Reese Cooper’s DIY Project Is a Vision of Fashion’s More Democratic Future

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It seems a prerequisite to begin any article on designer Reese Cooper with a nod to his age, due to his relative youth as the creative director of an acclaimed emerging label. (Cooper launched the brand at 18; he is now 21.) The reason for mentioning it here, however, is not just for the fact alone—but instead because it’s this generational gap that lies behind Cooper’s inventive new model for running a small fashion business.

Titled RIC-DIY, the collection Cooper has been working on during lockdown is impressive not simply for the fact that much of it was produced by the hands of Cooper himself—a process he describes as both “therapeutic and meditative”—but with its garment patterns and instruction booklets, the spirit of inclusivity and openness that underpins it. “The opportunity really presented itself with a lot of our canceled orders from the fall collection, because that happened after we had already purchased all the raw materials,” says Cooper from his studio in Los Angeles. “So it started as a way to not lose all that money, to find another use for it and do something interesting at the same time. The project has really helped reformat my skills, and find a new appreciation for all the things that I do day to day that I’ve started to take for granted. Now, it’s a project that I’m definitely going to grow.”

Over the three years since Cooper first launched the brand, he’s already grown with impressive rapidity. Now encompassing an impressively broad offering across both men’s and womenswear, Cooper’s signature pieces largely consist of his offbeat takes on utilitarian staples including denim jackets, cargo pants, and varsity sweaters. What lends them Cooper’s singularly soulful touch are the unexpected details and embellishments he includes—think, hand-sewn patches, hanging charms, or even carabiners—blending this distinctly American spirit of the great outdoors with something a little more personalized. Shortlisted for the 2019 Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund, Cooper has this year been nominated under the Emerging Designer category at the CFDA Awards; yet his work is a commercial hit too, with a wide range of stockists, including international giants like SSENSE and Mr Porter. 

The DIY project, however, represents something new for Cooper—a wish to pool the knowledge he’s accrued over his time in the industry thus far and to “pay it forward,” in his words. This not only takes the form of the pieces he’s posting out that include fabrics, patches, and entry-level instructions for how to make the garments yourself, but also the resources he’s beginning to compile and share via an easily accessible (and free) Dropbox link. The first includes information on sales, such as order forms and line sheets—both phrases that strike fear in the heart of many young designers, as something they firmly don’t teach you at fashion school—and there are a number of similar, more business-oriented information packs in the works. Finally, if that wasn’t enough, ten percent of all sales from the collection are being donated to charities of Cooper’s choice that support education initiatives.

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