin. Sundari is a designer in town who was also in the same store, and she planned a fashion show, which became the first fashion show in which I participated. From there, I was invited to more fashion shows, and my designs and interests evolved, but that is how I started.
IFD: Tell us about your work history- job history and the path up to current day work
SW: I have sewn for other designers in town, which has taught me many technical skills. I worked for a luxury bag company, a ready-to-wear designer in NE PDX Lindsey Reif, whose brand is Reifhaus; I sewed costumes for the Children's Theater downtown and was the tailor for a bit of a while at Indochino as well. I appreciated everything I learned at all of these locations, and most of all, I realized that I never wanted to sew my line making multiples in vast size runs. Sewing the same thing over and over is maddening to me.
Currently, I am a team lead at Indochino, which is a suit company. This job is technically easy for the most part, besides being customer-facing, which we all know can sometimes be a struggle. I am not pushing to sell my clothes or take commissions because doing that doesn't please me. Also, when sewing stuff for someone else, I could improve at staying on a timeline because I keep putting it off. So to avoid letting anyone down, I no longer do commissions. I see myself purely as an artist. So yes, I have to have a day job to support myself and pay bills, and that way, my fashion design is not connected to my finances, which is what I prefer.
IFD: Tell us about your design process
SW: One of the key points I focus on with my fashion is using existing materials and not buying anything new. Unfortunately, this method only works sometimes in my favor. For example, for my London Fashion Week collection, I made a dress with some feather trim, and I needed more trim, so I had to order new trim to finish the piece. Such things happen, but I mostly use found materials. Some of the most adored gowns I have made were made from sheer curtains someone gave me. My finalé piece for LFW was a dress made with an antique tablecloth.
There are enough materials out there in the world. Moreover, all my pieces are one of a kind, so I don't need a ton of fabric to do size runs; I only need enough to finish one item. I also use a lot of leather and fur, which some would complain about. But the way I see it, I am using the rest of the animal. For example, I will take an old fur coat sitting that's been sitting for decades in the back of a closet, disassemble it, and turn it into something new. I deeply love using animal products because I am breathing life back into an item that has been forgotten, not to mention where a creature was sacrificed. If an animal died for its fur 50+ years ago, we should still try and get some use out of it, so it doesn't go to waste. And some people still hate fur and leather, but they already exist, so we should put them to use instead of throwing them out.
Another thing I do that I think is worth mentioning is that when I am designing a runway piece for a model, I like to get to know my model first to make sure I am making something that they would love to wear and feel comfortable wearing in front of a crowd. If they are uncomfortable, you will see it in how they hold themselves, and I never want someone to be uncomfortable. So that element of collaboration is an integral part of my process when I share my art with others.
IFD: Tell us about Fringe fashion show that you produce- we got to attend a few times and was such a special and unique experience!
SW: I was a young designer fresh on the scene doing my first fashion show. I had auditioned to be in FashioNXT for two years and finally got accepted the second time I applied. I have many friends outside the typical model stereotype and greatly enjoy working with those models.
But looking at the lineup of models for FashioNXT I was disappointed that I needed to pay hundreds extra to bring in my own models. So I made Fringe in response to what I saw as flaws in how FashioNXT ran things. I am not trying to talk badly on the show. That is the biggest & most attended show in town. But I don't see people like my friends and myself represented there. So if you think I am talking bad about FashioNXT, I hope you read further to see what I feel now.
