Cat Pfingst – Fashion Designer in the Making

Cat Pfingst

This blog is the first of a series of blogs that feature young and upcoming creative entrepreneurs.

Catherine (“Cat”) Pfingst is an undergraduate student, studying fashion design and merchandising at Drexel University’s Westphal College School of Art and Design.

Cat grew up in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, in Bluebell, in an historic farmhouse full of character – creaky floors, horsehair plaster walls, antique furniture, and an accumulation of knick-knacks collected over the years by a family that, according to Cat, “loves their stuff.” 

She also spent a lot of time at her family’s second home in Talbot County, the heart of the eastern shore of Maryland. Cat’s childhood summers are filled with memories of the Chesapeake Bay, being out on the water, crabbing for Blue Claws and learning how to sail. These summer memories are an integral part of who Cat is and what she is attracted to visually: think of the Susquehanna River spilling into the Chesapeake Bay – its dark blue-black waters under a cirrus-streaked cerulean sky, punctuated by snow white geese and steel gray herons; salt tidal marshes dominated by blue-green sedge grass turning a soft yellow in the fall.

Her fashion aesthetic reflects the impact of these early, formative summers spent in nature. The color palette of her clothing designs leans toward neutral and agrestal colors. The fabrics she gravitates towards are tactile and textural, not sleek and man-made, but natural.

As a child, Cat was always finding ways to express herself. She would draw on place mats at restaurants, write stories and songs, and sculpt characters out of Model Magic clay. She would bring home natural objects that she had collected while exploring outdoors that she would later incorporate into artwork or store away in one collection or another. One of her earliest artworks is a collage of a a leaf transformed into the dress of a girl wearing long earrings. It hangs in her parent’s kitchen to this day.

Phingst Girl Wearing Leaf Dress
Girl Wearing a Leaf Dress

Looking at this, Cat’s first significant piece of art, it is easy to see its correlation to her fashion design work. Her designs are inspired by unconventional found objects or textures she sees while walking down the streets of Philadelphia, such as the concrete surface of a city sidewalk. She enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to turn these “not-traditionally-fashion” things into “fashion”.

Cat Phingst Jewelry
Jewelry made with Unconventional Found Objects

Cat began to realize her love of fashion design when she was in middle school. It was at that time that she began to push herself out of her comfort zone by choosing clothes that expressed her individuality. She also began shopping at thrift stores, buying used clothes and reclaiming them as her own.

Cat felt exhilarated by the idea that she could communicate information about herself and her perceptions of the world through the language of clothing. In the fifth grade, a fortune teller predicted that Cat would be a fashion designer one day.

The person in Cat’s life who has influenced her most is her mom. Cat’s mother went to Tyler School of Art for graphic design in the late 1970’s, and later studied textile design at the Philadelphia College of Textiles (now Jefferson University).  Cat has always been surrounded by her mother’s creativity and passion – she grew up having unfettered access to her mother’s drawers of art supplies. She credits her mom with teaching her the value of observing the natural world and with training her to be observant.

Today, Cat’s fashion design continues to focus on up-cycling. She looks through her own closet for clothes that she can re-purpose and she still shops at second-hand stores. She enjoys the process of transformation; she likes the idea of breathing life into something old and its role in sustainability.

Cat says, “I think we have enough clothes out there. We all own so much fabric in the form of clothes, so why not use that? All it takes is some imagination.” To that end, she and a friend are collaborating to make a coat entirely out of re-purposed home textiles, such as potholders and tea towels. Humor is very important to Cat.  Fashion is meant to be fun, and she hopes that people can see the whimsy in her work.

Humor is a part of Cat’s aesthetic. Her designs are whimsical and funny.

One day, Cat would like to have her own line of made-to-order clothing. She wants her line to be versatile and comfortable and her silhouettes to be “gender-less”. She sees this unisex realm as another way to increase an item’s sustainability – its universality extends its lifespan.

Of the process of fashion design, Cat writes: “… it’s like you create this world and decide what lives inside of it— what shapes, what colors, what textures— it’s like the manifestation of something living inside of you … and your job is to pull out what’s going on to visually represent it.”  

You can explore Cat’s world at “The Proving Ground Pop Up, Women’s Edition” on March 9th, 3 – 6pm. Behrakis Grand Hall, Creese Student Center, Drexel University, 3310 Chestnut Street as part of the Maguire Empowerment Summit for Women Leaders. Cat will be showing and displaying her designs as one of the female entrepreneurs and makers featured at this event. For more information about the Summit or to RSVP for this free event, visit http://bit.ly/WomensSummit20.

Or visit https://catpfingst.myportfolio.com/.

Nicole Haddad: The Sustainable Fashion of Lobo Mau

Photo Lobo Mau Ribbing
Nicole Haddad of Lobo Mau

Nicole Haddad had her “Aha” moment when she was 24 years old, two years out of undergraduate school and doing data entry at a law firm. She was unfulfilled and trying to decide her next move when a childhood best friend suggested, “Why don’t you become a fashion designer?” The light flicked on and within a week, Nicole applied and was accepted to the graduate program in Fashion Design at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. This is the story of Nicole’s journey to becoming a fashion designer and how she built Lobo Mau, her distinctive Philadelphia-based fashion line. 

