A 21st-century lady of leisure, Lincoln-based comfort clothing super-fan Breanne Reiss designs funky casual fashion for her technicolor world.
Reiss’s clothing label, Sweatshirt of the Month Club, may look like it came from another planet, but rest assured, Reiss’ ideas are sustainable and her feet are firmly on the ground. Her magical feminine designs experiment with silhouette, bright color combinations, texture, and always some quirk. She’s constantly drawing inspiration from somewhere new, whether from Bauhaus color studies, old Russian sci-fi films, or Nebraska sunsets.
She enjoys researching her collection inspirations by scouring internet images to add to her mood boards. Reading books and watching films provide inspiration when she needs a break from looking at other garments. And she finds joy in brainstorming bright, fun color combinations and hunting down the textiles to fit her vision.
She didn’t always know she wanted to be a designer.
Before realizing her passion, she enrolled at University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2004, majoring in French language and literature. A couple years in, she remembers contemplating changing her major to fashion design, but ultimately decided to stay the course and graduated in 2008.
“After working at the library after graduation, it made me think harder about how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, my working years,” Reiss says. “Because I just felt office work wasn’t really fulfilling for me, and I really did want to try and find something that was fulfilling and creative.”
When she was a child, her grandma sewed a lot. She taught Reiss how to use a sewing machine and make patterns. Reiss says she was always interested in designing and got started by doing little projects here and there for herself. She would make simple skirts and Halloween costumes because she couldn’t find the clothes she wanted in any store.
“Designing always made me feel good,” she says. “It felt easy even when it was work. So I decided that life’s too short so I should work on moving in that direction.”
A great deal of her design influence comes from Japanese art and designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Her affinity for Japanese culture started during her undergraduate years, when she minored in studio art and studied traditional Japanese printmaking.
Anime was never her thing. What she appreciates about Japanese culture is its cuteness, or kawaii aesthetic, and the tradition of celebrating remarkable craftsmanship.
“I’m grateful I was able to travel there last year because I just love cute things,” Reiss says. “I really relate to that and how they perfect their crafts because I’m a perfectionist. I admire that a lot about their culture.”
One benefit UNL offered her as an employee was the opportunity to take fashion design classes part time for free. In 2012 she went back to get her master’s degree in textiles, merchandising, and apparel design, graduating in 2015.
Reiss first showed at Omaha Fashion Week in 2016 and won the 2016 SAC Fashion Cup. She started her Etsy shop, Sweatshirt of the Month Club, thereafter.
“Winning the Fashion Cup made me feel more confident about being a designer in general,” she says. “I still wasn’t sure how to start…sometimes I would question if I was good enough because I didn’t have any experience in the design world yet. It was a huge confidence boost just applying and participating in it. It really just made me feel like I could do it, and I should keep trying.”
Reiss’ playful personality manifests in the vibrant clothes she creates and wears. She jokingly says she’s really into wearing color, while dressed in a rainbow-hued ensemble. She likes her clothes to be loose, so at a moment’s notice you can dance around in them if you want.
She confesses she used to have a colorful sweater in high school that everybody called her clown sweater. She thinks her mom threw it away one day when she wasn’t around, as if she was trying to save her from herself because it was so ugly.
Color plays a major role in her design aesthetic. Reiss believes wardrobe affects mood, emotions, and mindset, and that vivid colors powerfully affect a person’s outlook in a positive way.
“Sometimes I feel the world isn’t that great of a place and it’s a bummer. So I believe you should try and find joy wherever you can. It’s really easy to put something fun on, and if that helps you, awesome,” Reiss says. “I think a lot of people can relate to that, and I like designing happy clothing.”
Since earning her master’s, she’s focused on custom design work and works at a Lincoln bakery called the Kitchen Sink Cookie Company while designing at night.
She sells her designs on Etsy, at art markets, craft fairs, and pop-up shops. “I feel like I have a better chance of connecting with people when they can see my work in person,” she says. “Even though it’s not the most practical business for my one-man show, I love meeting my customers. That’s my favorite.”
In the future, she plans to release new designs on a more regular basis, yet try not to be too consumed with producing new all the time because of the environmental impact.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of drawbacks to the fashion industry,” she says. “I know the industry is super wasteful, but I do believe people are warming up to the idea of sustainability.”
She shares how she relates to the challenges of shopping at fast fashion stores such as Forever 21, Abercrombie & Fitch, or H&M, and how it’s hard to avoid the nonstop cycle of wanting to buy everything new.
She tries to combat her environmental impact by sourcing thrifted fabric and focuses on making quality clothing that she knows people will love.
“I make things that will last a long time and that people will want to own forever instead of just getting rid of it after a few wears,” she shares. “Hopefully that helps in a small way.”
This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.