8 emerging designers to watch

See the exciting work by the young talent featured in the CFDA Fashion Future Graduate Showcase.

by Brittany Natale
08 July 2019, 1:45pm

Now in its third year, the CFDA’s Fashion Future Graduate Showcase aims to highlight emerging design talent from all over the world. The physical showcase of their collections took place last month in New York City, but now it continues online. The work of 50 exciting young designers from 11 different schools around the country is on display, each one furthering the progressive evolution of fashion.

i-D spoke with eight of the rising designers about the inspirations behind their collections and how they envision the future of fashion.

Image courtesy of Gibron Whitney Shepperd.

Gibron Whitney Shepperd, 28, Savannah College of Art and Design

What are your designs most inspired by?
The narrative, specifically connecting symbols, motifs and stories together are what inspires my designs most. My aim as a designer is to tell compelling stories the same way an author might, but instead of words I use textiles.

What is the story behind your collection?
The collection really serves as a memoir of my childhood, an exploration and study of my multicultural and multi-ethnic background. The collection observes the three Abrahamic religions that I grew up around during my childhood in California and the sartorial imprint they left on me.

What does the future of fashion look like to you?
The future of fashion, especially menswear, is very exciting. Fashion is coming to a place where there are really no rules. Everything is becoming about the relationship between the garment and the wearer, and nobody else. Traditional notions for men in the Western world are slowly melting away, and I'm very honored to be a small part of that revolution.

Image courtesy of Christopher Moster Cabalona.

Christopher Moster Cabalona, 28, Academy of Art University

What is the source of inspiration for your designs?
I found inspiration in the clowns of the early 1900s. My collection takes the element of choreographed joy and channels it into sophisticated and structured looks. I incorporated metal hardware such as turnlocks, purse closures, and clasps and I developed cropped jackets, tailored pants, tail-coat vests, and jumpers. Beige in color, with elongated sleeves and exaggerated silhouettes, the collection boldly takes a risk in redefining what is commonly perceived as classic male attire.

Is there a story behind your collection?
Despite the inspiration of clowns, the designs are not intended to be “playful,” rather, they emphasize the contradiction of being exuberant while showing elegance and refinement “in character”. I aim to honor clowns’ cheerful yet dramatic essence. For example, a key menswear element — the vest, is reinvented as a piece that showcases both physical humor as well as an awareness of the concept of the “businessman.” Advancing my inspiration further, I adapted the clown’s traditional baggy and vibrant costumes and transformed them into fitted and tailored garments that convey optimism, yet remain sensitive to the notion of depression and its extensions. The clowns serve as a call for people to enjoy life despite the hurdles and feelings of sadness they may face, that “life is beautiful, don’t waste it”.

What does the future of fashion look like to you?
Future of fashion to me is refurbishing and guilt-free. Of course, sustainability will always be the answer. Also, I see precious old fashioned metal hardware as an epitome of a fresh take on trimmings replacing buttons and zippers on tailored garments.

Image courtesy of Chelsea Grays.

Chelsea Grays, 26, Academy of Art University

What are you most inspired by?
What inspires me most is my ability to help people. I take what have seen or experienced in everyday life and look for solutions through clothing. I'm inspired by my ability to do something positive. This is of course affected by my past studying psychology. I am driven to social issues and I use my creativity to raise awareness of these issues.

Can you tell us a bit about the story behind your collection?
The Organized Chaos Collection began with a social documentary. Walking around the streets of San Francisco, especially in the Tenderloin, to understand why people were homeless and what they needed while living on the streets. I also had subtle inspiration from Basquiat but then developed the collection to focus on Basquiat and his time being homeless and on drugs. Although I was driven to Basquiat's work as an artist, I was more intrigued by the clothing he would wear. This really pulled me to add mix and match prints and patterns into my collection, along with what I describe as a pant series. The pant series is comprised of several different pants that look like skirts. There is also handcrafted element such as screen printing and felting to add texture. I appreciate the idea of making this collection unique, therefore having organic shapes and un-perfect printing effect added to that. The collection began as womenswear which later would merge into unisex. As the collection continued to develop I began to focus on menswear. While growing up, my mother always wore men's clothing out of necessity. She had to share clothes with her brother so she had to be creative when buying clothes. I wanted to add that effect which inspired the idea of unisex but still played a part with the men in skirt pants in my collection.

