Interview with Samantha Cobos
Samantha Cobos is a 19 year old designer based in New York City, where she is currently attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. After creating edgy yet feminine cargo pants and military inspired bomber jackets, as well as other winning looks, she became the 1st Runner Up of Project Runway Junior Season 1. She has now established her own brand 'XE' and the first collection just went live on the website XE international. The term XE (pronounced as z) is a gender neutral pronoun. The name suits the brand perfectly as it focuses on crafting unisex clothes. It is a brand "for people who don’t believe in gender roles when it comes to fashion". All products are purchased from Manhattan fabric stores, and patterned/sewed in a home studio in New York, Queens by Samantha herself.
We recently reached out to Samantha and did an in-depht interview about her background, how it is to be a designer and of course XE.
Let's start off with a short round of quick fire questions...
Describe yourself only using 3 words.
Optimistic, Open-minded, Humorous.
Favorite piece from your latest collection?
Favorite piece from SS18 would be the red double layered denim inspired pant.
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day who would it be and why?
If I could trade lives with anyone for a day, it would have to be Pharrell Williams, because he’s currently on tour performing all of my favorite songs from N.E.R.D.
When do you feel most like yourself?
I feel most like myself when I get dressed in the morning and wear my fun outfits that defiantly turn heads, especially in my neighborhood of Queens, New York. Sometimes it’s an uncomfortable feeling getting stared at, but I love looking different from everyone else.
Do you believe your childhood has affected your sense of style? If so, in which way?
I would honestly say that just being a New York Native and going to high school and college in Chelsea, Manhattan has had a huge impact on my style. Seeing everyday people in their uniforms and work outfits and spotting those random people who are wearing something unusual, that was very inspiring to see. My grandmother and some great aunts were seamstress’ in factories and even made my mother’s clothing as a child. I remember showing my grandma certain garments and watching her take it apart with the seam riper to do it over to perfection. I cherish those moments.
Name a pro and con of being a designer.
Honestly, being a designer is so fun. The ability to create whatever you want, specifically through clothing with no limits is the closest to freedom we can get as individuals living in this crazy world. I would say the cons about being a designer is that you really have to save up you’re money because this industry is not cheap. Collections are well over $800-$1000 if you’re using quality fabrics and more than 5 looks! Also considering the expenses of creating a website and being your own self promoter. So it’s important to apply to scholarships and save a percentage of your check from your short term job! Once you maintain that mindset of investing in what you love, it becomes worth it in the end!
Best moment in your career as a designer?
The best moment as a designer aside from being part of Project Runway Junior, has to be when my website was finally completed. It took me 1 year to develop the content for the website for the first collection of XE, and only a week to uploaded everything into a format I loved, thanks to square space. Having a website is so worth it when you can show people your work on any device no matter where you are, without having to pull up pictures from your phone. Great way to spread the content of your hard work and talent! Sometimes I go on the website just to look at everything and reminisce of the previous collection. Haha.
The greatest lesson studying fashion has taught you?
I’ve been studying in Fashion Design since my freshman year of high school and am still continuing my studies in college. There’s something about being instructed by professors on sewing, patterning and industry tips that makes me fall in love with fashion more and more. These professors are professionals! And been there done that situation for them, very inspiring. The greatest lesson I learned is to expand your horizons! Try silhouettes you’ve never designed before, pick colors and fabrics you wouldn’t normally choose. Take notes on instructions and ask questions! Without school, I wouldn’t have been as skilled as I’ve became as a designer, and I still have a lot to learn. Thank you High School of Fashion Industries and F.I.T !
How do you manage to balance school and career?
Well since high school I’ve always been one of the kids who would stay home in my room designing instead of going out, and whenever I did go out, I found myself designing less and less. But once I got to college I learned how to balance a job, school and social life! And the key is to surround yourself with people who are just as driven as you are in their own career choices. I have a group of friends that all are working on something relating to what they might want to do as a long term career and honestly, that’s my daily inspiration to get up my lazy butt! What I do is that since I’m always creating in school, I use those garments I made for class and incorporate it in a cohesive collection, almost like “killing two birds with one stone” that way I’m always thinking about what the next collection would be while completing school work at the same time. Then I work on the weekends at a retail job in Soho and have one day off for my social life whether it’s with my friends or enjoying my own company!
How do you deal with self-doubt and staying inspired?
