To Renne Phillips, the body is a canvas, and the world is a runway. She believes the way we dress ourselves — the various fabrics, textures and shapes adorning our bodies — describe our personalities, attitudes and lifestyles. To her, each day is an opportunity to walk the catwalk of the world.
It’s this kind of passion for fabric that fueled her to form her own clothing line, “VaVaVie.” From bedazzled bras to custom-made wedding dresses, her goal is to infuse both glamour and individuality into each of her creations as much as possible.
“Each piece I design is unique,” Phillips said. “I love devoting a lot of my time on one piece, putting all of my creativity, imagination and hard work into something I design.”
And her hard work shows; her designs are intricate. Her dresses, which range from cocktail to wedding, feature meticulous beading, attention to form and even more attention to detail. Her “showpiece” bras — which she said can be worn anywhere, from under sheer garments and belly dancing events to burlesque shows — are adorned with lace and beads.
“You will never see glue or stitches on any of my pieces,” she said. “The attention I give my pieces is important.”
The interaction she has with her clients is also important to the designer. Women come to her looking for custom-made wedding dresses, and they desire high-quality at a fraction of the usual price. She said she has the opportunity to make a dress that will show off that individual’s unique style, allowing herself to also become a part of that woman’s special occasion, however indirectly. It’s this aspect of custom orders she loves.
“It’s special to be able to make something so personal, so unique to them — especially on an occasion they’ll cherish forever,” Phillips said.
Her favorite piece? She doesn’t have one.
“I’m always creating new favorites,” she said. “I’m constantly building my portfolio, my career and ultimately, my sense of drive with each new piece I create. The fabric shows me what it wants me to do, and I let my mind go.”
Kendra Grace’s goal is to design clothing for women — all kinds of women. Curvy, fit, voluptuous or thin, it’s her mission to create clothing in which any woman can feel comfortable, supported and most importantly, empowered.
The designer hopes to accomplish this using only one ingredient: reusable T-shirts.
Her designing process goes something like this: After searching through thrift stores, she identifies a starting point (a T-shirt with a particularly interesting logo or design), collects other T-shirts that fit her idea or theme and then uses only these shirts to create a dress or skirt. Consisting of anywhere from six to 20 T-shirts, each dress or skirt produced is a collage of interesting logos, prints and images.
Ever since she made the first dress of this kind for herself several years ago, the compliments she has received for her designs are encouraging. She has since enjoyed producing these expressive, outspoken garments for others that she sells at various venues, including Eugene’s Saturday Market.
“I look for bold designs, interesting imagery or just funny sayings on T-shirts,” Grace said. “The designs have to be something I am emotionally drawn to in some way or another.”
Each piece she produces is unique in its own way. Her designs range from including images of superheroes and University of Oregon logos to images with international influences. A unified theme and conscious coordination of colors is present in each of her designs.
Although prominent, design isn’t her only focus when constructing a garment. Attention to shape, quality and support are just as important in each of her pieces. For a woman who has had difficulty herself finding clothes that fit well, it is especially important for her to include pieces that flatter women of all sizes.
“At 21 years old, I couldn’t find clothes that made me feel sexy and supported,” she said. “It’s hard enough for a curvier women to find clothes that fit well and flatter their bodies. I want my clothing to make women, of all types, understand how beautiful they really are.”
Alli Ditson has been designing clothes ever since she was 10 years old. Although her first endeavors into the world of fashion resulted in items she doesn’t necessarily consider desirable today — such as “big bell hippie pants” and, according to Ditson, “weird and colorful” pieces — these pieces were, nonetheless, the beginning of a career in design. She learned to sew from her father, a designer himself, who allowed her to use fabric of his own to fuel her own spunky individuality.
Ever since those first days at the sewing machine, her artistry has flourished. In high school, she started to sell some of her pieces on consignment. Then, she started working at Insight, a vintage thrift store in Eugene now known as Deluxe. Today, she is one of the owners of Kitsch, a downtown vintage thrift shop.
Though not many of her designs are on Kitsch’s shelves as of yet, she generates unique pieces that she sells online on her Etsy shop. She designs an array of items, from lingerie, leggings and stretchy dresses to underwear. She said she believes in producing clothing that allows people to express themselves. She believes the kind of clothing she designs can help people do that.
“With clothing that isn’t immediately seen, such as swimwear and undergarments, the boundaries can be stretched a little bit more than other types of clothing,” Ditson said. “I can get a little more creative with my designs.”
She also accepts custom orders, which she says spur her imagination. For instance, many customers ask her to design costumes channeling video game characters, such as Sindel from the video game “Mortal Kombat.” These orders propose exciting challenges for the designer.
“It’s a fun challenge to make something that’s originally only two-dimensional — like a video-game character — and essentially bring it to life through a costume,” she said.
The most rewarding part of her job, though, is the ability to make a living doing what she loves.
“I took the risk of making my hobby a job,” she said. “And it’s been successful. The fact that I can make money doing what I love … It’s like I’m just getting validation for being me.”