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Q&A: How fashion designer Delvin McCray turned his passion into purpose

By Aramide Esubi, Tribune Content Agency on

The COVID-19 outbreak has put many things on pause, but up and coming designer Delvin McCray's work isn't one of them. After a stint on "Project Runway" and launching a store in Chicago, McCray was forced to close his doors due to coronavirus. However, McCray was quick to pivot to making masks for people on the frontlines of the outbreak like police officers and nurses, as well as for people who are trying to navigate the new normal created by COVID-19 without getting sick or making others sick. I had the chance to chat with Delvin to learn more about his journey, his new summer line and how he's staying motivated during this time.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Can you give a brief history on your background and how you got started in fashion and fashion design?

I transferred from Northern Illinois University to Columbia College Chicago and I started off as a fine arts major because I'm an artist at heart. Later, I decided to use fashion as my art form to express myself so that's what started my journey. I've always had a secret love for fashion and I had always wanted to own my own company, so I just got all the knowledge I could doing internships and apprenticeships.

I studied under everybody that I could find who were masters in their craft and gained all the knowledge I could from people like Chicago-based designer Barbara Bates. I started my company in 2016 and the backbone of my company is custom designs, so I do men and womenswear, everything from suits to wedding dresses and I recently added shoes to my assortment. I am constantly growing and expanding my inventory.

How did competing on Bravo's "Project Runway" come about and what takeaways did you gain from your time on the show?

After working on my brand for a couple of years, I applied for "Project Runway" and I was accepted. I did really well on the show. I especially loved the feedback from the judges because I hadn't been critiqued since I was in college in 2016, so it was really refreshing to have that second set of professional eyes to tell me how they viewed what I produced.

After "Project Runway," I came back to Chicago and opened a store but due to COVID-19, I recently had to close, but I just moved it over to Bridgeport Arts Center. So, it's a smaller footprint but I'm still up and running.

Tell us more about your initiative to make filtered masks to combat COVID-19.

After I closed my store and shifted operations to the Bridgeport Arts Center, I decided to switch gears and started producing face masks. I originally started out donating them and then customers started asking me if they could purchase them and where they could get them, so I started selling them. I put the proceeds from the sales back into producing the masks to give to those on the front lines --police officers, doctors and nurses.

 

What led you to do such a wonderful thing?

I was looking at what I could offer and everything that you wear is sewn by someone's hands on this planet because it can't all be done by machine, so I was like I'll just play my part and help as best I can to assist during these unprecedented times.

Are you working on anything new for your Delvin McCray and Redd by Delvin McCray fashion lines?

Yes, I am launching my summer collection in about two to three weeks online. I'm also launching a loyalty program along with an option to buy now and pay later so if there is a piece someone likes, they still have the option to purchase it, no matter what their income, and pay for it in flexible installments.

Redd by Delvin McCray is my diffusion line that is all done in-house so you're not losing the quality or the essence of the parent brand and the unique fabrications and designs. I understand people mix price points when they shop, so I'm pushing more pieces for the Redd collection that are more price-friendly and doing as much as I can to help people still feel a little bit of normalcy even as they deal with possible difficulty due to layoffs or other financial pressures. If a customer sees something exciting, they can purchase it and not have to put it off because it's at a price that's comfortable for them. I'm happy to help customers have a fashion escape without breaking the bank during this time.

What are your thoughts on staying motivated while quarantined?

I look at this as an opportunity and a good time to reflect and work on yourself, to tackle the things that you didn't have time to do because you were so busy always working. You can now take that time to work on your to-do list, organize your room, clean out your house, etc., do those personal things and get yourself grounded. And then when everything opens back up you can hit the ground running with no stress and nothing hanging in the back of your mind, that you could've/should've/would've done.

It's a time to evolve (albeit a difficult time) but it's change nonetheless and this is one of those times where you have to try to adjust and be flexible as life changes.

(Whether she's dishing out advice on how to wear the latest trends or putting fun looks together, fashion writer and stylist Aramide Esubi is always on the move keeping up with the latest in fashion. Email her at thesassypeach@gmail.com, or follow her on Instagram at instagram.com/thesassypeach.)

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