Self doubt is something I deal with one and off, and when it does approach, I always watch runway shows or fashion documentaries on Netflix just to get the juices flowing. I also go on some of my favorite fashion designers pages to get motivated. There’s something about seeing other people’s success that gives me a drive to do the same. Lastly, I love browse in fabric stores! I’m learning to express myself through color and it’s honestly so fun. The next collection has so many fun colors like pink, red, orange and more and its very freeing.
Any tips for people who would like to become a designer?
For those of you who want to become I designer I say get a sketchbook and just sketch ideas all day. Be unconventional! There’s too many designs that look the same in this industry and life is too short. Invest in a really good sewing and overlock machine and save all of the garments that you make! Who knows, maybe me of those garments can inspire a collection in the future. Once you get the drift of making collection, shoot them professionally in a studio or outdoor studio and be creative! Eventually this will build up your portfolio to one day have a website so everyone can access your designs! Don’t forget to copyright , copyright and copyright all your designs because there are some peepers who might steal an idea! There’s some websites like “Legal Zoom” that are reliable for that source.
What was your inspiration behind your latest collection?
The inspiration for FW18 is the ability to have a multi functioning garment that gives the customer options! I really wanted to push myself with color and design so there’s lots of details and lots of colors!
What materials and colors do you most like to use?
When I first started designing I did a lot of neutrals and pockets! But I remember always wanting to dress more colorful and figured, why not express that through design! The FW18 collection’s color scheme has neutrals like white and gray, and pop of colors like pink, red, orange, lime green and blue! Sounds crazy for a Fall/Winter collection, but I love going against standards and just doing whatever i want, or else what am I designing for if I have to follow rules like which colors to use! I usually lean towards more structured fabrics like canvas and wool but I’m planning on expanding my horizons for the next collection! Experiment!
What is your favorite part of the process of designing/ creating a piece, from initial inspiration and sketches to the final product being photographed?
My favorite process of designing is sewing! I love love love to sew. It’s very therapeutic for me, especially when I’m playing music or have Netflix on as background noise. For sure I can’t sew in silence haha. Right now I’m in the process of turning my room into a studio with a bed and closet, that way I can wake up and go to sleep inspired by a creative space that I can call my own! And also seeing the shoot all edited with models and makeup!
Why is gender neutral clothes so important to you?
I started this unisex brand because it really bothered me that people would get treated a certain way based on how they look. Almost as if all these assumptions came along with a specific association of clothing. For example, wearing pink means you must be gay, according to society of course. This way of thinking especially triggered me once I began to experience it myself, once I got my really short pixie cut where my hair was an inch long and the bottom was shaved, similar to a male. And on top of that, I already had a personal style inspired by menswear, so those two combined resulted in me getting stereotyped as gay because I looked like a “dyke” according to society. There is an entire community of people getting stereotyped because of the way I dress and I felt like I needed to use my platform to serve the purpose of having a brand that breaks those barriers and caters to people who don’t believe in gender roles when it comes to fashion. It’s just clothes! That being said, I make it my personal duty to push boundaries with every collection I do, to eventually get people used to the tradition of menswear vs womenswear.
What are your thoughts on the gender neutral movement in general?
I took a class second semester of college, where I was taught this history of fashion during the times of western civilization, and come to find out that back then, if men wore dresses, skirts and all these “feminine” fabrics, they were considered to be more wealthy and gained a higher status within their community. Where as now, if a man is seen in lavish fabrics or a skirt, they are looked at as if they’re out of their mind. It’s only a matter of educating our people that clothes and just clothes, because just a few centuries ago we were all okay with men wearing skirts. As for the vocabulary, we use gender neutral vocabulary all the time without even realizing! For example, if we see an item, let’s say someone’s bag on a chair and we are trying to identify who’s it is, we say “they left their bag!”. Not “he” or “she” because we don’t assume what gender the bag may belong to. Why do we say “they”? Because we were taught to say “they” when we don’t know the gender. So yes, we use gender neutral vocabulary all the time! It’s just a matter of educating ourselves without being closed minded.
Professionally, what's your goal?
My goal is to be an established well known brand that has inspired everyone to ignore society’s rules of how to dress. I feel like gender neutral clothing is important because there’s so many people getting culture shocked when they see a guy in a dress, or a woman wearing baggy pants. It’s my job as a designer to educate my audience through my work. Success doesn’t mean anything to me if I haven’t achieved that goal of destroying the ignorance that exists when it comes to how we should express ourselves. Life is too short!
Lookbook photos are shot by Naseem Muhammad. Sketches by Samantha herself. If you want to learn more about Samantha, her design process and XE you can go to her website or Instagram.