If anyone thinks that a teenager can’t run their own business, they clearly haven’t met Florida fashion designer Ariel Swedroe. The 13-year-old from Miami has been sewing since she was 8 years old, and will soon be showing her bright and colorful resort-wear collection at next month’s Miami Swim Week. Swedroe makes made-to-order couture pieces as Swedroe Art to Wear by Ariel for her atelier, M2M Miami, and joins many other fashion designers who utilize 3D printing technology to make their garments. But she’s just not about fashion – Swedroe also works to encourage other young women to follow their dreams.
You could say she comes by her eye for tech-savvy design naturally – Swedroe’s grandfather Robert Swedroe is a collage artist and well-known Miami architect; her mother and two uncles are also architects, and the Swedroe family is responsible for many Miami buildings. Robert lives nearby, and Swedroe has spent many hours watching and learning from him.
Swedroe said, “His studio is two houses away from my house. I’m always in there watching him work, ever since I was little. He makes collages honoring people and has a really good eye for cool things.”
Swedroe’s colorful designs are inspired by the strong connection she feels to things that “spark” her imagination, including her grandfather’s beautiful collages. She incorporates his work into her clothing design by photographing them, then scanning and laser-printing onto fabric.
“There are 800 collages. I absolutely love them. They’re stunning,” Swedroe said.
“I definitely inherited a design gene. It helps to watch everyone in my family work.”
In order to combine graphic art and fashion pieces, Swedroe also incorporates laser cutting and 3D printing into some of her work. The purple Butterfly World evening gown pictured above is 100% chiffon, but features embellishments like crystals, beads, and 3D printed butterflies at the bust.
Swedroe caught the fashion design bug early on, making dresses for her Barbie dolls and starting sewing classes in the first grade. She was lucky enough to meet English designer Stella McCartney at Art Basel 2012, when McCartney made a stop at an event held at her grandfather’s house; after Swedroe showed McCartney some of her designs, she had “an aha moment” about what she was supposed to do with her life.
In addition to her grandfather’s collages, Swedroe is also inspired by other designers, like Valentino and 95-year-old style icon and designer Iris Apfel, and, of course, architecture; she especially likes the curves on the late Zaha Hadid’s building in Miami, and the art deco buildings and tropical plants that are prevalent throughout South Beach.
Speaking of the beach, her upcoming Miami Swim Week resort-wear collection features swimsuits, vibrant cover-ups, and rompers, and although the pieces feature lightweight, moisture-wicking neoprene material and silk, none seem to feature 3D printing. Swedroe is well aware of how fortunate she is, and says that she feels “compelled to help others.”
She’s been working as a guest speaker since 2014, sharing her story with local groups, like the STEAM education organization CoDeLLA and girls’ empowerment group Pearl Girlz, and even teaching other young women from the latter group how to sew. Last year, she and fellow 3D printing fashion designer Danit Peleg, whose work we’ve admired before, were panelists at the SHE Tech Conference, and later this summer, Swedroe is traveling to Colombia with her longtime mentor, Angie Cohen of DesignLab Miami, to teach unwed teenage mothers how to sew and build other entrepreneurial skills. This trip will support the nonprofit Juanfe Foundation, which “seeks to improve the quality of life of poverty-stricken children and teenage mothers.”
Swedroe said, “I am very excited to give back. I want to definitely empower these girls, and I want them to feel like they can put their minds to learning these new sewing skills so they can have new opportunities.”
Cohen, who has mentored Swedroe for nearly a decade, says that her talent and empathy for others are equally impressive.
“How amazing that someone her age can convey that message. She always says, ‘Pursue your dreams.’ Kids listen to other kids. It’s powerful,” Cohen said. “I see it when she teaches. There’s so much goodness she can do.”
I’m sure we’ll see another collection from Swedroe soon. She is passionate about fashion design, and whether it’s made through 3D printing or traditional methods, she wants everyone to know that her garments are made here, and not in sweatshops.
Swedroe said, “My clothes aren’t just made in the USA. They’re made in Miami. That’s very important. It’s frustrating to see clothes that are badly made and that the people making them are working in really bad conditions.”
So, what’s left for this 13-year-old innovator to do? Oh, right – attend high school! This fall, Swedroe will start at Miami Dade’s Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH). Discuss in the 3D Printed Fashion forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: Miami New Times / Images: Swedroe Art to Wear by Ariel]