My Journey through Custom Collaborative

Zipora wearing her own design from her Custom Collaborative Training Institute graduation presentation in September 2018.

Zipora wearing her own design from her Custom Collaborative Training Institute graduation presentation in September 2018.

By Zipora David


I first heard of Custom Collaborative when volunteering at an event at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In learning that it was a program for low income and immigrant women to not only learn skills in making clothes but to empower us to become self-sufficient, I was immediately intrigued.

For financial reasons, I never got formal training in fashion design, but knew it was my passion and goal to be a designer. This program was not only free, but provided all the notions and tools needed to create, a weekly unlimited metro card, and a weekly stipend that was a major help to me at the time. It was an environment of all woman, in which we were able to support each other along this long rigorous journey of learning to sew, make patterns, and even learn about business. It was a safe space where making mistakes was encouraged because even error was room for improvement, and a chance to learn.

During the program, I was really proud of how I was learning to sew with more precision and ease. Our amazing teacher Daniel would always encourage us to redo stitches that weren’t straight, and remind us to notch our patterns to give us accurate guides while sewing. We would watch inspiring videos of couture houses doing almost all their work by hand. Seeing the patience and time they put into every little detail really helped me to understand creating garments isn’t a race and what you put into it, you will get out.

I was able to challenge myself not only in the creative aspects of fashion but the business side. Like many other creative types, I tend to shy away from crunching numbers, price points, and the marketing side of the fashion, which eventually is a set up for failure even if your product is amazing. For me, it took a lot of effort to set up spreadsheets for pricing and writing a business plan, but it really helped me to hone in on ethos of the brand I want to have one day.

I truly feel that the Training Institute allowed me to grow in all aspects as a designer, a peer, a friend, and a woman. We pushed ourselves to the limit for 14 weeks, Monday through Friday, even up to the night before graduation! Despite that, I wouldn’t change a thing because I feel like it really prepared me for the industry I want to be a part of, which I know is going to be very hard work.

After the program, Custom Collaborative gave me an opportunity to work in the Business Incubator doing production work sewing for contract manufacturing clients, which was my first time getting paid doing what I love.

Zipora's design from her fashion show with the Brooklyn Fashion Academy in May 2019

Zipora's design from her fashion show with the Brooklyn Fashion Academy in May 2019

Also, connecting me with my first paid internship with a luxury sustainable designer, Jussara Lee. Jussara has cultivated such a creative environment where nothing goes to waste! She uses scraps of fabric to decorate her shopping bags, sews new paper over old greeting cards to reuse them, and more. Not only is it anti-waste, but it’s also beautiful. I learn so much, especially about hand sewing, mending, and embroidery. These skills, because of my impatient nature, would have probably not have piqued my interest, but I actually learned to love. This internship is greatly expanding my idea of sustainability, and I learn something new every time I’m there. It is amazing that Custom Collaborative takes such an initiative to be involved with the women even post-grad, which is extremely rare for an organization.

Since Custom Collaborative, the skills I learned in sewing and pattern making prepared me to embark on a new program with the Brooklyn Library, Brooklyn Fashion Academy. A 16-week program for 20 designers to envision, construct and present a four-six piece collection for the runway.

Since graduating from Custom Collaborative, not even a year ago, it’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown as a designer. I want to continue to grow in my craft, and take my time to soak up as much knowledge as possible in every aspect of my field. I have a dream to study abroad in Milan since Italian fashion is some of the most inspiring to me. Can’t wait to see what the future holds!