Updated: Jul 26
ser·en·dip·i·ty /ˌserənˈdipədē/ Learn to pronounce
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. "a fortunate stroke of serendipity"
My grandfather has a saying that often gets repeated in my household, "There are no such things as accidents."
Essentially, everything happens for a reason.
And I think we all have moments that make that statement relative; where we can recount those times that we ran perfectly into that person, or we stumbled blindly across that opportunity.
Call it luck, maybe.
About a year ago I signed up for a platform created specifically for creatives. It's called Creatively and I wanted to start showcasing more of my work; more of my writing for not only ClothesPetals but the internal publications I had contributed to while at ELC and previously in my career. I also began playing around with the site because I’m always looking to connect with creatives, especially in Fashion, since oftentimes it feels like I focus heavily on Beauty founders.
Cue, the serendipity.
I stumbled upon Typhani’s profile first—literally. It was the first profile presented on my landing page, and I was instantly drawn to these magnificent designs showcasing the American West through the lens of the real cowboys; the real Black and Brown peoples who have now been whitewashed throughout Hollywood and US history.
It spoke to me.
As a blogger and a stylist supporting all things steeped in our culture and heritage and the reclamation of our history, I thought Typhani’s work was necessary to share, just as her journey, her talent, and her passion for her craft was equally necessary to share, too. And as a wardrobe consultant, I often stress to clients the importance of their 'why,' when shopping. I often try to suggest new designers and brands outside of mainstream trends, because there just might be designs and designers who align more closely with their personal values; their personal style. Having met Typhani, I am so excited to have discovered a new brand to layer into my client's wardrobes. I am so excited to have another designer of color to patronize. I am so excited to share her story. I am so grateful for this fortunate stroke of serendipity.
This is the Designer Series.
1. Would you mind providing a bit about your background? i.e.) What is your name? Where are you from? When did you become interested in fashion?
My name is Typhani Sheppard—I am from Brooklyn, New York. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when or how I became interested in fashion. My mom had worked in design for a little while so I think a little bit comes from there, but really, I think I am just a person of many interests. I’ve always enjoyed making things, whether it was with clay, paint, paper, or fabric. I have always been very studious and loved to read and watch things about science and culture but I’m also really into fantasy and supernatural fiction. I enjoy the digital world as much as I do the physical world—I love gaming and 3D. I basically like anything freeform that I can manipulate into new things or learn something from. My current focus is in knitwear, which was my concentration in college. I initially got into knitwear mostly because I was really excited to learn a new skill and knitwear is a whole new way of looking at fashion; it requires a different eye and process to create. It was really difficult at first, but I just got obsessed with mastering it. I think back to my first swatches and how awful they were and how determined I was to do better. Now that I’ve really worked on those skills, I feel like the possibilities are limitless. I think that’s why I’m interested in fashion—I think it sits at the intersection of all the things I’m interested in. Fashion is something that is so intertwined with our humanity and culture, and it can change and adapt the same way we do as people. I think that's what attracted me to it, fashion has the ability to be anything it wants to be and I as the designer have the opportunity to shape it.
2. What was your career path prior to fashion? Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I have always been pretty focused on fashion. I started sketching from a pretty young age so by the time I was ready for college I knew I wanted to go to FIT. But, I took a little bump along the way. I was never formally trained in putting together a portfolio, so in my first application to FIT I made some mistakes…which ended up with my portfolio being rejected. I ended up going to Hunter College in Manhattan for my first two years of college. There, I tried to take classes in other things I was interested in like Anthropology and Art History. I reapplied to FIT after my second year, learned from my mistakes, and got in. At first, I was kind of bummed out because I was sitting in a class full of people right out of HS but in the end, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. Since I had two years of transfer credits, I didn’t have to take any liberal arts so I really got to focus on learning and refining my own craft. I know college is not for everyone, and there are so many non-traditional ways to break into the fashion world, but for me, my education at FIT really helped shape my style and voice as a designer as well as refine my skills. I really wouldn’t be where I am without it. I would have never discovered knitwear and if I didn’t discover knitwear, I don't think I’d still be a designer. I’ve worked in Corporate Fashion Design Setting since graduating in 2018. As of late I’ve shifted from the typical design role and started working more heavily in 3D: a skill I picked up during lockdown in the pandemic.