So here is how it happened: one day in 2018, my friend Tom Lupton and I were doing a photo shoot with a model named Samantha Powell. After Samantha left, we had a drink and sat on the photo studio floor. I was lamenting that I was too poor to afford to bring in any of my models and how it seemed like all the fashion shows in town were only showing tiny models and all the show fees would add up if I wanted to do these shows. And I looked at Tom and said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we did a fashion show?" and he agreed. Later that night, I worked downtown at Star Theater with my dad, the manager. I asked him if we had ever had a fashion show at the theater, and he said, "Why? Do you want to do one?" And he let me put a date on the calendar that night for later that summer, and we put our first fashion show together in just months! I was so proud of the outcome. We mainly showed emerging designers, I didn't charge fees for designers, and we cast models without limitations for the models we were looking for, meaning no height limit, no size limit, age limit, or gender limit. We had such a bright and vast array of models and designers, and the feedback from the community was just outstanding. Our first show sold out, standing room only. It was amazing to see and still fills me with joy.
Currently, we are not planning another event for Fringe. I am nervous now that the pandemic has changed all of our lives. I am afraid to do all
the planning and work for an entire event to have many models drop out the day before because they have covid or something. So I am hesitant to put all the work in now, especially since Fringe doesn't generate any income. We have done four shows now, three at the Star Theater and one at the Armory. I never made a single dollar from any of the events; they were all to create a stage for the community to showcase those often underrepresented, overlooked, and excluded in the fashion world. If I had all the time in the world, I would keep planning events and working full-time.
Also, since the last Fringe event, I have traveled to show my runway collections to bigger, more glamorous shows than the shows we do here in town. I am not trying to make myself sound cool, but I want to provide some context for what I am about to say. I used to be all up in arms about fashion inclusion, how every fashion show should have plus-sized models, and how we need to go above and beyond to break down the barriers in the fashion industry. Now my viewpoint is more realistic. While yes, I am as woke as a designer can be, I am now enlightened on the struggles of traveling out of town with all my gowns packed up in a suitcase and meeting my models three hours before the event starts.
When I was at San Francisco Fashion Week, I met all my models, and then one of them refused to wear my collection! Each piece had animal products in some way, be it silk, fur, or leather, and she was vegan. So instead of being in the show, she chose not to walk. I was astounded. If I had known, I would have made her something vegan, but the show producers would have had to wait to let me talk to my models. So that was super upsetting to me that one of my pieces has never seen the light of day, let alone a catwalk as I had intended. At London Fashion
Week, I had a similar situation occur; one of my model's hip measurements was about 5 inches wider than she initially told me. I was super annoyed because the one I made for her was one of my best pieces, so I held my breath, zipped myself into the gown, and walked the runway with my models. I barely squeezed into that gown, but I made it work! I could have made it work if I had fit her in advance, but I had just flown there days before. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my sewing machine, beads, or supplies. So I had to wear it instead to ensure the look got seen in the collection.
I am explaining all this because these experiences gave me a more realistic outlook on why models at very high-profile events are so skinny. As a traveling designer, I need to know that my models will wear what I make and ensure they will fit. I traveled across the world to find out on the same day of the event that my model was the wrong size. So now I get why FashioNXT is featuring such tiny models. It is a sample size for a reason, designers pay money to be in these shows, and they want to avoid showing up to find out that what they brought isn't going to work. And the bigger the model, the more variance there will be in body shape. Even when I was a size 6 in dress, my friend and I could have the exact bust/waist/hip measurement, and the garments I made would look
different. So plus-sized models will have even more variance. So I get it now, and I feel apologetic for bashing the bigger shows in town for being less inclusive.
At the same time, that makes Fringe an inclusive fashion show essential. Because all models are valid no matter what their size is. Fringe is a local show for local designers and models, which means that the designers and models can meet months in advance and make sure they make garments for the runway that will certainly fit and look great without worry. All of our shows play an essential role in the community. It is good that our shows are different. That way, we can support and help each other because our shows vary. It isn't like we are stepping on each other's toes because we are in different lanes, which means we can cohabitate.
IFD: FashioNXT takes place every October here in Portland, and is touted as the 2nd largest fashion event in the county. Could you tell about your experience as and emerging designer in their Up NXT category?
