Amanda Gill, a WVU graduate makes a career in design.
What made you want to be a fashion designer?
I think my interest in design and retail had a lot to do with Barbie. I’d make her clothes and set up a retail store next door to her dream house. Years later, my mom taught me how to sew more advanced things and we made a dress for one of my high school dances. When I started college, I made a few tote bags for friends to carry their books to class in. Interest grew as other people began asking where they could get one. I had a little business going and thought to myself, “this is what I want to do one day.” I come from a long line of family owned businesses, so it always seemed natural for me to want to own a company. Now, I own Gill Collective LLC, which encompasses The Brass Giraffe, an online store focusing on vintage fashion; and Gilly Lynn, a handcrafted accessory line produced in my studio.
How did West Virginia University help cultivate your interest?
WVU has a beautiful and extensive historic costume collection. While I was at the University, I had the opportunity to work in preserving, cataloging, and photographing pieces from the collection, as well as creating campus-wide fashion exhibits. I learned an incredible amount about dating pieces and restoring items and that has helped immensely with the other half of my business, vintage.
From a design perspective, one of the best experiences I had was the retail practicum I completed with handbag company Scigliano Designs in Morgantown. Owner, designer, and WVU alum, Gina Shields, took me under her wing and taught me valuable information about leatherwork, industrial sewing machines, and handbag construction. Had it not been for Gina, I wouldn’t be where I am right now starting the handbag portion of my company.
What inspires your designs?
I draw a lot of my inspiration from vintage fashion. I love the little details in styles from the 1920s and 1930, as well as the couture techniques from the 1800s. While buying vintage clothing for my shop, I often run across pieces that I can’t give up to the shop. A few of my favorites in my closet right now are a 1940s little black dress; a velvet fringe vest from the 1920s; and the most amazing, guinea feathered fascinator, circa the flapper era.
What have you been up to since you’ve graduated WVU?
After I graduated, I moved to Charleston, S.C. and dabbled in design and vintage fashion under the moniker Gilly Lynn. Accessories from my line were featured in boutiques on King Street. In the summer of 2011, I showed a 10-piece clothing collection at Baltimore Fashion Week, spurring the decision to return home to Maryland. I decided that this would be the optimal time to focus on my business. I opened The Brass Giraffe for vintage clothing, jewelry, and accessories in July of 2012 and am currently working on a line of handcrafted handbags for my brand Gilly Lynn to be available before the holidays. I’ll be launching my handbags on Small Business Saturday (Nov. 24) at the Fenton Street Holiday Market in Silver Spring, MD.