This week’s blogpost is dedicated to Custom Collaborative’s latest success story, NYC-based sustainable fashion designer, Eudora Tucker. But first, a bit about Custom Collaborative (CC).
Custom Collaborative is a Harlem-based non-profit 501(c)(3) founded in 2015 by Executive Director Ngozi Okaro. The organization provides free training and ongoing support for women from low-income and immigrant communities through their entrepreneurship and workforce-development programs. Their Training Institute teaches the art, craft and techniques used in sustainable garment-making, as well as ethical business practices in the fashion industry.
CC’s mission is to help women professionalize their sewing and design skills, overcome barriers to employment, and, ultimately, bring greater equity and inclusivity to the business of fashion.
University of Fashion partnered with Custom Collaborative in 2020, gifting full access to our fashion education content library. Since then, Custom Collaborative has graduated 10 cohorts of ‘fashion-preneurs’ who are making their mark by starting their own sustainable fashion brand.
Last week, I had the chance to interview Eudora and learned about her studies at CC, her design philosophy and her career aspirations. Here goes:
Francesca: Tell me about your journey into fashion. Are you NYC born and raised?
Eudora: I was born and raised in Brooklyn. As a Native New Yorker, fashion has always been on my radar. I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer early on and attended The High School of Art and Design to study fashion illustration and then went on to study at FIT. Unfortunately, life happened, forcing me to pivot, but fashion has always been a huge interest. I started seriously getting back into fashion when my idol, Prince, died in 2016. As a lifelong fan, I was devastated when he passed away and I started making Prince themed jean jackets and outfits as a tribute to him. I wore them to different Prince related events that I attended. People seemed to love and admire my designs and complimented me on my creativity. That reignited my passion and pushed me to seriously pursue my dreams of being a fashion designer again. I was hand sewing and using adhesives to create my designs, which meant there were constant repairs and maintenance needed. I knew finding sewing classes would be the next step if I wanted to seriously start making custom designs for others.
Francesca: Can you tell me about the program at Custom Collaborative? How rigorous was it and what types of things did you learn?
Eudora: The program is a 15-week course that meets Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm. It was a serious commitment, and it was truly intense. I had never used a sewing machine before so when our instructor, Delia Alleyne, showed us how to thread the needle on the first day, my head nearly exploded. I didn’t think I would ever be able to thread the machine, let alone sew something together. Fear and self-doubt overcame me, and I was questioning why I ever signed up. Delia encouraged and helped us overcome our fears and by the end of the day, I was able to successfully thread my machine. I knew it was going to be a tough road ahead, but I was up for the challenge. During those 15 weeks there were many tears shed out of frustration, but also with happiness when I was able to get through another tough lesson. In the end I completed the course with the ability to design and sew; a portfolio of work including illustrations for two collections, which included inspiration, mood and fabric boards; an awesome business plan that I wrote, and most importantly, the knowledge and confidence to go forward in pursuit of my dream.
Francesca: How were the University of Fashion lessons utilized at CC?
Eudora: We constantly referred to the University of Fashion lessons while studying. We used them to reinforce lessons that Delia taught us and to complete projects on our own. I am a visual learner, so it was a tremendous help and resource for me. The videos that were the biggest help were the lessons on the invisible zipper, pattern making and layout, and draping. These were life saving for me. Due to time constraints, and the amount of projects we covered, it was impossible to learn and complete everything in class. The videos allowed us to review the task, step by step, on our own time to complete the projects correctly.
Francesca: Can you tell me about your capstone project at CC?
Eudora: My capstone project was a hand painted, full length gown with a train. My design was inspired by the feelings of fear, uncertainty and sense of lawlessness in NYC post Covid-19. With the closing of so many businesses, the graffiti artists had once again transformed our city’s landscape with their artwork, reminiscent of the late 1970s and 80s. Using donated fabric that I treated to create the Ombre effect, the design ascends from darkness to light, reflecting the transitioning of Oppression and Anarchy, rising out of Out Rage and Despair, through Faith and Unity, to ultimately arrive at Love and Peace. My design was chosen as the finale of Cohort 9’s graduation runway show and was also featured in both Vogue Business and Harper’s Bazaar articles. Not only were these very proud moments for me, but they also serve as a testament that my perseverance and hard work are truly paying off.
Francesca: What made you want to focus on upcycling and sustainable design?
Eudora: Custom Collaborative is an organization that is built on the principles of fashion sustainability. I never heard of fashion sustainability and, to be honest, I was a consumer of fast fashion without even knowing it. I had never heard of the term “fast fashion” until I came to Custom Collaborative. Once I found out what it was and how it affects the planet; coupled with the unfair labor practices that affect the seamstresses that work in the factories, I quickly got on board. I started changing my purchasing habits and decided to focus on upcycling and sustainable design. I truly enjoy taking a “pre-loved” garment and repurposing it into something new and creative. It allows me to create one of a kind, statement pieces that make my clientele feel special when they wear it.
Francesca: What is the hardest thing about being a sustainable fashion designer?
Eudora: The most challenging aspect of being a sustainable designer is figuring out how to alter an existing garment. When you are locked into a design it is sometimes hard to come up with creative ways to change the garment to fit your new design. You have to use your imagination and become an out-of-the box thinker and really think about the techniques to use in order to execute your new design with the least amount of complication and in a timely manner.
Francesca: What is your ultimate goal, or goals, as a designer in the fashion industry?
Eurora: I would like to continue creating one-of-a kind statement pieces and growing my fashion sustainability brand, Princess Arabia’s Atelier. I also plan to partner with environmental agencies in NYC to offer fashion sustainability workshops to teach others what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint through more mindful fashion practices. My ultimate goal is to travel around NYC and neighboring states to educate as many people as possible and bring awareness on how the fast fashion industry continues to proliferate the amount of waste in our landfills and how it is fueling the profound negative effects of climate change. This is my small way of giving back to the planet and carrying out my duty as a good global citizen.
Follow Eudora on Instagram: @princessarabia9
Are you a woman from a low-income community interested in starting a career in fashion? Apply to our Training Institute.
If you are interested in providing paid internships for their students write to us at: CS@UniversityofFashion.com
Are you a small or start-up clothing business? Apply to their Business Incubator. They provide services including manufacturing, technical assistance, and consulting for those who need it.
Want to volunteer? Sign up here. They’re always looking for folks to help as teacher’s assistants, guest speakers, graphic designers, special event coordinators, or fabric inventory sorters.
Want to donate fabrics, machines, or supplies? Complete this form.
To support their work in supporting striving women. Donate today.