Michelle Bylow is masking-up the runway.
The Collingwood fashion designer officially released her “Too Cool for TV” clothing line under her brand Jojee Apparel in August. The collection is comprised of over 50 unique pieces — masks included — for both men and women, all designed and fabricated at her home studio in Collingwood.
“I completed every aspect of the clothing, from pattern drafting and grading to the actual construction. It is the largest collection I have completed to date,” beamed Bylow.
And she did so all within the constraints of quarantine.
Bylow has always been a designer, creator and lover of all things art. She daylights as the executive director of RAW Artists Canada, an organization that works with emerging and independent artists of all different disciplines, from music to fashion and visual arts.
Bylow said sewing is a skill passed down from generation to generation in her family, and she first started sewing to create costumes for herself and a music partner.
“Think over the top, crazy couture. Non-wearable,” she said.
Bylow wanted to refine her skills and learn the rules of reproduction, focusing more on pattern drafting and grading to make sure she could reproduce all styles of garments. She released her first clothing line under Jojee Apparel in 2016, which she described as “a little bit darker, more moody, 80s futuristic style.”
Around the same time, she was becoming more and more consumed by — and infatuated with — her role at RAW, travelling all around Canada for events, and temporarily putting her own creative endeavors on the backburner.
Bylow made the move to Collingwood a year and a half ago, and last fall she finally promised herself she would get back into it — no matter what it took.
“I thought, if I am going to do this, I am going to do it,” she said. “Find the time. Give up other things. Whether it’s socializing or watching TV, anything more leisurely, I said I would give it all up and totally focus on this.”
And her hard work paid off. The dedication kickstarted her creativity, and then when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced earlier this year, it ended up being the perfect passion project to complete in isolation.
However, it also made sourcing materials much more difficult.
“Fabric stores shifted online and I am really tactile, I just can’t buy something without feeling it first. So I was forced to use a lot of materials I had in my studio already,” she said.
But Bylow said it was the best thing for her, and she ended up creating designs she never would have had the fabric stores been open.
“It forced me to get creative,” Bylow said.
Not only is the Too Cool for TV collection much larger than anything she has ever produced, but it is also completely different from her previous style.
When she moved to Collingwood, Bylow started snowboarding and became really inspired by snowboarding brands and culture. Her personal esthetic quickly changed from dark and gothy to a really “colourful, pattern-filled, chill style” and her new collection reflects that.
“I wanted it to be wearable. I wanted it to be chill, cool and fun. I’ve been really influenced by the snowboarding and streetwear style over the last few years, and that’s the kind of style I wear on a regular basis now,” said Bylow.
Bylow said she never lets the media or TV influence the way she dresses or how she thinks, and she named the collection to represent that.
“Whatever you want to wear is totally cool, it doesn’t matter if anyone else is wearing it, as long as you feel good,” she said.
After over six months of solo work in her studio, she was ready to share her collection. However, with a tight budget and social distancing measures still in place, Bylow was worried about pulling off a photoshoot to showcase all of her new creations.
That’s where the masks came in.
“I didn’t anticipate that I would be making masks as part of the collection,” said Bylow. “I originally made them to keep the models safe during the photoshoot, I wasn’t planning on selling them. But they’ve become a really popular part of the collection.”
Bylow used her connections in the creative industry and managed to pull off a full photoshoot on a very low budget.
“Everyone involved exchanged some type of skill for the work each person was doing. It was really cool to see it all come together,” said Bylow.
Her collection officially launched on August 17, and Bylow is ecstatic about the feedback so far.
“Artists are really stepping up and supporting one another during this time. Communities are as well,” she said. “People are ordering from me from all over the Collingwood community.”
The Too Cool for TV collection is now available online, and Bylow hopes to start showcasing her collection at markets and other in person events soon. Her mission is to encourage people to support local as much as possible in this trying time.
“Everyone has been hit so hard, it’s heartbreaking. No matter how small the support is, all the support needs to go to local right now. It could save someone’s business,” Bylow said.
While the process is long and difficult, with a lot of trial and error and frustration, Bylow said it’s worth it.
“Knowing that there will be people out there wearing my clothes… I like the idea of making someone feel super confident. When you put on something you love, it makes a huge difference.”
“A positive too is I personally like all the pieces, so I have a really dope wardrobe right now,” she laughed.