Shanel Campbell, a 26-year-old Bronx native, has taken a very traditional route in the pursuit of being a fashion designer.
She graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2016 and interned for Thakoon, Kith and Louise Goldin along the way. Her graduate collection, which drew from her father working his way through law school on a construction site, caught the attention of Solange Knowles, who wore pieces from the collection when she was honored at the Parsons Benefit this past May.
That endorsement led to Campbell dressing Issa Rae for the CFDA Awards in June, and most recently a cosign from Ciara, who donned Campbell’s tool bag trousers in her new video “Level Up.”
But how do you capitalize on these placements when you have neither investors nor a production and sales team? WWD spoke to Campbell about what she wants to do next and how she plans on getting there. This is the first story in a series that will follow Campbell as she develops her collection and builds a business.
How do you make money?
I work part-time at Parsons. I teach Thesis 1 and 2: Systems and Society with Brendan McCarthy. I mostly teach sophomores how to sew. A lot of students become interns for my line.
Why have you decided to immediately start working on your own line instead of working for a brand?
I don’t think that I can. I don’t think I have the mental capacity to contribute my creativity to another brand. I’m very particular and I don’t want to be disrespectful to anybody, but I want to work like this. I want to express myself in this way and when I’m working at other places I’m always thinking about how I just want to do my own thing. I have a vision of how I want to see black women in more artistic roles. On the runway there are more people of color, but I want there to be more people of color at the top and behind the scenes. I want to create that with my brand.
What are your other goals and ambitions?
I don’t like to think too far ahead, but I’m working toward doing a fashion presentation or a runway show in September during New York Fashion Week. I’m working nonstop all summer toward that. I was having a conversation with my best friend Neil [Grotzinger], and originally I wanted to show in October once fashion week was over, but a lot of people are traveling in Europe at that point. And the most important thing to me is for people to see your work. Whether they like it or not, you want them to come into your space.
Do you think New York Fashion Week is still an optimal vehicle for a designer?
I think so. I’m from New York and I think it tends to be more commercial, a little bit toned-down, so it’s nice to show something a little bit more creative. I feel like as a younger designer it’s easier to do that here.
Have you been working with the CFDA?
Someone from the CFDA reached out to me. I don’t know what conversation we are going to have, but I’m definitely going to meet with them.
How are you funding a fashion show?
The thing about being broke is that it fuels creativity. In terms of venue, I’m thinking about reaching out to spaces that are for lease and asking to come in for a day. Parsons also has so many spaces. I can make the show very student-based and do something in one of our galleries. I don’t have money for models, hair and makeup, but sometimes when you put things out there, people want to help you out for free.
How did you end up dressing Solange Knowles?
She pulled my stuff for the Parsons Benefit and I met her in person and it felt like an outer-body experience because for a year and a half I would play this game and make a list of people I wanted to dress and Solange was always that number-one person. I didn’t know she was going to post me on her Instagram or her Twitter.
What was the impact of that?
It led to 2,000 followers on Instagram. It led to Jason [Rembert] reaching out to me to dress Issa for the CFDA Awards and I had to bang out that dress in three days. Someone also just reached out to me from Opening Ceremony. And so many black creative people have found me and that’s all I ever wanted. Before this I felt very alone, which is nobody’s fault, it’s just something that black creatives go through. You are in spaces where you are like, this is great but I want to see more people of color and I see them but I didn’t know how to bridge the gap. And the cosign from Solange helped bridge that gap.
How do you want to run your business?
For my first collection that I’m working on now, it’s a lot of everyday pieces or my version of basics. I want people to always have access to these core items. I’ve also already created graphics for T-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts. And then I create a collection once a year in September. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I don’t want to stifle my creativity by trying to put out new work every six months.
With so much access and the appointment of Virgil Abloh as creative director at Louis Vuitton men’s, people are starting to question whether or not you need to go to design school. What do you think?
Do you need to go to school to learn how to sew and drape and do technical things? Absolutely not. You can learn that from your house. The thing about Parsons is that you have someone working with you giving you feedback. You also have access to Parsons’ resources. I think his appointment was interesting. It was great to see a black man get such a big role and if someone makes it and they don’t go to fashion school, I find that exciting. So it’s nice for people to see that. Do I think it’s very rare? Absolutely.