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