KINGSTON, R.I. – March 20, 2014 – Twakelee Gborkorquellie can whip up a dress in two hours. That talent comes in handy when a last-minute invitation to, say, a wedding lands in her mailbox.
“I’ve been cutting fabric for myself for so long I don’t need to measure,” she says. “I do everything by eye.”
The 19-year-old junior at the University of Rhode Island will get a chance to showcase her clothes – and design skills – at the 11th annual Spring Splash fashion gala April 11 on the Kingston campus.
Twakelee and a dozen other students in the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, or TMD, are participating in the event, called “Fashion in the 401” – a play off the state’s area code.
Dinner, with a cash bar, will be held from 6 to 7:45 p.m., at the Alumni Center, 73 Upper College Road. The fashion show will follow at 8 p.m. in Edwards Hall across the street.
“The entire department is looking forward to the fashion show and awards ceremony,” says Linda Welters, co-chair of the textiles program, part of the College of Human Science and Services. “It’s always a fun night that celebrates the achievements of student designers, alums and the businesses and organizations that partner with the department.”
Twakelee’s passion for fashion started as a little girl growing up in Liberia, her homeland. She watched her mother and aunt sew duvets and was soon crocheting dresses for her Barbies.
When she was 8, Twakelee and her family moved to Providence, where she continued to hone her craft. During her junior year at Classical High School, her sister bought her a $150 sewing machine. The Brother CS6000 changed her life.
“I learned how to be a great sewer,” she says. “I didn’t see myself doing anything else.”
In a few months, she was sewing dresses, pants, wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses for friends. Her family wanted her to pursue a more stable profession – law, medicine, nursing – but the budding designer decided to “just go for my dream.”
The URI program was a good fit, offering design classes as well as marketing and business courses to prepare for the highly competitive fashion industry, where designers rise and fall like politicians. Many graduates find jobs as production assistants and sourcing specialists for designers and manufacturers.
“At URI we’re not looking to be couture designers but learning how to graduate and find a job in the fashion business,” she says. “A lot of people like me have big dreams, but initially we need to use our skills to make a living.”
Twakelee is working late into the night to prepare for the show. She’ll walk the catwalk and also have others model her clothes. She’s showing nine outfits from three collections: wedding gowns, casual evening wear, and dresses, including her “Starburst,” an explosion of green, pink and red inspired by the chewy candy.
She describes her work as “feminine but tasteful, fun but elegant, simple but complex,” with subtle details that take skill and persistence to perfect. Her special design is a dress made with one top-to-bottom seam in back. “The dress molds to the body,” she says.
After graduating next year, she hopes to fly to Paris to work for Balmain, a high-end fashion house that makes clothes worn by Hollywood celebrities. If that doesn’t work out, she’ll knock on the doors of New York apparel companies.
“The best thing about being a fashion designer is that you can make your idea a reality,” she says. “Every time I finish a garment I feel great. It’s art.”
The cost for the dinner and fashion show is $100. For the show only, the cost is $20 for the public and $15 for students. To RSVP, contact Nina Mathewson at 401-874-4574 by April 2. Checks can be mailed to Ms. Mathewson at 303 Quinn Hall, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, 02881.
Photo above: Twakelee Gborkorquellie, 19, of Providence, a junior at the University of Rhode Island who will show her collection April 11 at Spring Splash on the Kingston campus. Twakelee has won a $1,000 URI undergraduate research grant to design and make garments to submit to a fashion show sponsored by the International Textiles and Apparel Association.
Photos by Joe Giblin.