Calling designer Brooke Burch a triple threat might actually be underselling her. Burch works as a designer, seamstress, and small business owner out of her own home, while working on the Rochester Art Center’s board, teaching classes on fashion design, and styling members of the public at this summer’s Night Markets.
Recently, Burch used her online platform to help sponsor the Rochester Art Center’s Homecoming Queen show, bringing more pieces by drag queen/artist Ethan Mundt, also known as Utica Queen, to Rochester. She’s also helped with alterations for several of the larger-than-life outfits, posting photos of the show’s progress on social media.
Here, she talks about the upcoming show, finding street fashion, and lessons for up-and-coming designers.
So how did you get involved with the Homecoming Queen show’s alterations?
I wasn't originally helping plan the show at all, one of my fellow board members was working with the creator. ...So once they decided they were going to do some fundraising for each garment, I decided I was going to just take it upon myself to help raise money for that. So I actually started doing that before the sewing came into play.
Utica Queen had planned on having a friend of his from the Twin Cities come down to help do things and prepare for the show. But she couldn't make it at the last minute. … I kind of fell into it. But it worked out really well. ...It was really fun to chat with Utica Queen. And we could have talked for hours about sewing and design, and things like that.
You’ve done some costume work for Chatfield’s theater before, but the drag costumes seem like they’re on another level. I mean, the balloon dress --
No, right, when I was chatting with Utica, he very much likes costume work. Very theatrical things. I don't do a ton of that. And my costumes, you know, I have to make them to last because these are ones people want to wear often. I do some of that (work), though. … You've got to have a certain level of skill to kind of bring those ideas to life.
… You know, I don't go around meeting high-profile people all the time. But it's nice to meet somebody that's from here. He didn't seem out of place at all. It just seemed like I'm meeting somebody from Rochester or from nearby. Who definitely, definitely has the same demeanor that we've got here living in the Midwest.
So how are the outfit sponsorships coming along? You seem to have raised quite a bit of money for those online.
It is still possible for organizations and businesses to sponsor garments. And that sponsorship just makes it possible to get the garment here, get it presented adequately. As far as I know, there's just a handful of garments left to sponsor. If anyone wants more information, they can contact the Art Center on how to do that. Now, the way I did it was I asked my customers and followers if they would like to contribute as a group. ... I raised enough money to sponsor four outfits. Not everybody can pay $500 outright, you know, and even if they're from a business, they're probably still pooling it together, you know, as a group. But that's been the smartest way to do it to me, because some people want to contribute, but they can only do five or ten dollars. But they still want to be a part of the events, and they still want to know that they're helping in some way. So that worked out really well.
What else have you been working on this fall?
The second half of December through part of February's my slow part of the year. So I use that time to work on my marketing. Figure out what I want to do for spring. But now that I’ve got the retail, that opens up a lot of doors.
What should people look for in the coming months from you?
I think definitely more wearable art. I’m really big into wearable art and streetwear. And watching what people wear. I really would like to get my fashion blog actualized, because I really like to photograph people and ask them why they wear what they wear, that kind of stuff. That's been an idea in the back of my head that I haven't had much time to develop the specifics of. ... I'd like to get out, now that we can get out a little bit more. I want to get out to more events. ... I was out last night.
Yeah, I saw, the Fires of Denmark show! When you're out and about, and looking at what people are wearing, are there specific things that catch your eye?
It's usually something that's just unusual. You know, I don't normally go to live music events, I'm always working. I had this whole thing in my head about how everybody is going to be dressed because this is how we used to dress when we go to the club, right? So anyway, I get up there. Everybody's dressed like lumberjacks. Everybody has beanies on with flannel. I'm like, “Okay, I didn't expect that.” You know, it's very Minnesotan, like people were ready for winter, even though it wasn’t cold that night.
And then this girl walks in with a mini dress. And I'm like, What are you wearing? Like nobody else's else is wearing that! You can’t even bend over!
...She was looking good, you know? And she had to know. “I'm gonna be the only one dressed like that.” That was really cool. And then the girl in the band was dressed really cool, too. She had this kind of bandage style top on with some kind of bell baggy pants. These teased ponytail things in her hair, very Baby Spice-y. A lot of the stuff I saw on the girls was like, totally ‘90s.
So I just make observations when I go to places. What are the trends? What are most people doing? What are only a few people doing? That fascinates me. I like alternative fashion -- not going with the trends per se. Knowing what the trends are, but not necessarily adhering to them. My followers enjoy that anytime I go traveling, I always document everything, and I think people who don't travel or don't have time to travel really appreciate that.
What advice would you have for somebody who's trying to sort of break into the fashion-slash-design business nowadays?
Well, I think they should know how to sew. Even if they're not planning to do the majority of their sewing. Or if they plan to kind of do a screen printing-type business where they're doing graphic design, then they should still have a knowledge of basic sewing, in case they need to change or alter something for their customer. I feel like so many businesses have kind of cropped up that are clothing businesses, but they have no hand in it. It’s so mass-produced, you know? Even almost on a small level, they're just putting things on hoodies and T-shirts. I want something more original. … You've got to find a way to stand out, otherwise, it's just the same thing everyone else is doing. And educate yourself. I wouldn't necessarily say you have to go get a four-year degree or a two-year degree, especially these days, you know, everything's so expensive. But you've got to educate yourself, you've got to want to learn, because it's not easy. A lot of people think fashion design is easy, but it's hard because trends change quickly. And you've got to develop a customer base that trusts you.