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Meet Trailblazer Zoe Grinfeld

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zoe Grinfeld.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Zoe. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am originally from a super small town in rural Connecticut. Growing up, there really wasn’t much to do. Living in a farm town in the middle of nowhere can be extremely isolating. I had so much creative energy and just felt this frantic need to make things. I wanted more than anything to live an exciting life, but time where I was just seemed to move slower. I started reading college course catalogs and formulating business plans at the age of six. In the 6th grade, I made a necklace by stringing together the heads of all my old dolls and I wore it to school. Needless to say, people were shocked, but that just made me more excited to create. I started making more clothes and accessories out of stuff I found around my house because that’s all I had access to. I didn’t have a sewing machine but I hot glued and taped anything I could find into clothing. I started planning my first fashion show as a Bat Mitzvah community service project. I made my mom be my publicist, insisting she gets the word out to all the local newspapers. I dressed up about 10 of my friends in my trash clothes and organized a runway event in the middle of my town’s synagogue to raise money for environmentally conscious charities. Each look in the collection was made out of different material like jump ropes, record albums, board games, gum wrappers, and so much more. I did these shows for several years.

When it came time for high school, I begged my parents to let me apply to the local arts magnet school. Without that school, I have no idea where I would be. I majored in Theater Design & Production so that I could learn how to sew in the costuming classes. My sophomore year, I was lucky enough to have been cast on the first Project Runway spinoff for kids, Project Runway: Threads. I got to fly out to LA with my dad to compete, and I ultimately ended up taking home the prize. The summer before my senior year of high school, I showcased my first eight look collection (not made out of trash) at a small showcase in New York City. The summer before I started attending the Rhode Island School of Design, I returned to New York with a new 12 look collection, which was then also shown in Hartford Fashion Week. While at school in Providence, I began showcasing with Styleweek Northeast, showing several capsule collections as well as my SS19 collection last September. This past May, my work won first place in the Met Costume Institute’s undergraduate fashion design competition which ran in theme with the current Met Museum exhibition, Camp: Notes on Fashion. I’ve spent this summer interning in New York as well as developing my SS20 collection which will be shown in Styleweek Northeast this September. After that, I’ll be developing my senior thesis collection at RISD which will be shown next May in the RISD senior apparel show right before my graduation.

Has it been a smooth road?
My life has definitely felt like a rollercoaster. I think because of my circumstances growing up, I struggled with my mental health a lot. I felt trapped where I was, and because of that, I was a severely depressed and anxious kid. I never really felt like I could relate to anyone around me and I just felt so misunderstood. I never really fit in, so I used fashion as a way to cope. Making things was a way to not only explain to people who I was but to occupy myself and keep myself driven so that I could get myself out of my little town. I always fantasized about being independent and living in a big city and having spent this summer in New York, I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier.

Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I’m drawn to things that are absurd or ridiculous or silly, but at the end of the day, I still like to make things that people would actually want to wear. It’s kind of funny because even though I’ve made clothes for most of life, I really didn’t know anything about fashion until I started college. I look back at so much of my early work like what the hell was I thinking? I find so much of it really hilarious, and I don’t know whether or not I intended for it to be funny at the time, but humor is definitely something that I try to incorporate into my work now. I still design using found/recycled materials much like I did when I was younger, but I’ve traded my hot glue gun for a needle and thread. I also experiment a lot with designing custom prints and playing around with textile manipulation. I recently made several looks using an oversized hair clip print that was created by scanning a wig at super high resolution. I try not to take myself too seriously and I try to make things that I find fun and interesting. I think youth and childhood is a thread that runs through my work, and a lot of my research centers around ideas of play. When I started at RISD, I had sort of an identity crisis of like how do I transition from being a kid designer to being an adult designer? And I finally came to the realization that I don’t have to flip a switch and reinvent myself as an artist, I’m not a totally different person just because I’ve grown up.

Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
Honestly, I spend most of my time on Instagram and Pinterest just researching fashion history and what’s currently happening in the industry. I’ve spent the last two years working in the RISD library’s picture collection so I spend a lot of time flipping through old magazine clippings and photo books.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Luciano Fileti, Zoo Media, Myke Yeager Photography, Leah Marchant

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