3. Please explain the story behind your current designs/collection. i.e.) Where did you get the idea? How did you set off to start? When did you decide you wanted to create a line that honored your heritage?
I have a small knitwear brand I call “ph, new york.”
I make & sell custom sweaters, design collections, and do some sweater consulting mostly with start-ups and small companies. A lot of people have been calling it a “small business,” but, for me right now it feels more like an extended art project. I was feeling really burnt out by the business of fashion especially after I got laid off during the pandemic. I was really missing the activity of creating with intent and not just filling a box of merch. I was also just really disheartened—I felt like I had failed after I got let go from my
job, and it was a really scary time. I know now it had nothing to do with me specifically, it was just the needs of the business at the time. The first collection I did under “ph, new york,” was an emotional reaction to the BLM protests, which I had a really hard time dealing with—the constant reminders of Black trauma all over the internet. So, I started working on this very happy and colorful collection as a way to kind of ease my own anxieties and shift my focus from Black trauma to Black joy. And frankly, I just enjoy knitting and it was a fun way to spend my time. From there it just grew, I started sketching again, and I pulled out my knitting machine. Eventually, I got a good deal on a studio space near my house so I could work on my stuff away from home. I live with my partner and the knitting was taking over our living room. A year later, I was able to put on my debut collection exhibition in October 2021; I got a grant that helped me afford more equipment and was able to move into a larger studio space.
Currently, I am working on my second collection, which is still unnamed. My plan is to present a Fall/Winter knitwear collection through a short fashion film. Exploring American Pride and western cowboy lore through the lens of Black and other BIPOC groups. I want to do a collective-like project where I provide the wardrobe. I am planning to do a 10 Look collection and invite other artists to collaborate and add dimension. I already have a friend, Rodrik Reyes, who’s an incredible Creative Director who’s excited to help. The inspiration for the collection started from thinking about American Pride and where it comes from. Most POC Americans I know have trouble finding pride in their American identity; many of us feel more closely connected to our cities or the countries our families came from. What I notice is that most of what other Americans understand about National Pride doesn’t come from history but from folklore. One notable area of folklore in America is the Wild West and cowboy lore has come to represent the American spirit of independence, self-reliance, substance, strength, and courage. It has been set as a symbol of Southwestern America and sometimes even by white supremacists. But the actual history of how we formed the idea of cowboys comes from a diverse background. Those jobs were often kept by the least privileged people at the time many of whom were Black and/or Indigenous. Together they created the vision of what we understand as cowboys today, which has been whitewashed in pop culture. I think this part of history should also be remembered for its multiculturalism and surprisingly level of open-mindedness within their communities for its time.
In this project, I’d like to explore that identity. If any groups in America truly show the spirit of the cowboy—of both strength and courage—it’s BIPOC Americans. This project will include people like myself in “cowboy lore” to share in the nostalgia and reclaim a part of that history.
4. The idea of a short fashion film sounds incredible, and I love how it is centered around a very whitewashed portion of American history...it’s also very interesting how the LGBTQ community is often excluded from this retelling of history as well. What made you focus your collection and film specifically around this period? What drew you to this era?
Yeah, it is really interesting—there are lots of articles talking about how it was not uncommon for men to have relationships with other men but, generally speaking, the social dynamics were different in their communities. They were alone and were very much reliant upon each other. Many had tender friendships with each other even if they didn't go the way of full romantic or erotic relationships.