What does the future of fashion look like to you?
When I received [your] email I was scrolling through google looking for Ph.D. programs for Fashion Design. The results of my search were slim to none. Some schools just arrived at Masters level programs. At this point, it is probably overzealous of me to think there will be Ph.D. offers. Therefore, when I think about the future of fashion I think about less skill but more creativity. A strong bottom-up influence on fashion and designing clothing for robots or designing with inspiration from people who are far removed from society due to robots. Technological advances are of course going to change the design industry. As of lately, I believe the fashion industry controls society not the other way around, which I think will continue to evolve.

Image courtesy of Kyle Brogan.

Kyle Brogan, 25, Fashion Institute of Technology

What are your designs most inspired by? Is there a story behind your collection?
Triggered by looking through old childhood photos of me swimming underwater, my limbs distorted by the waves, I realized that much of identity as a child was warped by the labels given to me by others. As a designer with a disability and facial anomaly, I wanted to convey my experience living with body dysmorphia. I consider my design approach to be minimalist storytelling and through my collection, I was able to create a fashion-forward aesthetic with hints of my identity as a designer with a disability embedded throughout.

How do you envision the future of fashion?
The future of fashion to me looks more accessible for people of all abilities.

Image courtesy of Josefina Muñoz.

Josefina Muñoz, 24, Parsons School of Design

Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind your collection?
NO ME COPIES (don’t copy me) questions the origins of social boundaries, of authorship and power relationships that are drawn through the consumption of luxury goods and the overall knockoff effect that allows the product to reach populations that generally can't afford the original— through processes like repurposing dust bags and garment bags in the spirit of knockoff markets and generating “forced” collaborations of brands who would usually not work together. Processes which overlap and twist the exclusivity of high fashion with simple and common things, putting at the forefront of the project universal cultural activities (like eating chicken) that are democratic and inclusive, the purpose is to generate systems and platforms that allow users from different backgrounds to participate in the reshaping of the definitions of luxury and value, and to consequently debunk hierarchies and break down power structures.

What does the future of fashion look like to you?
Stepping out of the linear take-make-waste processes and producing from a systems-based perspective; being holistic in the design approaches and working toward an existence that is fair and equally accessible to everyone; creating designs that allow users to reshape their role in society without being complacent to how the current systems place them; and at the same time educating consumers to use their spending power to speak to the brands. A terrain where luxury isn’t a synonym of exclusion, but more so an opportunity to share. A real democratic industry.

Image courtesy of Abigail Donahue.

Abigail Donahue, 22, Kent State University

What are your designs most inspired by?
I have always been inspired by narratives and the music that goes along with them. I want to write stories with my collections and see a change being told through the way it progresses. There is no difference for me where my job as a designer starts and stops. I am interested in the big picture of the collection from inspiration conception, to the runway show, to the store concept. For every collection I design, I make a runway show concept with set design, lighting, and sometimes a location if I can find it. I also always make a playlist. This is more for myself to keep track of my own thoughts; a plain mood board just doesn’t cut it. If anything, music keeps me more focused on my inspiration. As long as I can remember, I have heard a song that inspires me and I can instantly see a running movie of the collection that goes along with it in my head — the trick is to write it all down in time! For my thesis collection, that song was "Dissolve Me" by Alt-J — it reminded me of primary colors.

Is there a story behind your collection?
My thesis collection, 504 Inside Outside the Box, seeks to show the reality of students with learning disabilities within the structured American school system. With this collection, I wanted to show the struggles and strengths of learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, color blindness, visual-tracking disorders, and sensory/motor integration issues. Being a person with learning disabilities myself and approaching the end of my formal education, I was finally able to reflect and comment on the long and often difficult journey I had navigating the school system. In school, I always felt like I was thinking differently or "outside the box" from the lesson plans and teachers. This collection stemmed from that feeling that many students with LD have — the feeling of thinking outside the box, in a different way, while being constrained within the rigid parameters of one: the education system. Students with 504 education plans do not necessarily need full special education, but still need accommodations to succeed in school. Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act is an anti-discrimination statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met. 504 Plans are written education plans outlining a student’s disabilities and the accommodations that need to occur in order to level the playing field with their neurotypical peers.

