The meaning of fashion is customizable; for some, it’s self-expression, or a way to rebel against social standards, a way to make a statement and stand out, but for many people, fashion is a form of self-care. It’s an art form that makes you feel confident and comfortable in who you are, bold and unafraid. Bianca Norris, a Chicago fashion designer and educator, is one of many who believe that fashion is a tool for self-care. She interprets that fashion as self-care is, “anything that brings you healing, real joy.” Read below as Bianca shares what fashion means to her and how she believes it plays into self-care. And, keep an eye out in the coming weeks as we continue to hear from fashion folks, we love, who practice fashion as self-care.
Make sure to check out Bianca on Instagram, @biancanorris, to follow her creations!
CC: Tell me a bit about yourself. What do you do? Where are you from?
BN: So I am originally from Prospect Heights, IL. a quiet little suburb of Chicago where my family still resides. I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for college and graduated with a BFA in Fashion Design + Philosophy in 2017. I’ve worked for several fashion designers including Lululemon, Eileen Fisher, and Cushnie et Ochs in addition to creating my own one-of-a-kind pieces. In my current role, I work in the jewelry industry; I manage an art jewelry shop + studio called Adornment + Theory in Chicago, so my day to day involves a lot of marketing, communicating with our artists, and helping clients find gorgeous one-of-a-kind pieces! Aside from my day job, teaching is a big passion of mine. I teach youth fashion classes (now via Zoom) to middle & high school students and I absolutely love it.
CC: Why do you do what you do?
BN: As a Latinx woman, I have always been passionate about BIPOC + women-owned small/independent businesses, and I hope to have my own someday soon! In my career so far I’ve made a conscious choice to seek out positions at companies where I would be working on a small team, where I could get to know the people I was working with and not have the pressure of corporate America influence my creative decisions. Where I work now I’m right in the middle of a super cute neighborhood of Chicago called Logan Square and we have tons of regular clients who I’ve gotten to know really well; there’s something so cool about being able to connect with your clients and coworkers on a personal level and you just don’t get that at a big company.
As for teaching, my main motivation comes from wanting to make sure that anyone who’s interested in fashion design has the opportunity to explore their interest without being exploited by a higher ed institution. Everyone I went to fashion school with decided to study design because they loved it and they just wanted to learn the skills they needed to make whatever popped into their minds, but the reality is that art + design schools aren’t accessible to most people for a million reasons. College education in the U.S. is ridiculously expensive (I personally took out 6 figures in student loans for an undergraduate degree in fashion, where the entry-level salary is around 40k/year), and almost everything I learned in school I could have gotten from books and the internet had I known what I needed to look for. My mission is to give teens the tools they need to explore and experiment with fashion however they like, and if it ends up just being a hobby that brings them joy and not necessarily a career, I think that’s awesome.
CC: How did you find out about The Creative Cookie? How long have you been partnering/working with Lesley?
BN: I found out about The Creative Cookie when I was looking for a part-time job during my sophomore year of college! I was only 20 at the time, and I had never taught a sewing class but I had worked with children for years. In my first class with Lesley, she asked me to help the students make patterns for these emoji pillows and then offered me a part-time teaching position immediately afterward. I had so much fun working in Lesley’s studio, and it’s honestly what made me realize I loved teaching. From there I worked with Lesley on tons of other classes; from workshops at the Met to speaking to her classes at Parsons and guest teaching courses for pre-college students up until I left New York in 2018. It’s just this year during the pandemic that we’ve gotten to team up on some virtual classes again!
CC: Why do you love design?
BN: I was always into art, but I was never very good at drawing or painting, or even doing ceramics. When I stumbled into a sewing class in high school, I caught on very quickly and I felt like it was the only medium I had ever worked in where I was able to translate exactly what I had envisioned in my mind into a 3D, real-life object. It felt like magic. It was really powerful, honestly, to be able to just think up some imaginary piece of clothing and make it a reality.
CC: Tell me about some of your collections. What are some of your greatest accomplishments in your work?
BN: I’ve actually taken a bit of a design hiatus the past couple of years. After I finished design school I was so emotionally and physically drained from years of poor sleeping habits, constant critique, and the 3 jobs I had held down at the same time to pay for my fabric and supplies for classes that I needed a break. My senior year, designer Adam Selman (who just did a collab with Rihanna’s SavagexFenty-so good!) came to one of our classes and told us about how absolutely done with fashion he felt immediately out of school. The burn out is real. His suggestion was to just take a step back from it until we were ready again; the industry will still be there when you’re rested. So I took his advice and really just halted my designs up until this year. That being said, I think the designs I’m proudest of are the ones I made for myself! I just made a wool camel coat with a gorgeous plaid lining and welt pockets; super warm and honestly necessary for these Midwest winters.
In order to be taken seriously in school we could only make clothes for a size 2-4 model (I wear a size 16/18 and made clothes for myself one year, got completely ripped apart by faculty during a critique in front of all 45 of my peers because I modeled them myself instead of “hiring a professional model”) so I just never tried it again until I graduated and was free from the persecution of the Pratt Fashion Department.
CC: What is your favorite texture to wear in the fall and why?
BN: I actually really dislike fall/winter clothing; I like to wear light, thin fabrics that feel silky + smooth next to my body, like a second skin. That being said, I also love a great structured denim look. There’s something that feels so secure about wearing well-fitted denim; I’ll wear it any season! But my absolute favorite fabric is stretch silk charmeuse. I’ll have it in skirts, dresses, tops, you name it!
CC: What is your idea of “fashion as self-care” and why?
BN: I think that anything that brings you healing, real joy (not the fleeting kind you get from online shopping), or personal development is self-care. Fashion doesn’t have to mean heels and a sequin top. I know that when I get to wear something I love it does make me feel good. For other people, putting together an outfit might be stressful; if your concept of fashion is putting on a sweatsuit and that’s what makes you feel great and comfortable in your own skin, then that’s fashion. Personal style is so special and I don’t think anyone should ever sacrifice it for the sake of a trend or pleasing others.
By: Kasey Lettrich