Charleston Profiles: Julie Wheat

Image by Cyle Suesz

Editors note: Charleston Profiles is a new installation on TheDigitel that hopes to document creativity in Charleston.  We will be bringing more profiles every week with creative people that are making an impact on the Charleston community. If you know of someone you think should be featured drop us a line.

Julie Wheat is a self-taught fashion designer, whose first line "Cavortress" is making heads turn all around the Lowcountry and beyond.  Hailing from upstate New York, Julie brings a fun and creative personality to Charleston.  We caught up with her and were able to find out a bit about what makes her tick.

Describe yourself in one word. Busy.

Describe Charleston in one word. Fun.

What was your life like growing up? My life growing up was pretty down to earth.  I’m from a small town outside Buffalo, NY.  I had a Lockport address but went to a Gasport school, and was actually from the Town of Royalton, or more specifically, Terry’s Corners.  People don’t move there, they are for the most part, from there.  It’s the kind of place that you make friends that you’ll have for life and everyone knows everyone or at least someone they are related to. 

When I was a younger, my family did a lot of outdoor activities like camping and gardening.  My folks took us to visit pretty much every corner of Upstate New York. They taught us to plant, grow, and care for just about every type of fruit and vegetable that would withstand the climate.  (Yes, peaches grow in New York.)  They were really supportive of my brother and me, instilling in us the utmost appreciation for the making of things as well as teaching us not to be afraid to pitch in, work hard, and get your hands dirty.  We were taught if you don’t know something you can always learn, if someone needs help, pitch in.

Who/what were inspirations growing up? Tough question, never really thought about it until now.

What? When traveling and camping we visited many history museums and antique stores.  I was always fascinated by old things and their quality of craftsmanship and how they stood the test of time.  This is something my parents always pointed out to my brother and had much to do with our appreciation for the making of things. This probably has something to do with my obsession with vintage fabric and clothing construction techniques.

Who? I’d have to say Dyan Mulvey.  In elementary school I took dance lessons from her for a couple years.  I swear she lived on Diet Pepsi and dancing.  Dyan was always moving; she taught classes every day except Sunday.  She made us work hard and pushed us to be good at whatever we were doing even if it was just warm-up.  When you are dancing on stage, there is no hiding and no one can do it for you but yourself.  She was totally passionate about what she did and even to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or met anyone that passionate about what they do for a living.

Where does your interest in fashion and design come from? My grandmother and my aunt. My grandmother was always reading and keeping me up to date on trends and colors as well as who was labeled best and worst dressed.  When she was young in the 1920’s and 30’s, she bought a hat every time she got a paycheck.  Back then hats were not primarily functional as they are today- they were a fashion trend and most all hats were one of a kind.  I was fascinated by the idea of wearing something for the sole purpose of being fashionable and completely individual. My aunt lived in California for a while in the late 1960’s and early 70’s and I always remember her being uniquely stylish.  She used to take my brother and I school shopping every year to pick out one entire outfit to wear the first day of school. She’d help us select something that we loved and usually ended up wanting to wear every day.  I vividly remember those outfits.  My favorite was a pink and turquoise pinstriped Gitano blue jean pencil mini skirt paired with a sky blue long sleeved satin ruffled blouse that had a teensy diamond woven texture in it.  


Describe your creative process. For my clothing designs I use vintage and deadstock fabric, so my creative process is a bit backwards.  I find fabric first then refer to my sketches.  I travel a lot and sketch out ideas with a Sharpie while on the plane, usually on the back of my ticket or whatever blank piece of paper I can find.  When I find fabric, I go back to the sketches and figure out which one is going to work with the fabric. Working with vintage and deadstock fabric presents unique design challenges.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.   You may find a piece of fabric that’s 5 yards long, so (for example) you have the option to make approximately 4 shirts out of it or 1-2 dresses with no room for error.  It’s not like you can go back and buy more fabric if you make a mistake.  I don’t make individual garments unless it’s for a custom order (or for myself), so chances are that 5 yards of fabric is going to become 4 shirts. I do my best to maximize the use of fabric so more often than not, my designs are separates. I also buy and sell vintage clothing (and accessories) so I am looking at a LOT of vintage clothing on a regular basis. When shopping, I review every single piece of clothing on the rack and try everything on in my cart that made the cut from the rack.  This is kind of like calisthenics for fashion design. It is a MAJOR part of my creative process.  When I’m on the road I can’t cut/sew and this keeps me ‘in shape’.


Who are some of your current inspirations? At this time I’m (still) inspired by traveling.  When I’m on the road I see all kinds of people.  I get inspired looking at what they wear, wondering what they do for a living, and how or where they would go about cavorting, (or whether they cavort at all). What are you most proud of? Obtaining my MEd, and actually using it. What’s on your iPod? On my top 25 right now it is Apples in Stereo, Leon Redbone, Danger Doom, Led Zeppelin, Goldie Lookin’ Chain, Curtis Mayfield, and The Beatnuts.

Of all the places you have traveled, which stands out the most? Cockle Creek, AUS.

What is your favorite restaurant and/or bar in Charleston? For lunch? Tacone, on King Street. For dinner? Five Loaves, in Mt. Pleasant.

Who do you feel is shaping the Charleston fashion community today? Those contributing to and participating in it.

What inspires you about Charleston? Good people.  Everyone here has been extremely supportive.

What’s next for you?

May 30th
Cavortress Swimwear fashion show, Jimbo’s Rock Lounge, 6 p.m.

June 4th
Cavortress Barbie themed fashion show, Art Institute (student produced), 7:30 p.m.

June 18th
Cavortress fashions for sale at House of Sage, 4-8 p.m.

After June 18th
The only plans I have thus far are enjoying summer and surfing!