SW: I met many lovely people at FashioNXT and loved attending their
events. Some of the pics from my runway collection on that stage are my favorite to show off when discussing my designs because their long runway looks so good. The accelerator program was very informative, and I still use the knowledge I learned through the featured workshops I attended. I admire everyone in the same UpNXT program as me, and I still follow all of their work.
IFD: What inspires you?
SW: What inspires me changes every day. The best way to put it is that I am seeking beauty. I am seeking the beauty in someone's smile when they put on one of my pieces. Beautiful vintage cut glass beads from 70
years ago inspire me. I get inspired by the beauty I see when I work with a photographer, and they bring my piece to life in a way I had not considered. I get inspired by the feeling of putting on a gown made just for me and knowing no one else in the world has the same garment, and if anyone asks me about it, I get to say that I made it, cut the pieces, sewed every single stitch, sewed on every single bead. The thought inspires me that after I die, all my beautiful art will remain, and hopefully,
whoever has my pieces will care for them after my death. I view it as a record of my existence, and it inspires me that the beauty will remain even after I am gone.
IFD: So you recently got engaged! Congratulations. I know you will have unique ideas for your wedding attire- can you share with us your plans?
SW: Alexander and I got engaged after 4.5 years of being together, and I will treat my wedding like the most significant art project of my entire life. Alexander is a major part of my life. Alexander became the vendor
coordinator in Fringe, which was a massive help. When I got invited to be in London Fashion Week, he and I were conspiring on how to afford the trip. We planned on living with my family for a few months to save up to be in the show and fly over there. Then, one day he surprised me by taking out a personal loan so I could follow my dreams, and honestly, I had never been so moved by someone before like that. It was such a huge gesture of love to do something risky for me and for him not to hesitate. We are deeply in love, and I am making my outfits, his outfits,
and the outfits for everyone at our wedding party. I am excited to make all the outfits because then it will be like everyone involved in the ceremony gets to take home their work of art to remember the occasion. And my mom wants a dress too, so if I have time, yes, okay, mom, I know you are reading this, and I will make one for you too!
We are planning a long engagement because we need the budget, and I will need time to make all the outfits. I am planning on taking this year to experiment with different sewing techniques that I might want to try with my wedding dress. So I currently have six photoshoots booked for myself this year, and for each one, I will try a different type of white gown. Not only will this give me the time I want to experiment with new styles and ways of sewing, but it will also help me figure out which style looks best on me after my pictures return.
IFD: What strengths do you feel are necessary for the type of work you do?
SW: My greatest strength as an artist is that I am always open to new techniques. I always try new things and colors and get inspiration from a new cut or fabric. I have much patience when it comes to sewing, so I take my time and focus on the details. My favorite parts are the details! I am beading a dress for a shoot and have been working on it for three weeks. I am at about 51 hours spent on one skirt so far. The beadwork is where I shine.
I always tell people to follow where their creativity takes them. I learned how to sew because I was doing animation. I was doing animation because I attended school to learn to be an illustrator. I wanted to be an illustrator because I loved drawing in sketchbooks as a kid. So go where the creativity is pulling you; you might surprise yourself!
IFD: What skills are required to do what you do?
SW: You get a good feel for how to make clothes if you can try them on afterward. I don't make much masculine clothing because I don't wear that style often, but when I do make more masculine clothing, I am still making it for myself. I get a better feel for what I am doing if I can feel it on my body and how the fabric moves when I move. So patience, having good spatial awareness, and designing for others, you must be a people person. Also, embrace your mistakes because every mistake is a lesson learned for the next project. So the willingness to mess up a lot and adapt is crucial.
IFD: What advice would you give someone entering the apparel field or wanting to follow a similar path?
SW: Don't follow in my footsteps if you want to make money as a designer. I view myself as a fashion activist. I have expensive taste in
fashion and the budget for a thrift store. I learned how to sew to remove myself from the fast fashion cycle. I liked the costly beaded gowns from the magazines and couldn't afford them, so I learned to make them myself, and I am happy that I did because it brings me so much joy. So if you want to become a fashion activist and say goodbye to poorly made cheap clothing and remove yourself from the cycle of suffering that the fashion world creates (human suffering and the damage to the planet), I encourage you to get a sewing machine and make your own clothing.
