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WUNC Youth Reporting Institute
The 2021 cohort of the Youth Reporting Institute turned on their mics for our summer of storytelling! Listen to the authentic voices and diverse stories they captured over the summer.

From Couch To Couture: Gordon Holliday Gets Sustainable With Fashion

WUNC Youth Reporter H'aiasi Chinfloo interviews fashion designer Gordon Holliday in his Charlotte studio
Courtesy Cordrell Colbert
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WUNC Youth Reporter H'aiasi Chinfloo (right) interviews fashion designer Gordon Holliday (center) about his creation of sustainable fashion. Youth Reporting Program Manager Allison Swaim (left) helps out with the interview.

WUNC’s 2021 Youth Reporters turned on their mics to collect stories from their communities. H'aiasi Chinfloo from Durham, NC explored the intersection between fashion and sustainability with clothing designer Gordon Holliday.

Right now, Gordon Holliday is filling a request made by a client for a pair of customized shorts. But these aren’t just any shorts — they’re made from a collection of old T-shirts, now getting a new life.

H'aiasi Chinfloo x Gordon Holiday entrance of R.O.O.L.E studio
Courtesy Cordrell Colbert
H’aiasi Chinfloo and Gordon Holliday in the ROOLĒ studio. The pants Holliday is wearing and the coat Chinfloo is wearing have both been designed as custom pieces by Holliday.

Holliday is a fashion designer. Before the pandemic hit, he had a job offer as an apparel designer for Adidas. When COVID broke out, Adidas put a hiring freeze on creatives.

"I didn’t let that stop me. I was sitting in my room and I was like, 'What can I do as a designer that could be like, the next level groundbreaking. Something that most brands could implement or take on.'"

Holliday started thinking about the environment and how we affect it with the clothes we wear.

"Fast fashion and how people can consume so quickly, so quickly, so quickly, but then throw it away and never use it again. Or it just ends up in landfill," he says.

These ideas developed into a new sustainability project called RENEW, REWORK, ROOLĒ — which stands for Rule Over Our Life Every Day. In July of 2020, Holliday was invited to be an artist in residence at Studio 229 in downtown Charlotte. The building used to be the Mecklenburg Investment Company — a Black-owned bank that gave out loans to Black entrepreneurs to start their own business.

"We're talking around the 1920s. This was a whole Black community called Brooklyn, Charlotte. From this block down to the convention center, which is right here, [all] the way down to where the government buildings are," describes Holliday.

Holliday is continuing this tradition as a young Black entrepreneur with his fashion studio in the building. When you walk into his studio, you see bins of recycled fabrics organized by color. 

"Yellow is in here, then I have the earth tones, this is like my gray, white, purple. My blue is stacked right now, I gotta clean that out," he says.

You can touch all sorts of unusual fabrics in the studio. With all these different textures, it makes you wonder: What was this before?

"I’ve been using upholstery fabrics — so materials you see on your couches, your chairs, your pillows and whatnot."

To create designs, Holliday uses an embroidery machine, a skill he picked up at his last job as an embroidery operator.

"I would get so mesmerized by the machine and what it could do, I would just sit and stare at it. Just watching it make whatever sketch that I had at the time just come to life."

Holliday has had his fair share of jobs from busboy to bellman. He says these skills helped him grow as a brand and business.

Gordon Holiday design book
H'aiasi Chinfloo
Gordon Holliday holds up a book he designed that catalogs his looks from 2016.

"That's another way our generation can look at jobs. Yeah, it's okay if you have to work for somebody, but also, while you're working for them, pick up some skills. What can you learn at that job that you can take on and do for yourself?"

It takes vision to make your own brand, and Holliday has it. In May, he was selected for a design challenge sponsored by Waste Management and Slow Factory, and right now he’s working with fashion industry experts to develop solutions to bring sustainability into every step of the clothing production process. The design challenge got him exposure and a nice feature by Forbes magazine.

"Just imagine waking up and seeing your headshot on Forbes, you're like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait!' Not only just like the acknowledgment of just seeing that on there, but also just seeing the fact that sustainability is really being so pushed, you know. And we can really take all of the things that we use and we dispose of, and remake it in something else."

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