Nicole grew up in the town of Lansdowne, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her girlhood home was artistically rich and culturally diverse. Her father, Orlando Haddad, was born and raised in Brazil and studied jazz composition and guitar at the North Carolina School for the Arts. There, he met Nicole’s mom, Patricia King, who was studying voice. Patricia is 3rd generation Sicilian. Together, they are part of the Grammy-nominated Brazilian duo “Minas”.   Nicole still lives in Lansdowne – in a house around the corner from where she grew up.

Nicole was a creative kid – she played the guitar and piano, and she was a maker who loved to draw. She especially liked to draw her own clothing designs. Not surprisingly, Nicole comes from a long line of dressmakers and clothing designers. 

Minissales
Nicole’s Great-Grandmother’s Dress Boutique

Her grandmother was a bridal and evening gown designer. Her great-grandmother, Annunziata, owned three clothing boutiques in her lifetime. The embodiment of the American Dream, Annunziata, an Italian immigrant, opened her first clothing store on Chestnut Street. Celebrities and socialites such as Grace Kelly shopped at Minissale’s.

At the age of 13, Nicole traveled to Brazil to visit relatives. Across the street from where she was staying, was a seamstress shop. Nicole boldly took her drawings to that shop and asked the dressmakers to turn them into clothing. Over a decade later, when she applied to Drexel, those clothes formed the basis of the portfolio that got her admitted.  

In graduate school, Nicole learned the fundamentals of sewing – how to cut and make patterns and how to work with knits. She also developed her unique point of view and began her Lobo Mau line. After graduation, Nicole took a job at a costume jewelry factory. Her work there was mindless and she took advantage of what it offered – access to a multitude of women of different shapes and sizes who were willing to try on her clothes and give her feedback.  

Eventually, Nicole was offered an opportunity to join a fashion co-op in Olde City, where she and other fashion designers could sell their work in a storefront boutique and fabricate their designs in its communal basement workroom. When her business outgrew the co-op, she moved her studio to the Bok Building, a former vocational high school located in South Philly, becoming its very first tenant. At Bok, Lobo Mau has continued to grow and evolve. Three years ago, Nicole’s younger brother, Jordan, joined Lobo Mau, and as its CEO, he has pushed the business forward. This fall, Lobo Mau will open its flagship boutique in Queen Village.  

Photo of Nicole and Jordan Haddad of Lobo Mau
Nicole with Jordan

What is behind Lobo Mau’s success?  

First, Nicole and Jordan are warm, welcoming, and down to earth. They genuinely care about the happiness of their clients – they want them to look and feel good about their purchase. And the Lobo Mau line of clothing does both those things. 

Lobo Mau clothing is for every woman (and man) – any shape, size, or age. It is fun, contemporary, and functional (and machine-washable) with a nod towards the evolution and history of fashion (Nicole has her undergraduate degree in Art History to thank for that.) Its silhouettes are flattering and the unique textural combination of original monochrome patterns with colorful, linear ribbing sets the Lobo Mau collection apart. 

Photo Lobo Mau Ribbing
Ribbing Detail
Photo of Lobo Mau Clothing

This year, Lobo Mau was named Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly “Best Sustainable Local Brand”. The fashion industry, and especially Fast Fashion, are a huge threat to the health of our planet. Out of six of the largest industries in the world – coal/oil, tourism, beef, transportation, fracking and fashion – fashion is the largest polluter after coal and oil. The process of producing new fabric, especially cotton, is the main culprit. The amount of water required to grow cotton is exorbitant – it takes 4000 gallons of water to grow the cotton for one pair of jeans! Additionally, pesticides used in cotton farming and toxic dyes contribute to the problem. (Check out BBC1’s “Fashion’s Dirty Secrets”.)

Lobo Mau’s “Slow Fashion” ethos is a reaction to the un-sustainability of Fast Fashion, where quantity and low cost is valued over everything. Nicole and Jordan intentionally consider the resources required when making decisions regarding the production of their clothing line. They use higher-quality leftover or “deadstock” fabric that lasts longer, they utilize scraps, use inks whose pigments do not contain heavy metals and buy eco-nylon thread. They support the local economy by working with Philly family – owned businesses, including the company that supplies their signature ribbing material. Becoming zero-waste (they are almost there, but not quite) is a goal for the future.  

On Thursday, August 29th, I will be co-hosting a party at Lobo Mau’s studio. Nicole will share her fashion line, the story behind her business, and her passion for “Slow Fashion.” Join me for a light bite to eat, a glass of wine and a chance to learn how you too can make a difference by supporting local sustainable brands such as Lobo Mau.  

Lobo Mau is located in the Bok Building, 1901 S. 9th Street, Suite 501. 610.316.9821. If you would like to come to my Lobo Mau party, please do! Everyone is welcome. Message me and I will add you to the guest list.