When Flatbush-based designer Casey Russell got chosen for Brooklyn Public Library’s 2020 Fashion Academy, he thought he’d be getting support from the incubator for four months.

But when the pandemic hit, the academy, which provides on-site workshops and classes, was forced to improvise to provide a similar experience for its winners.

Casey Russell. Photo: Supplied / Brooklyn Public Library

As a result, teachers and mentors ended up partnering with 11 Brooklyn-based designers virtually for almost a year, to allow them to see their capsule collections through to completion.

“Originally I think we were supposed to do four looks, but with the pandemic and everything a lot of us did a lot more,” Russell said.

The Jamaica-born creative is one of the Brooklyn-based designers who spent much of 2020 going through the academy.

The program was started to give up-and-coming designers all the tools they need to launch a viable fashion business, through a 16-week intensive course with mentoring from industry experts and classes on sustainability, sourcing, accessories design, market research, and more, all while creating a capsule collection.

Russell, 31, was working as an editorial stylist and personal shopper when his best friend sent him a link to the opportunity just before it was about to close.

Sewing since he was 16, Russell often had to whip up items and one-offs in his work, but he’d never created a capsule collection. He submitted an application to grow his brand Claude Russell NYC, and was accepted.

2020 Fashion Academy designer Dominus Sowell working at home. Photo: Supplied / Brooklyn Public Library

He said one of the things he most enjoyed about the program was its partnership with Queens fabric warehouse FABSCRAP, as part of its focus on sustainability.

“So many fabric warehouses get rid of so much fabric, even from bigger designers,” Russell said. “So every piece I created was pure remnant fabrics, which is actually really hard, and I was able to work with fabrics I normally couldn’t purchase due to the price point.”

Preliminary fittings of one of Casey Russell’s looks. Photo: Supplied / Casey Russell

The 2020 Fashion Academy theme was The History of Carnevale (carnival), and Russell interpreted it through his love for the costume of the New Orleans Mardi Gras and its history.

Initially, Black people were not allowed to participate in parade-day celebrations of historically-white social clubs. So they started their own club houses.

“When they started they didn’t wear full costumes because they couldn’t afford them, so the men would wear work uniforms. So the basis of my collection was a workman’s jacket that was unisex.”

The experience with the academy has made Russell more focused on being a fashion designer. “But I’m going to be a Brooklynite and hustle at the same time,” he laughed.

On Friday at 7pm the designers will hold a virtual showcase of their 2020 work, which was filmed on location at Brooklyn Center for History. To RSVP for the event, click here.