Profiles in Sewing: Neville Wisdom
A community-oriented designer finds creativity in self-set challenges.
Self-taught designer Neville Wisdom is dedicated to ethical, sustainable, and affordable fashion. He designs clothes for women of all sizes and shapes in New Haven, Connecticut. His business, Neville Wisdom LLC, offers custom garments, tailoring, and cutting services. His store is bright and open. Paintings from local artists hang on the walls, and mannequins decked out in his latest designs pose in the windows. The effect is one of welcoming, creative energy. Threads visited Neville in his studio and storefront to discover more about his design process. Check out Neville’s technique for matching plaids across the front of a garment in Threads #204 (Aug./Sept. 2019).
Growing up in Jamaica, Neville developed an interest in sewing thanks in part to his mother. “My mother made clothes for us, but I didn’t really love the clothes that she was making,” he says, “I wanted to make my own stuff.”
For him, sewing is not simply about a craft or about creating something. “The process of sewing and stitching fabric together is very therapeutic for me,” he says. It’s about mindfulness and taking the time to sort through his thoughts. Sewing is a way for Neville to center himself while working through finances, designs, or whatever else is in his head.
While the sewing process is therapeutic, he admits that he relishes finishing a garment. “I do it for the end, and then I want to experience it all again, like a dog chasing its tail. It’s so much fun, but it makes you dizzy sometimes.”
Approach to design
When asked what his creative process is like, Neville explains that it varies. He plays with a fabric to see what it wants to do. When he really has no idea what to create, Neville has one foolproof method: “I close my eyes and use my scissors to just cut and then whatever shape that is, I’ll weave it into something.”
Neville describes his design aesthetic as a duality. Part of him loves clean lines, but he also likes to create clothes that are fun and interesting. “Coming up with unique ways of making clothes is also very much a part of my aesthetic,” Neville says. Often, his clothes feature classic silhouettes with unexpected design elements such as seams, darts, or drapes that keep the garments looking fresh.
Sometimes, Neville’s inspiration just comes to him. He shares a memory of driving down the road one day and seeing a woman out of the corner of his eye. He could only glance at her quickly while driving, but in a look, his mind reinterpreted her outfit into a new design. “I saw a design on her . . . I saw this cool pant that I haven’t made yet,” Neville says, admitting that he would like to make it soon so the design doesn’t get lost.
An exercise in creativity
In early 2018, Neville created a yearly challenge for himself that is designed to force creativity. He calls it “100 Designs in 100 Days.” though it does not need to be one design every day. Some days, he sews two, three, or even five pieces for the challenge. Neville devised the challenge because he felt overwhelmed by the business part of his studio and wanted to get back to his passion: designing.
Neville posts a picture daily of a new garment design on his Instagram feed, @NevilleWisdom, as proof he is on track. “I hate it every time I do it,” he says of the challenge, “but I love it also because being able to create 100 things is awesome. From those 100 things I can build hundreds more designs.”
Neville’s sense of community starts with New Haven and broadens to encompass environmental stewardship on a global scale. “Giving back is sort of like a boomerang. You give and you get so much back from it,” he says. One project central to Neville’s community work is New Haven’s annual Project STYLE Fashion Show, which raises funds to combat homelessness. Neville has curated the show for nine years and has featured models of different sizes and body types. He also welcomes school groups to his studio when it fits into his busy schedule. He enjoys sharing his experience as a fashion designer with the students.
In his manufacturing work, Neville aims for sustainability whenever he can. His fabric is sourced in small batches from manufacturers’ overruns, which might otherwise be wasted. He embraces synthetics for their comfort, ease of care, and because many are made of recycled materials. Computer-aided-design (CAD) software and a digital cutting system enable him to create patterns and layouts that are as efficient as possible. His objective with each piece is to use at least 80 percent of the yardage, and he typically uses more. As part of his creative process, he challenges himself to adapt his designs for minimal fabric waste, while making use of the odd-shaped remnants produced during cutting. The digital cutting system reduces eight hours of work into just one hour, Neville says, so he saves time, too.
The coming years
Neville’s studio has been open since 2008 and has moved and expanded over the years he’s been in business. He says, “As [the business] continues to grow, I just hope that I can stay the person that I am now. I really like myself, and so that’s my dream—to go where I can still like myself.”
Author Erica Redfern is Threads’ assistant editor. Photos by Mike Yamin.
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