Chelsea Bravo Explores the Practice of Creating + Self

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07.14.20 | By
Chelsea Bravo Explores the Practice of Creating + Self

Chelsea Bravo, the brand, is quite literally a childhood dream come true for Chelsea Bravo, the namesake designer. Born in Brooklyn before moving to London at the age of 2, she’s now back in the same New York borough keeping the dream of an 8-year-old alive as a fashion designer. Bravo founded her eponymous menswear brand in 2013 with the launch of a Spring/Summer collection titled “Dysfunction.” In the seven years since, she’s been covered by multiple publications, presented at London Collections Men, taken part in the British Fashion Council’s Emerging Designer Showrooms, and been included in Squarespace’s 2016 You Should campaign.

These days, Chelsea Bravo features contemporary silhouettes in womenswear and unisex pieces alongside their menswear, each crafted from natural and sustainable materials and made to order in-house. With every garment, Bravo strives to encapsulate freedom and simplicity through the use of freeform illustrative symbols that urge on her desire to work as an artist through both work and practice. Chelsea took the time to share what she hopes to accomplish with her brand, how a consistent practice helps her grow, and why her Squarespace website has played an integral role from the start.

Chelsea Bravo, photo by Anaka Morris

Photo by Travis Matthews

Chelsea’s formal education and training lies in Fashion Design, with a Bachelor of Arts from the University For The Creative Arts, based in the UK, in 2010. There she learned how to pattern cut and construct garments, as well as research, design and develop a collection from start to finish. Everything else running a fashion brand entails she’s taught herself over time: creating a website, copywriting, photography, photo editing, costing products, marketing, and garnering sales to name a few.

In fact, it was an internship that helped Chelsea decide to venture out and pursue her own work, to create a space where she could express herself and send her own ideas out into the world.

“Doing this work has really introduced me to myself and consistently made me come back to my Why? Why are you doing this?,” Chelsea explained. “Answering this question again and again has allowed me to accomplish a sense of integrity and authenticity in my work, and has played a vital part in my self-development. I hope to continue finding ways that I can challenge and confront myself, my fears and vulnerabilities through this work and to continue to grow as a person.”

Photo by Chelsea Bravo

Chelsea created her brand’s website on Squarespace, in the hopes of not only sharing her brand with the world but also selling her creations. The user-friendly platform and beautiful templates made it simple and easy to get started. Chelsea says that her website’s also served as a great analytical tool to better track visitors on a weekly and monthly basis and understand how her business is growing over the years, as well as where the audience is coming from or learning about Chelsea Bravo.

Squarespace has supported me in housing my brand online, both in being able to present it visually to the world and also commercially via an integrated e-commerce platform where I can share and sell my products,” she said. “The platform has been integral to my business from the start, and I appreciate them and the support I have received from them over the years.”

Photo by Chelsea Bravo

Inspiration is a beautiful process, one that Chelsea defines as being open and present with your environment and being curious enough to be inspired by it. She said, “Inspiration, for me, comes through in multiple ways, and is ultimately the result of how I have taken in my environment or an experience and how I wish to engage with that. This is where creativity comes into play, and from there the collections and the illustrative designs within them.”

What comes from this process changes with each new collection, Chelsea admitted. For example, Concourse 2014 was an idea around recreating the experience of viewing art in a museum through clothing and space. Interlude 2015 looked at textures that can be found in nature, and the idea of being in a space between what already exists and rebirthing something new. It was then translated into fabric through surface manipulation combined with natural and raw materials. More recent collections, such as More Than A Color 2017, focus on identity. This collection introduced an illustrative hand-painting element to Chelsea Bravo that’s used to this day, and introduced Chelsea to working with Hemp. This material allows her to show how sustainability in fashion can be something aesthetically pleasing, contemporary and well-designed. In other words, clothing you actually want to own and wear.

Photo by Christina Nwabugo

Chelsea had originally planned to take a break this year in order to focus on herself, her well-being and a side project, but the pandemic soon changed her plans as Chelsea Bravo received a sudden influx of attention and orders. She said a number of business practices she already had in place may very well be why her business is still in operation now.

By keeping Chelsea Bravo grounded and realistic, relatively small and not taking big risks that could damage her well-being or business, the brand has been remarkably sustainable. “There was a lot I used to try and do a few years ago when I started that didn’t make sense for my business, but I thought it was what I should do. For example, designing collections with too many styles, taking part in expensive showrooms and presentations and working with unsuitable PR companies. These things may make sense for other businesses, but it didn’t make sense for me at the time, and it was all costing me a lot of money that I didn’t really have,” she said.

Following her instincts, Chelsea decided to take a grassroots approach to her work, which ended up leading to more authenticity, sales and organic growth. She admits that it has been slower, but more sustainable for her as a person, her work and the operation of Chelsea Bravo. “I was honest with myself about where I was and where I saw myself going, that process led to me having a sustainable business that works for me.”

Photo by Johnny Fonseca

Aside from the actual physical work of creating garments, Chelsea has some great thoughts on the power of practice that she writes about in her Journal. Enlightening us further, she shared, “Seeing how things are linked and correlate with one another, how the attention given to the personal practice of self-care, self-love and self-acceptance goes hand in hand with how I am able to access my creativity. Witnessing the evolution and growth that comes from this place has helped me come to realize that all of life is a practice, and this practice is my purpose.”

Chelsea said her personal practice has brought forth more playfulness, curiosity and flow in how she approaches life, giving her a greater sense of freedom and a place to navigate from personally and creatively. It’s a place of exploration and observation that allows things to shift and evolve, as well as a greater ability to detach. For her, all of these facets add up to an experience of living life fully, in the most optimal and holistic way possible that starts from within.

Photo by Travis Matthews

Since Chelsea Bravo’s start in 2013, the brand has designed some stunning collections. Chelsea said her biggest soft spot lies with the one that introduced her name to the fashion world: the Concourse collection 2014. Only her second collection since leaving University, she was nervous that it wouldn’t be well-received. Fortunately it was, and the collection started the brand.

“I loved what I explored within that collection, the appliqué, the fun shapes and the use of color. It was really bold for me at the time. The playfulness explored here, both with fabric and color, is something that I want to return to in my next creational output.”

Photo by Christina Nwabugo

Before the pandemic Chelsea intended to focus on a project involving colored reclaimed denim jeans. After creating wide strips from them, then weaving those strips together to create a new fabric, she would use these newly created materials to make some one-of-a-kind pieces. At the moment, Chelsea has one weaving complete with another in progress, and a goal of creating two to three new garments by Fall.

After getting the chance to work on the delayed project, Chelsea plans on continuing to  explore her creative practice and whatever comes from it, not limiting the brand to clothing alone. Her hope is to foster an operation that runs more as a design studio than a lone fashion business, and purposely work in a way that’s both slow and intentional.

“I see myself selling core pieces from the collections, but also experimenting with ideas and one-off pieces that hold and encapsulate these ideas and concepts,” she shared. “I’d also like to extend my work and practice to involve others through sharing intentional space where we explore our creativity; using it as a tool for self-inquiry, the development of greater self-awareness and knowledge and as an aid in personal and collective healing and renewal.”

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Kelly Beall is senior editor at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and writer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, and enjoys sharing her finds with others. When undistracted by great art and design, she can be found making a mess in the kitchen, consuming as much information as possible, or on the couch with her three pets. Find her @designcrush on social.