The MCTC News Blog

Fashion Forward: Student Designer, Inspired by Her African Heritage, Launches Her Own Business

Posted on: July 28th, 2010 by insidemctc 37 Comments

Article originally published in the Spring 2010 issue of Minnesota State, courtesy of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Joyce Cooper

Joyce Cooper, apparel technologies student, with her fashions

Designing and sewing clothing have been Joyce Cooper’s passions since she was a child. So when the Liberian immigrant decided to seriously pursue fashion design, she enrolled in the Apparel Technologies program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to hone her skills and launch her own business.

Her fashions – mostly dresses and evening wear for women – are inspired by traditional African prints, arts and her faith. She said she loves cutting out pieces of brightly colored, patterned fabrics and incorporating the shapes on top of organza, satin, lace and other solid-colored fabrics.

“Sometimes I sleep and designs come to me,” Cooper said. “I love everything about fashion – the inspiration, design, drawing, construction. But actually seeing it fit on a human figure the way I visualized it is my favorite part.”

Cooper’s style developed as she was growing up in Liberia, where her mother taught her to sew throw pillows and other small pieces. She remembers watching her mother mend and alter her clothes, and sew drapes in their home, all by hand.

Crystal Badio

Crystal Badio models a dress by Joyce

Cooper continued to design after moving to the United States in 2001, and in 2008 she decided to get formal training and become a full-time designer. Her husband, Jefferson Cooper, a childhood friend whom she married in 1998, suggested she look into the Apparel Technologies program. After reviewing the curriculum, Cooper enrolled.

Orionna Brisbois

Orionna Brisbois models a dress made by Joyce

Cooper, 37, said the tools and courses offered at the college, including industrial sewing methods and garment construction, make creating her fashions so much easier and faster than the hand-stitching methods she had first learned.

For years, her method had been to conceive an idea and immediately start sewing. In the program, she has learned about pattern making, draping, product development, manufacturing, alterations, textiles and more. She also learned to use computer-aided design called Tuka Tech that displays a garment design on a 3-D model.

She gains inspiration from her children, ages 15, 7 and 5. “They would say, ‘Wow, Mommy – that’s so cool. That’s tight!’ I didn’t even know what ‘tight’ meant,” she said. “I thought my outfit was too tight. Or, ‘Mommy, that is the bomb. How did you do that?’ So I kept sewing and sewing.”

In two months, she created 36 outfits. Several of these fashions were showcased in a January fashion show at MCTC. Cooper expects to complete her diploma in apparel technologies this summer and plans to begin studying toward a bachelor’s degree.

Joyce Cooper, center, and models from the apparel technologies program wearing Joyce's fashions

People have begun ordering custom designs from Cooper’s business, Joy4 Designs. At the college, Cooper also learned market research to better understand how to promote her clothing line. She moved her home sewing room to a studio in January and is working to add online purchasing to her website.

Her favorite piece is a green satin dress she made to wear in March at the Minnesota International Fashion Exposé, where her fashions were showcased along with several other designers’ work. The dress features an African print trimmed with gold detailing, a flowing train and short sleeves that look like wings when she extends her arms. “It’s inspired by what I believe,” she said. “The sky is my limit.”

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37 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Great job Joyce! Keep working hard and loving what you do! Sky’s the limit girl!

  2. ehadi says:

    you need some models?

  3. ehadi says:

    you need some models?

  4. Crystal Badio says:

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this. I hope you get recognized for your excellent work.

  5. Joyce Cooper says:

    Thanks Crystal. I had a baby boy on Aug. 4th.

  6. […] program, profiles of a faculty member and alumni in our Architectural Technology program and a student in our Apparel Technologies program who started her own fashion design business. Read […]

  7. Beatrice says:

    Hi, my name is Beatrice. I’m also in the Fashion Design Program. My mother is from Liberia, but I was born here. Its so good to see my sister doing well. May God continue to Bless You.

    • Joyce says:

      Hi my Liberian sister ,and amen.
      Great that you are into fashion too.
      Believe and you will achieve your dream. May the Lord guide you!
      LIB all the way!!

  8. Beatrice says:

    Hi, my name is Beatrice. I’m also in the Fashion Design Program. My mother is from Liberia, but I was born here. Its so good to see my sister doing well. May God continue to Bless You.

  9. Keep the good work and good luck.

  10. Robert Evans says:

    Joyce, your work is an inspiration to many. I absolutely love the green dress you mentioned that’s your favorite. The “leaf” sleeves are so imaginative.

    • Joyce says:

      Thank you so kindly Robert.
      I’m grateful to God that my work inspires many.I just recreated another variation to that dress and showcased it in a fashion show last month.

  11. Lara says:

    Wow, I love it when sewing students turn their passion into a business. That’s what I did and that what I aim to do with my sewing blog. Keep going, Joyce!

    • Joyce says:

      Hi Laura,
      Thank you.Awesome! We share similar passion for sewing. I teach sewing classes too- visited your blog and I’m very proud of you! I will be starting mIne soon. Sewing is a life time skill, keep it up!
      Sorry,just saw your comment.

  12. Swift says:

    Pretty Good! I love this post. Also I love sewing very much. Your work gives me power for keeping go on sewing. Thank you for your good job. The handheld sewing machine is my favorite, such as

  13. Joyce says:

    The handheld sewing machine was my first coolest, quick and easy sewing machine!

  14. Good idea. I think this is an inspiration to me and all people. Good luck to work with a good sewing machine.

  15. Those first two dresses are really good. I can see that you have real talent.

    I know this post was from a few years ago, I do hope you have had success in the fashion field since then. You deserve it.

  16. Amber says:

    Hi Joyce. This is Amber. I found you on the internet while I was searching for people that has launched their business through their favorite hobby. I hope I could get in touch with you and if its ok if I could interview you for a blog post I am making in December. Kudos to your success.


  17. Patterson says:

    Wooo i love these! i think i will to try and make them!
    Now these are just TOO CUTE!!! love them! Nice work!

  18. Jessie Pullman says:

    These are amazing Joyce! Great job and I hope your business does really well. I’ve been sewing for over 35 years and absolutely love it. It’s nice to see others succeed while working in the areas they love.

  19. Peter says:

    Thanks Joyce, very lucky to find this post. You are inspiring me a lot.

    • Joyce says:

      Peter, I’m happy and humbled to know that my work inspires you! What you believe, you can achieve,if you work at it!
      Thank you and best wishes!

  20. I hope your business does really well. I’ve been sewing for over 35 years and absolutely love it. It’s nice to see others succeed while working in the areas they love.

  21. hehe says:

    Thank you! I thought I could figure this out myself after viewing pictures of various pouches. But after several pouches and hilarious results, I knew I needed help…

  22. John says:

    I love sewing very much. Keep the good work and good luck.

  23. Kathy says:

    Hi Joyce,
    You made a great job. I like your design.
    I love sewing, I will try to make something like you

  24. Sew Orbit says:

    36 outfits in just two months was one hell of a job. Joyce Cooper, hopefully your business is touching the sky. I wish you all the best for your success.

    Sara 🙂

    • Joyce says:

      That’s right Sara! It was lot of work but my passion and encouragement from my kids kept me sewing and sewing! Business is doing great! Thank you.

  25. Joyce says:

    Thank you Kathy for the kind words.I’m glad that my work inspires you,

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