Just around the corner of the Jefferson L stop on Willoughby Avenue sits the new storefront and studio space of VERS Clothing for People, a boutique where a group of local fashion designers and creatives sell garments and accessories they made themselves.
These days, the store showcases a festive scene of vibrant colors and eclectic patterns – an intertwining of energies from the city’s art and fashion scenes.
“I was dreaming of having a store where the clothing was made in the same space as the store,” says Vers’ owner, Tilly J d Wolfe Lapidos, who also makes clothes under the brand name Cilium.
Since 2014, Vers has been operating from pop-up spaces around Bushwick. Last May, Lapidos decided to take Vers to their first brick-and-mortar store, which was located at 659 Flushing Avenue, near Bed-Stuy. Months later – in November – Vers moved to Bushwick.
At the back end of the store is a studio with kelly green glitter floors, where Lapidos and For Lapidos and Vers’ co-founder Claire Fleury hand-make their garments and store fabrics and work-in-progress collections. Vers also has a front-of-house studio for designers to work from and set up workshops.
For Lapidos and Fleury – a costume and fashion designer herself who runs an brand called Claire Fleury Designs – the latest location, 1329 Willoughby Street, is now Vers’ “forever home.”
“It’s been really exciting to meet the neighbors [and] to meet the people who are coming in and are really excited,” Lapidos said. “Like, that’s kind of the best part is to watch people find the space and go through and enjoy it!”
Fleury says that people in the neighborhood would often tell her, “We needed this!” after walking through the store.
Vers store is home to about 30 local designers, Lapidos says. Customers can find racks filled with hand-made designs from brands that have names like Triple T-shirts, SKNDLSS, Lizzy Gee, Timothy Westbrook, Sext Pixels and Saga NYC.
Beau McCall, the Harlem-born creative behind Triple T-shirts, said that he was immediately drawn to Vers after seeing its window display of rotating mannequins wearing fabulously large pastel feathered hats and pink tie-dye trousers.
“[There’s] a lot of energy in here, and I wanted to be a part of that energy. You look around and it’s not clinical, it’s very vibrant,” McCall said. “It is colors, colors clashing. It’s just a lot going on at once and that’s the beauty of it.”
In his youth McCall began his journey into the fashion world through redesigning, or “remixing” as he put it, clothing to his own liking. McCall said that he would replicate the designs of clothes he saw at the department store onto clothes he bought from the thrift store. Later this evolved into the triple t-shirt design that he’s made his personal signature.
Adrienne White, who works out of a brand called yXEN, has been part of the Bushwick art scene for years, selling her wares amid the neighborhood’s interchangeable collection of boutiques and art markets.
“I remember prior to the fashion [show], I came in and was talking to Claire and I was like, ‘I’m kind of overwhelmed.’ And Claire just gave me this beautiful pep talk,” White said. “Every time, Tilly goes above and beyond to connect the vendors with the people who are shopping there, their work.”
“We have a big emphasis on the creative and artistic side of people,” said Fleury. “And, of course, you know, we’re all in here also to sell things. But it’s more…to build community organically and to have some fun.”
Right now, Vers is open to designer residencies at the studio. In the Spring, they are planning to begin sewing workshops at the store to teach Bushwick residents how to make and repair clothing as well as upcycle old garments that feel out of style. On February 13, Vers held a fashion show for its designers at Bushwick’s Moonrise Theater in collaboration with IMPACT NYFW, a non-profit organization that supports sustainable designers, artists, and activists. The non-profit was founded by Vers co-collaborator and designer Lizzy Gee.
Some of the designers at Vers say they want to present an alternative diverge to the traditional fashion industry, responsible for 8-10% of carbon emissions around the world. Many of the designers say they have adopted sustainable fashion practices, like recycling fabric scraps, using post-consumer goods in garments, upcycling old clothing, and making garments with locally sourced materials.
“The wormhole goes so deep on how we got here and how many people are suffering for fashion,” said Lapidos, “All the way from the way fabric is grown, to the way it is made, to the way it is disposed of, to the retail workers that are exploited.”
By teaching others how to repair their clothing or “remix” their clothing, like McCall did in his youth in Harlem, Vers’ owners say they promote an environmentally friendly approach to fashion that also reflects a local art scene.
“What we do is really, like an outpouring of what we love to do each individually,” Lapidos said.
Vers is open Wednesday to Sunday, from noon to 8 p.m. The store is located at 1329 Willoughby Ave, off the Jefferson L train stop.
All images taken by Elia Griffin.
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