Actually, the story about this is funny. Sometime last summer I had been reached out to by some photographers who were based in Berlin and they were trying to get me to pay them to take photos of my clothes, and their whole pitch was, "You know you're in NY. It’s all very industrial there in the states and you don't have as many options, and in Europe, we have no many different environments we can take photos in.. etc etc etc. " I didn't expect to feel so offended after they said that, but I was! I want a beach, I'm just a few hours away from the Hamptons. If I want a sea town there is Cape Cod. If I want mountains, there's Denver or Arizona for the desert. I was like have you ever been here?? We have so much beautiful nature and different vibes all over; I can present my brand the way I want to. I declined them politely but, I had a strange feeling of defensiveness and pride when they presumed that my home wasn't good enough for fashion. But there was also guilt and lingering annoyance in
myself because this country has a lot of history and current issues that I am not proud of but, at the same time, I do feel a lot of pride for being a native New Yorker. It’s a strange intersection and I think that feeling is really common, especially among American-born BIPOC individuals. I think that's how I started thinking about American
Pride and where it comes from and why people experience it differently. I wasn't seeking out that particular time period, but it all kind of just worked out that the idea of the cowboy/Reconstruction Era fit what I was feeling…especially considering the POC and LGBTQ+ communities that were just as fundamental to these eras and years later we either erased or forgotten. When we are erased from these histories you end up feeling like me today where you're like...why am I feeling prideful for a place that doesn't seem to care that much about people like me? A knitter I follow named @Darcidoesit wrote a really good description of this feeling on the last 4th of July.
Anyway, all this stuff got me thinking about my and other BIPOC Americans' precarious relationships with (or lack thereof) American Pride. I'm really excited to start on this project. My goal is to have it done by the end of the year.
5. We don’t often see Black Designers showcased in Vogue. Can you describe your experience as a Black, female designer? In what ways do you think can we as consumers help elevate the stories and creative talents of Black designers?
I think the biggest and most relatable experience a lot of Black female professionals in ANY industry is that we are often the only person in the room who looks like ourselves. Luckily, being in NY, I cannot say I am always the only Black person in the room, but I was definitely always a minority. So, sometimes it’s hard to know if your experiences are going to be heard or received by your colleagues. I like to change my hair into different protective styles. At my first office job, I was really nervous to do faux dreadlocks in the office because most people in the office wore their hair straight and my two other Black coworkers always wore their hair in low ponytails. In the end, I did it and it was fine—there were no questions or strange looks—but, it’s funny that this is even a pressure point for Black people. Because there is still a lot of hair discrimination. And, especially in fashion, some offices can be a little cult-ish where everyone is expected to fit neatly into the brand’s aesthetic.
Overall, I am lucky to have had really lovely co-workers and bosses who don’t act like they “don’t see color” but understand that we have different points of view and take into consideration how our differences in race and/or culture affect our experiences.
I think the best way to help elevate the stories of Black creative talent is to put your money where your mouth is. For consumers, sharing their work on social media is great and so is going to our events, but truly the best way to support a creative process is to buy the work. I know that it's not accessible to everyone, but it is the best way to support artists. If you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on big brands, you can redistribute some of that support to emerging designers.
Now, it might take longer [to receive]. It usually takes me a few weeks to make a sweater, but once it’s done you have something that is special and not that many people have. Most importantly, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you positively impacted an individual life. And, that individual designer is probably more thankful for the couple hundred you spent than big companies are. Don’t get me wrong, I buy from big brands, I love Margiela. I have a pair of Tabi boots, but neither Mr. Galliano nor Martin Margiela himself cares that I spent upwards of $900 dollars on a pair of shoes. And, the most interesting and special pieces I own are from my friends or colleagues who design.
I think we also need support from inside the business, especially consumer-facing business support. Stylists, Art Directors, and Creative Directors should collaborate with emerging designers in a way that uplifts and celebrates them, not just taking their ideas. I think a lot of industry people are afraid to take risks with new emerging talent.
