Member Spotlight: An Interview with

by Lynare Robbins

Global Ties Miami has the pleasure of having a wonderful diverse host of members who have various professional backgrounds. This month we are highlighting the fascinating world of fashion design with an interview from our member, Joanne Barrett.

Global Ties Miami Member, Joanne Barrett

Joanne is a fashion designer living in South Florida. Her work in fashion began as a small child by shadowing her Italian grandmother who designed and sewed all of the clothes for her family. “From the age of three I can remember watching and learning through her osmosis.” Joanne shares that she and her grandmother were attached as soulmates. “My relationship with her enforced my love of tactile crafts and what I would consider architecture, creating flat patterns, and sculpture (3-D garments).”

Originally from Hamden, Connecticut, Joanne says that it was close to the Metro-North commuter rail line and Amtrak, which gave her access to Manhattan when she was growing up. Her work in the fashion industry began after she graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. “Students had direct access to Seventh Avenue and the hustle and bustle of the sidewalks filled with racks of clothing deliveries.” In 1981 Joanne’s first job was as a designer to Oleg Cassini, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ fashion designer, creating his license-brand sportswear collections. “Mr. Cassini was a strong influence on who I am today as a designer.” Joanne describes the experience of being near the work of Oleg Cassini and being mentored by him as a privilege. “ I then went on to work exclusively as an active sportswear designer, and worked for LeCoq Sportif, Porsha by Winer, Danskin and Reebok. Joanne says that her most important works of her career was when she designed zippered bodysuits for the US Women’s Olympic swim team- which at the time was taking seconds off their Olympic records. “I also designed the stretch lycra body-fitting garments for racehorse jockeys, and they also had record-breaking results.” Joanne recalls that she enjoyed working with professional athletes, catering to their needs where function and form are first. “It was a fascinating process, and I designed and worked with some legendary runners, cyclists, figure skaters, dancers, aerobics instructors, gymnastic athletes and basketball players.”

Joanne Barrett

In terms of the current status of the fashion industry, it has been hard-hit by the pandemic. According to Joanne, in-store shopping in most instances has been replaced by online direct retail to the consumer. “Some stores have online sites with avatars featured showing the clothing on a likeness of yourself for you to virtually try on the clothing.” Joanne says that curb-side pickup of merchandise directly from a store is another adaptation to the pandemic. “Many large retailers have shuttered their doors, while the supply chain of fibers, textiles, manufacturing of garments, factory workers, transportation and distribution channels are all experiencing closings, reductions in volume of goods, and loss of jobs as well as bankruptcies.” Joanne adds that many top luxury brands have been making major monetary donations to humanitarian causes to help those being hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic crisis.

Joanne says that the shift in fashion retail trends during the pandemic has been following a global trend for the last five years to recycle or upcycle clothing. “This trend is rapidly growing with the younger population, and being further fueled by influencers on social media.” She adds that social awareness of fashion’s pollutants has a strong platform and the consumers have been reacting to this well before the pandemic. However, the awareness has only gown as lockdowns went into place and consumers buying recycled clothing is a strong trend that has taken foothold. “Some of the pollutants that we can think about are: harmful dyes from manufacturing textiles into water supplies, man-made fibers produced from petroleum and the wastes that this produces, the inhumane treatment of global factory workers and landfills stuffed with unused, rejected or overproduced garments.” In terms of designers taking over the control of trends, Joanne says that believes that designers are always on top of what is next and what their consumers needs are. She gives and example of face masks that are produced to make a fashion or political statement, trending important accessories with function in mind and key elements such as footwear and how it functions.

“Designing Your Fashion Portfolio: From Concept to Presentation,” by Joanne Barrett

Joanne is the author of “Designing Your Fashion Portfolio: From Concept to Presentation,” which was written as she became an educator when raising her family became her career choice over working full-time in the fashion industry. She has been married to her husband, Kevin, for 34 years and they have two children. “Fairchild-Conde Nast approached me to pen the book, which teaches students how to market their designs in a traditional portfolio, by telling a story and actually designing the layout of the fashions the designer creates. My only argument with the publisher was that when I agreed to write the book, the online portfolio was becoming the way of the future. However, the book can be applied to the layout of an online portfolio story.”

Regarding Joanne’s views on fashion, she says that is has always been presented to her as somewhat androgynous. “This way of dressing with breaking down the walls of the masculine-feminine is to me the strongest trend going forward. It is an important way of showing yourself through hair, makeup, clothing, accessories, as a person and not as a girl or a boy, and it may be over the top drag outfits or neutral non-gender outfits, and anything in between that people want to display to the world for their statement to be seen and heard.” She reports that Victorian-era sleeve still reigns as a top trend, as do chunky boots worn with dresses and long leather or leatheresque coats. Although Joanne says that luxury brands still drive the consumer, she shares that the return to garments and accessories made by hand by small artisans is a growing trend, which she sees booming in the years ahead. “With all of the growth of high-tech items, we still very much want and need the “warm and fuzzy” items that can only be crafted by individuals. Think of Etsy.”

Joanne feels that there is an opportunity to use fashion and design for diplomacy. “What you wear projects your social and political attitudes, through color, volume, size and fit. We have different looks for different events, and for achieving different objectives.” Joanne states that “a power suit is a power suit” and can invoke a different outcome than a soft hairstyle combined with soft or a pale colored rounded peplum suit. “Androgyny in clothing and approach to style from head to toe can certainly invoke neutrality in some people in a social or political setting, or it can also create a commotion within some social or work settings. But I believe that the breakdown of gender-specific garments and the bending of those former rules is key to bringing us more together.” Joanne adds that fashion has done both a good job and a bad job promoting diversity. “We need to have better education at the elementary through high school level to needy students with sewing and basic fine arts classes. We can then bring people up through the ladder of success from all economic backgrounds.” Although she says that the fashion industry has done a better job with this in the past 10 years, male designers and artists still far outnumber women. “This has to change and should be addressed by the industry. We have made a good start with showing models and hiring people of different sizes, colors and people with disabilities. We can continue to do better with this.”

In addition to having lived in Connecticut, Joanne has lived in New York, Boston and Miami, where she loves the diversity of culture. In terms of her international travel experience, she reports having travelled to London, Paris, Milan, Rome, Florence, Palermo, Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam, West Germany (at the age of 3), the Caribbean, Montreal, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tokyo. “Maybe I can say that Rome is my favorite (destination), being an Italian.”

Joanne became a member of Global Ties Miami through her friendship with Global Ties Miami Board President, Athena Passera. “The work of the organization is so far removed from my career work, it is like another world to me. I am learning so much about a subject I never studied…. diplomacy!”

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Global Ties Miami

Global Ties Miami

BRINGING THE WORLD TO YOU. Professional, educational & cultural exchange tours for leaders in government, business & civil society.

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