In a world of shut-downs, Zoom meetings, and virtual happy hours, Philly fashion designers found a new sense of creativity amid the isolation to continue styling. Homegrown brands like Chalk Press, Blue Bangs, and Roy Urban Kollection made online shopping not only a necessity but a continuous form of self-expression and resourcefulness.
Adam Netburn and Ben Hodes for Chalk Press
Owners: Adam Netburn, 20, Ben Hodes, 20, West Philadelphia
Founded: Winter 2019
Chalk Press, heavily influenced by Japanese designers, experiments with different recycled textiles and stitches to create a unique, contemporary brand for Philly street fashion. Netburn and Hodes hand make everything ranging from denim masks ($20) to reconstructed hoodies ($185).
Where do you get Chalk Press’ inspiration from?
Netburn: There’s a lot of modern fashion that’s influenced by the Japanese style of repairing your own clothes. Big designer brands found ways to mend clothes that look really interesting. We try to reflect on what’s around us at the moment. If something really influences us or amazes us, we try to bring it in and create these motifs that we like, and just keep it going.
Hodes: That’s where a lot of the patchwork comes from. We’re both very graphic-oriented artists and a lot of the stuff we make for the graphics comes from our own art. We mess a lot with organic fibers and stuff that can be biodegraded.
Pandemic-wise, what’s the current state of your business?
Netburn: We normally do a lot of our sales through pop-ups or street vending, so with those not being an option, it’s kind of harder to sell. Our website only does so much.
Hodes: A drastic shift is our mask making. Pretty early on we were toying with the idea of making masks. At first, we were donating masks with every sale to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But it became a little hard to do that. We’ve been continuing to make them and that’s been a big portion of our sales. It’s fun, it’s a lower-price thing that’s handmade by us, so it allows for people to get something that shows our true craft. We enjoy making them, but hopefully, we won’t have to make them for much longer.
Muyiwa Togun for Roy Urban Kollection
Owners: Muyiwa Togun, 37, Nigeria and Mt. Airy
Roy Urban Kollection reflects Togun’s love for nature, in his striking handmade prints, made for wall displays or iconic fashion pieces, from his Handmade Batik Unisex Busayo Track Suit ($300) to his framed poster prints ($200).
What was your inspiration for the brand name?
Togun: The name I coined out of my mother’s name, Olaroyeke. I picked the three middle [letters] from her name, which ends up as “Roy.” I wanted something that would last a while, that would last the test of time. I wanted people to relate back to the old story behind it because my parents and their creativity is so centered around my experience, my environment, culture, and people. I just wanted something spectacular, something unique.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Togun: I love nature, I love spending my time with nature, the animals, the ocean, the seas, and everything. The woods, I love being in the forest too, so I get ideas from nature most of the time.
Basically, my inspiration comes from my environment and nature. If I’m not doing anything, that’s where you’ll find me.
What makes your brand unique?
Togun: All our products are handmade and it’s not mass-produced, it’s not generic, it’s not something you see everywhere. You understand the value that people have for it. There’s not a lot of businesses out there doing what we do and how we do it. We try to please our customers and make everyone happy.
Robyn Dombey for Blue Bangs
Owner: Robyn Dombey, 29, Clifton Heights
Few can say that their original designs ended up in Urban Outfitters stores throughout the world, but Dombey is one of them. From her extensive denim knowledge she picked up from Urban and Marc Jacobs, freelancer Dombey decided to take denim gems and transform by herself. (Jackets from $245).
Do you do fashion outside of Blue Bangs?
Dombey: About , I started at Made Institute, instructing. I am now as director of online courses and marketing, but it was kind of like a slow transition into full-time, and I still teach a bit.
What did you learn from previous jobs that you took to Blue Bangs?
Dombey: One of the things was really understanding how the fabrics that you’re choosing have such an effect on the end product, down to the weight or even stretch of the fabric. When it’s stretchy, they all kind of do this horrible, curly thing. So it was really like understanding the differences and knowing that you had to use real heavyweight denim. I was creating little passports for [the denim pieces], so like where they came from, what year, what brands, what level of wear. And then it sort of became about just giving them a second life.
What’s your favorite piece to make?
Dombey: One of my favorite pieces is basically taking the front and back to a jacket, ripping the sleeves off of it, and then molding it into a dress. So basically you have to do it on the person. You kind of mold it around the person to get their shape, like the armholes, and then the collar becomes a back scoop neck. Then I add just two straps. So it’s really about kind of seeing where it fits on the body.
Words by Gem Grimshaw and Magdalena Becker.