How do you envision fashion’s future?
The future of fashion is looking more transparent in all ways. I think rising generations are expecting this transparency more and more. From understanding supply chains to knowing if the clothes they are wearing come from a company that treats their people right. It makes me really hopeful for where we are heading as an industry! I also see fashion becoming more creatively extreme. The fashions people wear and the events they attend are not just a statement for the day, but a statement for their timeline. Creating these fantasies for people is becoming really important. Lee Alexander McQueen — my fashion hero — and Karl Lagerfeld understood this concept miles ahead!

Image courtesy of Puyang He.

Puyang He, 21, California College of the Arts

What inspires your designs?
When I was a little girl I used to collect pretty stickers and toys. My aunt’s home was my favorite place to go. She had a large collection of little mementos from her youth: “cheap” accessories, shining cartoon stickers or even notepaper with different patterns. She inspired me to curate my “collections” by their colors and put them in a box that I made with pretty fabric and paper. This was my treasure. In my opinion, perfect people; things and even perfect designs are boring. Imperfection is more attractive to me, the small black point on a bright white wall, a pair of different size eyes on a girl’s face. Even messy yard or room brings inspirations.

What is the story behind your collection?
In my collection, I want to playfully express the joy I gain from collecting things. Colorful patterns and fabrics embody the essence of the collection. Brightly colored silk, different scale plaid fabric and shining cheap fabric are the foundations. I also add beads — some shining and transparent, others more candy-like. Gathering is a significant motif — unifying the whole collection, bringing a girlish aesthetic. My work is full of nostalgia for childhood, inspiring people to relive their own memories.

What does the future of fashion look like to you?
In my opinion, fashion changed a lot from the past to nowadays. More and more people pay more attention to expressing themselves by their outfits instead of following trends. In the future, I think more people will DIY their own garments — they can change their garments in dramatic ways, or they will wear simple one-piece garments that will be really comfortable.

Image courtesy of Natalia Riedel.

Natalia Riedel, 23, Parsons School of Design

What are you most inspired by?
In 2015 I was hospitalized for an eating disorder I’d lived with for most of my life. At the time I felt like I was losing everything by leaving Parsons to focus on the idea of something called recovery. But I gained everything, going to treatment helped me to find my voice and design through vulnerability. It’s been over two years since I left treatment, since I had to pee in a cup at 6a.m. and wear a miserable hospital gown, and sometimes I’m still trying to figure out what the fuck it means to be in recovery. But I think it is a thing to talk about mental illness and recovery when our culture says to hide in shame. I am inspired by other people and their stories. I am inspired by all of the women I met in eating disorder treatment, by their lives and their strength, and by the community we built.

What is the story behind your collection?
These Days reimagines eating disorder recovery through community and design. By creating accessible entry points to recovery including psychotherapeutic hosiery, bullshit-free packaging, a psychotherapeutic tarot deck, and body sensitive intimates, These Days moves away from the exclusive, clinical systems that typically govern treatment. Mental health care is a human right. Through design we have an incredible opportunity to subvert our cultural approach to mental illness and the way we experience living in a body. The wearable coping objects translate dense Dialectical Behavioral Therapy worksheets into a more visceral experience. All of the hosiery is screen printed with mindfulness activities and emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills. The hosiery becomes a wearable cheat sheet for remembering your DBT skills that can be difficult to cognitively access when you’re escalated or triggered. The body sensitive intimates are a form of distress tolerance because getting dressed when you’re in recovery can be extremely anxiety-inducing. The bras and underwear are constructed with non-linear closures because recovery isn’t linear. Adjustable waistbands, straps and overlapping panels allow the wearer to adjust the garment to their body instead of manipulating their body to fit a garment. Our bodies are constantly changing. We get bloated, some of us bleed, and our garments should be able to shift with our bodies.

What does the future of fashion look like to you?
I think the future of fashion is inclusivity and accessibility. It’s using design to deconstruct cultural norms and create social change. The future of fashion is sustainability that considers social equity, economics, and the environment.

young designers
emerging designers
future of fashion