The monotony of ready-to-wear. Fast fashion. Standardized sizes. And factory-made clothing.
It’s all what Providence-based fashion designer Zoe Grinfeld, a recent Rhode Island School of Design graduate, is putting her energy in fighting against. In all of her work, Grinfeld is combining upcycled materials with vibrant, digitally-printed fabrics to “push the boundaries of what we deem “wearable.’”
On Thursday, June 16, she’ll have her newest collection on display down the runway at StyleWeek Northeast, which focuses on the business of fashion and promotes local artists and designers. Since its inception in 2010, StyleWeek has showcased more than 215 designers on its runway.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a designer?
Grinfeld: I navigate the space between past and present, inspired by a sense of nostalgia and reinterpreting memories of childhood. I’m drawn to things that are absurd, ridiculous or surreal, yet enticing. Material exploration is at the core of my process, and I approach a new design with childlike curiosity, shedding any preconceived notion of a textile or object’s intended purpose.
How did you start designing?
Growing up in rural Connecticut with no sewing machine, I turned to hot glue and a needle and thread to hand craft clothing from objects. I held the first of several charity fashion shows at age 12, showcasing garments made from unconventional materials such as doll heads, board games, and other items I sourced at yard sales and secondhand shops. In my recent work, I’ve been revisiting concepts from my early shows, further developing childhood prototypes into fully realized collections. Treasure hunting for found materials continues to be central to my process.
What have you been up to since graduating RISD in 2020?
When I first graduated in 2020, I moved back home to Connecticut and enrolled in some online business classes to help bridge the gap between my creative education and my goals in the industry. I moved back to Providence in 2021 so that I could have an affordable space to continue my studio practice postgrad. I currently work part time for Kent Stetson Handbags learning about the production and business end of the industry while pursuing my brand on the side.
How have you changed as a designer since coming to Rhode Island?
My time in Rhode Island and my education at RISD have definitely shaped me as a designer. Unlike other fashion schools I applied to which prioritize more commercial work, RISD’s apparel design program felt like a place where I could really nurture my more conceptual side as an artist. Having the platform of StyleWeek to show my designs in Rhode Island has given me a blank canvas to create anything I want, which has taken my work to some incredible places.
What kinds of materials are you using, and where are you sourcing them from?
I’m typically combining unconventional materials, vintage and deadstock fabrics, and custom designed digital prints. Some materials are sourced for specific ideas, and others are collected over time with the intention of using when the right project comes along. There are looks in the current collection I’m working on that are made from materials I’ve been holding onto for over five or 10 years. My found materials are usually sourced through family and friends, yard sales, thrift stores, and through Etsy and Ebay.
What can people expect from your collection at StyleWeek Northeast?
This collection is extremely meaningful to me. It began as a creative project to help me cope with the loss of both my grandmothers in 2020 and 2021. Each look is loaded with a lot of personal memory and meaning and I’m extremely excited to share it with the world. After the show at StyleWeek, I’ll be doing an in-depth series on my TikTok diving into the inspiration and materials behind each look.
What’s the biggest challenge the fashion industry is facing right now, and how do you want to be part of the progress?
I think the industry as a whole needs to slow down its speed of production. There are mass amounts of clothing being produced in the world and it’s alarming for the environment, garment workers, and consumers. Brands need to stop producing at such a rapid speed, and start thinking more intentionally about what products they are releasing and if they are really necessary. I’ve spent the last two years working on the collection I am about to release, and I feel as though taking that time to be more thoughtful about it has made the work so much more meaningful and innovative.
Which designers or brands are you’re excited about or look up to right now?
Wiederhoeft, Motoguo, and Christopher John Rogers. I admire the concepts behind each of their collections and love their sense of playfulness. I used to intern for Christian Cowan, so I’m also always excited to see the incredible designs that he and his team release each season.
You went viral in 2020 in a TikTok video where you showed off a jacket that was made out of doll heads. You said it took nearly five years to complete the look. Why did you want to create this jacket and what was the meaning behind it?
My journey into doll-inspired work began when I was in the sixth grade. I was bored in my parents basement so I made a necklace out of doll heads and wore it to school in my tiny, rural hometown [of Colchester, Conn.]. Seeing the way the hair of the dolls strung together created a beautiful accumulation of texture and color (as well as the shock it gave to its viewers) is what later led me to developing my doll head jacket and other doll-inspired pieces. In the end, the jacket took about 500 doll heads to complete. I think creating pieces with material accumulations at that scale really speaks to the level of consumerism and overconsumption that plagues our world right now.
What are your year-long goals? What about five-year goals in the industry?
I’m releasing my new collection at StyleWeek, will relaunch my online shop, and take part in a gallery exhibition this upcoming fall in NYC. In five years, I’d love to be pursuing my brand and my artistic practice on a larger scale, designing customs for celebrity clients and creating work for exhibitions at major museums. My long-term dream is to eventually be the creative director of a large luxury brand like Moschino or Schiaparelli.
Providence is known as the creative capital, but many designers and artists leave within a few years of graduating college or to move onto a bigger city like New York or LA. What challenges does Rhode Island face when building its fashion industry?
Like many designers, it’s always been my dream to end up in a large city like New York. However, Rhode Island has the benefit of being a much more affordable place to live right now compared to larger cities. Yet in the fashion industry, Rhode Island is small and there are limited resources.
I think the key to it is balance. It doesn’t have to be all one place or the other. I’ve personally found success for the time being as a designer who lives in Providence while taking trips every few months to NYC for material sourcing and meetings.
The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.