Edvin Thompson’s Theophilio Bridges Multiple Worlds
The Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based designer talks about his "design family," his upcoming collection, and the need to support young creative talent.by Victor Vaughns Jr.
In the lead-up to one of the strangest New York Fashion week seasons in recent memory, one thing has become increasingly clear: This fashion week will be all about emerging designers. Even with a truncated schedule, 15 new names have been added to the CFDA calendar, shifting the focus from marquee brands — which are mostly absent and may show in yet-to-be-revealed formats later this year — to newcomers with distinct and unique visions.
Edvin Thompson is the Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based designer behind Theophilio, a unisex line bridging the designer’s cultural upbringing and current metropolitan influences with an upcycled philosophy that has been core to the brand’s aesthetic approach. Crafty, resourceful and energetic are just a few words to describe this labor of love put together by Thompson and his “design family,” a community dedicated to promoting and uplifting voices of immigrants like themselves.
A preview in the brand’s Brooklyn studio revealed the exciting raw beginnings behind a brand full of creative collaboration and passionate, positive and magical energy. Even through a pandemic, the exhausting calls for racial justice, and the general pressures placed upon young designers in an ever-changing industry, a preview of Thompson’s spring collection showed it to be incredibly strong.
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Here, he talks with WWD about his career beginnings, cultural influences and the fashion road ahead.
WWD: How did you get your start?
Edvin Thompson: I was introduced to fashion through friends from my freshman year of high school. I was eager then for knowledge on fashion design, fashion styling and fashion history. I was so excited about creating clothing, because of the stories I would tell.
WWD: How has your Jamaican heritage and living in Brooklyn influenced your creative process?
E.T.: Coming from Jamaica I’ve held on to many inspirational nuances from my culture. Moving to New York has given me access to resources that drives those inspirations.
WWD: In the current state of the world, how has your experience been as a designer and creator?
E.T.: I use my experiences to tell stories and I think about what’s going on, especially in politics. I never really considered myself as a political person but during COVID-19, myself, friends and family were basically stuck at home with not much to do but really filter what’s going on in the world. I felt compelled to leave my home and go out and march and I understand people use their activism in different ways — I use my activism in my work but sometimes it’s very important to show solidarity and show face.
WWD: Can you describe the customer you have in mind when designing?
E.T.: When I design I consider all fearless, strong, independent men and women. My clothing inspires people to give their all in everything they do. It is a call for leaders and trailblazers. I listen to people’s stories. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be a designer because in my community a lot of people don’t get to share their stories or even have a space to be vulnerable to even share their stories. It’s really one of the reasons why I became a designer — to shed light on my community and amplify their voices and create spaces they are not normally accepted in.
WWD: What influences your creative process?
E.T.: I party with my consumers, I protest with my consumers, I live with my consumers and I listen to people’s stories, especially in my community.
Coming from Jamaica to the States and living in New York, I find that we have the same stories no matter what background we come from. I think that has definitely driven the inspiration from my first collection to this collection coming up. That is the biggest ideology of my brand.
WWD: Tell us about your design family.
E.T.: They’re very, very close friends, family of mine, faces that I’ve known for a long time now. I like to work with the same people and really nurture a really long-lasting relationship. I’m still working with the same models, videographers and photographers from my first collection and even from my other home in Atlanta. I’m still working with friends there. These people have definitely assisted in my growth, as I have done for them. It’s more of a community, my design family.
WWD: What are some key pieces from this upcoming collection? Please describe them.
E.T.: I’m more so excited about the color palettes. I’m exploring different color palettes.
Going into designing, I’ve always shied away from bright colors and I think it has to do a lot with my sexuality — being gay — because growing up I wanted to refine myself; I didn’t want to be as bright because of how society really treats us. I wanted to dim it down, but I gradually got the love back for color because of my cultural background. It’s very vibrant and we love to celebrate life and I think colors definitely do that. There’s a corseted shirt that I’ve extended the sleeves and it looks amazing, amazing, amazing.
WWD: What considerations do you think your customers have now before making a purchase?
E.T.: I think my clothing makes people feel very good. I really go out there with my consumers. I think a lot of designers should take note of that and be out there on the streets and really get to know people and get to know their consumers and get to know their concerns. Ask them, “hey, how do you like these pants, how do you like the way they fit, how do you like the way they feel?” I think that’s very very important.
I’m always open to feedback from my consumers and it goes back to producing for my customers without having an online store. A lot of customers would reach out directly to my DM so it was a very personal approach and I got to see their appreciation and what they were excited about and what they wanted the clothes for. Recently I had a customer buy three pieces from my last collection for her birthday. She really wanted the whole reggae vibes and inspired her to do a shoot like that. Those kinds of things are what I want.
I want people to be passionate about things and find themselves and even be leaders in their own communities, start conversations and tell stories.
WWD: Where do you produce your collections and what is the price range?
E.T.: My price range is $300 and up and I produce my clothes in a couple of factories in Manhattan and a few small productions back home in Atlanta as well. I’m exploring different areas of production and also looking into Los Angeles and I would also love to play with more couture pieces from Mexico.
A goal of mine in the near future is to build a factory of my own back home in Jamaica; I want to bring more to my country and really support the economy and community back home.
WWD: Why is it important to be a part of the New York Fashion Week calendar?
E.T.: It was important because I wanted to fill that space. I wanted people to know that it’s very possible for a kid from Jamaica to come to America and do that and I really created a space for myself. And to just know that being a good person and having that drive and ambition and passion for what you do will all come to fruition.
WWD: What changes do you think the industry needs to embrace moving forward?
E.T.: I believe fashion has to continue to those conversations on diversity, inclusivity, sustainability, and embracing those cultural diasporas. We must take action by empowering and uplifting our brothers and sisters to strive in safe spaces within the fashion industry.
I would like to see action in regards to us filling spaces and us getting funded. There are so many amazing Black talents out there who are not getting the proper resources, and they deserve it. I feel like there’s a lot of mediocrity out there, especially with New York being a fashion capital of the world, and I feel like all the real talent is not being supported and that’s a change I would love to see in the fashion industry going forward.
Put money into us. We’re out here, we’ve been working.