If you follow us on social media (if not, please do! @inspiredthreadsnonprofit), you know that, throughout February, we've been honoring the African-American fashion designer and champion for social equity, Ann Cole Lowe.
Why We Chose Ann Cole Lowe
As artists and eco-fashion geeks, we love to pull fabric from the trash and transform it into beautiful things that make people happy. We were captivated by Ann Lowe's story in Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe that showed her as a little girl picking up the fabric scraps from the floor while her grandmother and mother sewed gowns for the socialites in Alabama and turning them into flowers. Later, these brilliant flowers became a treasured signature of her designs.
The more we read, the more we learned that Ann Cole Lowe was a trailblazing designer, dressmaker, entrepreneur, and working mother. She was a passionate artist who broke through countless barriers to continue to do what she loved. Her story holds so much meaning for our Designers. They understand what it's like to push through barriers to find opportunities to do the work they love.
Our Designer, Patrice, described her reaction to Lowe's perseverance and courage: "She dealt with terrible, unfair circumstances, including segregation and discrimination to make sure the people who ordered her dresses got them. She wasn't a quitter. She just kept doing the work. Ann Lowe wasn't a quitter, and neither am I." Click on the picture below for a time-lapse video, narrated by Margo, of Patrice creating this fabulous drawing of Ann Lowe.
Ann Cole Lowe's story has also reminded our team how hard it is to do it alone and how important it is to have people who love you and believe in you to keep you going in the hard times. Our Designers have shared stories about the times when they've been told no they couldn't do something or wanted to give up, and a family member, teacher, friend, or coach stood by them and helped them keep going.
"Society's Best Kept Secret"
Ann Cole Lowe is most known for creating Jackie Bouvier Kennedy's wedding gown, one of the most iconic wedding gowns of all time. What may not be as well known is that she was never given credit. Her name was never mentioned by Jackie Kennedy or anyone else as the designer.
Ann Cole Lowe created striking dresses for the wealthiest and most famous, yet even as such a gifted designer and dressmaker, she was not recognized in her lifetime or paid fairly for her work. In fact, her dresses were so sought after that in a 1966 article, the "Saturday Evening Post" called Lowe "Society's Best Kept Secret."
So, why the big secret? Ann Cole Lowe lived and worked through Jim Crow segregation. As a Black woman, she faced two forms of discrimination but did not let that stop her.
When she arrived at the segregated S.T. Taylor Design school in New York City in 1917 and discovered she was Black, they demanded that she leave. Ann refused, studying alone in her room while her outstanding designs were used as models for the other students. Years later, when she arrived to deliver Jackie Kennedy's wedding gowns at the Bouvier home in Rhode Island, she was told that Black people had to use the back entrance. She refused to leave the dresses, letting them know that she was bringing them in through the front door if they wanted them. This courage, this belief in her own integrity and dignity, made Anne Cole Lowe the quiet, creative pioneer we honor today.
Ann Cole Lowe never did give up. Later in her life, she lost one eye and became visually impaired in the other, and of course, she continued to design and create her dresses with the support of her team. In her March 12, 2018 blog post Sewing for joy: Ann Lowe for the National Museum of American History, Nancy Davis wrote, "...Ann Lowe, an acclaimed African American dress designer who was happiest when she created in cloth. "All the pleasure I have had, I owe to my sewing," Lowe told a reporter for Ebony in 1966, "I wish I were physically able to do all the work myself.""
Upcycled Fabric Flowers
We were so excited to learn about Ann Lowe's upcycled flowers that we pulled the team together for a virtual Sew-Along to make our own flowers from fabric scraps. And now, upcycled flowers are part of what we do! Take a look!
How Ann Cole Lowe Inspired Us
The Inspired Threads team reflected on how Ann Cole Lowe's life, her gowns, and her legacy have inspired each of us. Here is the takeaway from our Designers that they would like to share with all of you:
Keep going! Do not quit when things get hard. Never listen to the people who tell you "No", that you can't do it. You always have to believe in yourself and demand that others treat you with respect and dignity. And, when you feel like quitting, make sure you have someone who will stand by you and be the person who says, yes, you can do it. Because you can!
It has been an honor to use our voice to bring awareness to Ann Cole Lowe, her story, her exceptional artistry, and her fearless example of overcoming profound barriers and injustices to do the thing she loved -- design and sew beautiful gowns that made people happy.