In an industry that thrives on fast-fashion, finding someone with a vision to create high-end, sustainable apparel is a light in the dark. Meet the founder of Symbology, Marissa Heyl. This “creative-in-chief” has one goal in mind: to create beautiful pieces of clothing that emulate high fashion and folkloric art forms, all while empowering women in developing countries. With a background in fair trade and a love for design, she is living proof that with a lot of passion and hard work, nothing is impossible.
Name: Marissa Heyl
Location: Dallas/ Fort Worth
Job Title: Founder of Symbology
University: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Class of 2007
Major(s): Anthropology and Journalism
What led you to the fashion industry?
I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer. I just reveled in watching runway shows and going to the mall and things like that. What I love about fashion is that it’s wearable art. I love the fantasy and the artistry that goes into it. This focus I have with Symbology on integrating really ancient folkloric art forms into high fashion is something really exciting and different.
Tell us a little bit about the process that goes into creating for Symbology.
I’ll come up with a concept or a theme based on a motif that runs through various cultures, and use it as a basis for a pattern. We look at three different aspects: the colors, the silhouettes, and the print trends that are coming up for that next collection and we factor that into production. I always keep in mind what the opportunities and limitations there are when working in the communities. For instance, when we are working with Palestinian refugees in the West Bank we don't have access to the type of fabric we make most of our garments out of. So we have to keep in mind that when we are working with their embroidery, we have to use a base fabric that they have in stock. We design each piece with each culture, depending on what resources they have available. I think I learn a lot from the artisan groups and the different cultures. You learn a lot about what’s truly important, rather than the superficialities that pervade in American culture. my view is to take positive aspects from each culture and bring it together, not just for Symbology but in my own life.
There is such a human element to your work. Can you talk about that?
Whenever you have a piece of art, that is something that can only be created by a human being. There is a spiritual element to that item. There’s a history, there’s a story, there’s an identity behind it. That is something that really differentiates what we’re doing. It’s something that invigorates me as a designer. From an aesthetic and moral perspective, I love the craft and the art form. I love working hand in hand with the artists. The travel and the hands on collaboration with these artists is a really unique experience to have as a fairly privileged American. It’s really humbling to meet people of all different walks of life. It’s important to take a step back and think about the amount of influence we can have and the change we can create in the world if we make that effort. I think through my trips and communications with these groups, I am reminded of that.
What is the biggest struggle you face in the industry?
One of the hardest things is establishing yourself as designer, because what does that necessarily mean? I mean even Chanel started off in a very modest place. We’re using quality fabrics and creating really beautiful pieces. The addiction to cheap stuff that is not well made, is really toxic. I see that as really problematic and unsustainable. It really does a disservice to the heritage of fashion. So it’s more than just fair wages for me. As a designer, I want to see unique, colorful and different pieces. I wish people would really embrace fashion, and make it their own. That’s something I try to do with our designs at Symbology.
If you could give one piece of advice to a student, what would it be?
Well, what I have learned is that you can really pave your own path. You have so much [flexibility] and ability to create your own identity and career choices, particularly this day and age. Being in college, you have access to research and study abroad opportunities. That’s why you’re in college, to soak it all up like a sponge. Take that with you into your 20’s and 30’s and pick up different experiences. The kind of opportunities afforded to you in college are a great stepping stone, I really want to encourage students to take advantage of that and explore the opportunities. College is so much more than the classes, the student organizations and ways to engage with other students can be really exciting. My best experiences were outside of the classroom. I want to encourage students, particularly those who are more entrepreneurial, to really get experience and be empowered to start their own venture. A lot of times fear of the unknown prevent people from taking that leap, but if you have the passion for it, then go for it all the way.
It seems like in a world driven by consumerism, it’s time to take a step back and think about what matters. When speaking with Marissa, I was inspired by her ability to take her passion for her work and use it in a way to give back to the community. If you’re willing to put in the hard work, whether it’s something as small as starting your own blog or as big as building your own company, anything is possible. The point? Find what you love and run with it.
Marissa is recruiting interns for Spring/Summer 2016. Send a cover letter and resume to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copy & Graphic 1: Navya Kaur, Careers Writer
Photos c/o Marissa Heyl