5. “If you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on big brands, you can redistribute some of that support to emerging designers,” has got to be one of my favorite quotes from this article. It’s a statement I live by as a stylist, and it’s more challenging than not when I try to expand my clients’ wardrobes to include smaller brands and designers of color. What are your current favorite BIPOC fashion labels/creatives/brands throughout the industry?
For brands right now I really like Black boy Knits & Aisling Camps Both are Black-owned knitwear brands.
Here are a few creatives that come to mind that I really enjoy looking at online;
Francois Boudreaux (@_flyson) - Designs streetwear/contemporary sportswear
Kritika Manchanda (@kritikamanchanda) - Creates beautiful and ethereal, more art than fashion-fashion, with Simone Rocha vibes
Sandra Kim (@ mikcardnas) - Specializes in knit & crocheted handbags
6. What does your daily work schedule look like? How do you prioritize self-care?
I work full-time so I work on my collections for “ph, new york” on the side. I currently work as a 3D designer. I work with 3D fashion programs such as CLO, Shima Apex, and Browzwear as well as more 3D modeling software such as Blender and Adobe Substance. I shifted away from working in typical design roles because 3D offered me more work-time flexibility. I work from home and my hours are shorter than they were when I was working in design. It's great because I can stay close to my studio, which is about 15 mins away from my home. That is most important to me. I typically do my collection work in the evenings or on weekends.
Since I think of “ph, new york” as more of a project than a business, I am pretty relaxed about how I get my work done. I have a general idea of when my project should be finished and loose dates of when certain milestones should be achieved. For example, I’m in the process of finishing up my pattern-making for my new collection. I’m a little behind in that, it should have been done in May but at the same time, I also went ahead and started knitting one style so I’m ahead of schedule in production because I wasn't supposed to start knitting until the end of June. Additionally, I always prioritize any custom work or orders which I try to start and finish within 3 to 4 weeks. I like to get those out in a timely manner. I never work on Sunday, it’s the only day my partner and I both have off so we like to spend the day together. But for me, self-care is pretty easy if I am feeling tired or burnt out. I don’t work. I allow myself time to rest and I try not to feel guilty. I already work a full-time job. It is perfectly fine if I am feeling tired at the end of the day and I try to honor that for myself. So far, it's been working.
7. Despite having “loose” dates in which you work on ph, new york, I love how you still have a schedule—What advice do you have for young designers looking to make waves in the fashion industry? How would you champion budding creatives in this industry?
I'm still a young designer so I cannot say I have all the answers. I have so much left to learn. I guess my only thing to say is that you have to try to stay motivated. I definitely have times when I am feeling insecure and wonder why should I even bother in such a competitive field. I guess what I like to think is that there’s room for all of us in Art & Fashion, and we don't have to compare ourselves to every person with a brand.
I think collaborations are really important for emerging creatives! It’s almost impossible to build a brand all on your own. We have strength in numbers. I love collaborating with friends. My first exhibition was a joint event where my best friend, Juliana Castaneda, who’s a painter, (@feeddock) did the artwork that reflected the collection I was doing and we hosted a big cocktail hour event where she showed her artwork and I put on a runway show. My next project is also a collaboration where I will be working with a director, videographers, and poets. It’s something I want to keep doing. I'd want to keep looking for new talent so that we can make meaningful things together. Maybe I'll find a business partner along the way!
Fashion is an art form.
It is inherently personal.
And, I say this often, but Typhani is an expample of how deeply connected the designer is with her designs. We as consumers see only the finished product, but designers put themselves and their passion into their craft. It's why fashion is inextricably linked to the self; to our own identity. What we wear, much like what we create, is an outward display of innermost selves.
The Designer Series is the newest addition to ClothesPetals, because these are the stories behind the design; the label; the craft. And, just as Tyhpani said, If you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on big brands, you can redistribute some of that support to emerging designers.
Support "ph, new york" today. You've stumpled upon this message serendipitously; it was for a reason.