IFD: What is your design/development process? Tell us about some of the necessary steps and how you like to work- such as initial concept, shopping, finding inspiration, and prototyping.
SW: I often draw pictures for designs and then never follow that drawing. I just can't! I think of a new thing along the way and stray far from my first idea. I like to save pictures I see of runway looks that speak to me, and I want to see how I can twist a vision and make it speak more to my style. I view my process like I am a sculptor. I take a scrap fabric, hack into it, pin it to a dress form, and let the material tell me what it wants to do. I usually draft 1-3 versions of a dress in scrap fabric before cutting the fabric I want. I save all the pieces and label them with a marker so I can use the final draft for the next piece if I choose to do so.
IFD: What are some of your goals and vision for the future?
SW: I cannot stress enough that I only want to sew clothing for myself from now on or sew a dress for runway collections. Sewing for myself is at the heart of why I even learned how to sew in the first place, and I find that the more I start trying to design things for other people to wear, the
more I am not having fun anymore. And since I work a full-time job, all the time I get to spend sewing, I want to sew for myself and not someone else. So for my wedding, I am making the looks for everyone involved, but it still feels like I am doing it for me since it is for my wedding.
Honestly, I want to be happy. Life is short. I don't want to spend my days forcing myself to be creative to pay my bills, and I want my creative energy to be untouched by capitalism and be a pure source of joy for myself to enrich my life. So I want to spend my short life being happy, making art, and adding as much beauty to the world as possible.
IFD: Who inspires you? Did you have a role model- a "she-ro" that inspired you?
SW: I am inspired by the women who came before me. My mom is a huge source of inspiration for me. She had a hard life, and she is still standing. She still finds the beauty in the center of every flower, she still wakes up every day and chooses to see the bright side even when things
are dark, and I aspire to be more like her. After learning to sew, I know that my great-grandmother was a very talented seamstress and used to make clothing for her whole family. She would look at something in a magazine and make it the next day just from one photo. So I inherited my talent and love for all things beautiful in a dark world. The darkness makes the lighter things shine that much brighter. So I look up to people who bring positivity, joy, and beauty to the world.
Artistically, I look up to Elsa Schiaparelli, who was so ahead of her time, and her designs are so freaky and weird. I hope to be as outstanding as she was.
IFD: Sloane, do you have any tips & tricks you can share for aspiring designers?
SW: YES- Id like to share the Top 5 tips and tricks for beading!
1. Use upholstery thread.
2. maintain tension to ensure the beads are secured.
3. beeswax on the thread can help keep the threads from tangling but not too much, or it will gum up the beads.
4. stick to a color scheme.
5. Make sure to test your beads with water. Some beads have dye on the outside that will rub off on your fabrics.
& My Favorite place to find materials:
SCRAP PDX is my #1 place to get materials, and the trick is to go often or
volunteer so you can see what is coming out on the floor and make sure to find all the good stuff. It is like goodwill for arts and craft supplies, and they need our help if they stay open forever as I need them to be, so please shop there! Everything is so cheap, and they get lots of vintage stuff that is just amazing.
IFD: Any Final Thoughts?
SW: I would also like to mention that I am now identifying as non-binary
and use they/them pronouns instead of she/her. I changed this not because I don't identify with femininity or want to be more masculine. On the contrary, I think I am feminine in how I present; if you know me well, I have a profoundly male personality. I don't like the box that being a "woman" puts you in. Especially with all these people trying to control what women can do with their bodies, I want to stay out of the expectations that society pressures you to fit into; if you go along with societal standards or go against them, the means of expectations are there. My little slice of heaven always refers to me as they/them because I feel like I get to exist on the merit of who I am and not what is expected of me.
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