Graduating Senior Molly Broekman Explores Extravagance in Costume with Sustainability in Fashion Design

Molly Broekman (BFA-Design, '22, Fashion) is about to complete her senior-year collection for a BFA-Design in Fashion with double minors in Art History and Textile Design. Broekman's work unites her passions for repurposed materials, historical fashion, and costume design. An internship in the Netherlands provided unique international experience, and she is looking forward to the professional possibilities that Detroit has to offer upon her graduation.

Shifting Fields and Finding Her Natural Talent

Initially drawn to design through her love of drawing, Broekman's interest in an art and design career path emerged in high school, observing her brother studying automotive design. Receipt of a WSU Art Department Talent Scholarship provided the confidence boost needed to pursue the arts academically. "I was at first unsure of my abilities, but winning the Talent Scholarship was an early affirmative experience for me."

Broekman began her studies with a concentration in Industrial Design, but quickly realized that it was not the right path for her. After enrolling in a fabric printing and dyeing class and then a basic construction class, it became clear that her calling was in Fashion Design. "My grandma was a seamstress," she explains, "so I had dabbled in sewing when I was a kid, mostly making small bags and accessories from recycled materials, like empty Capri Sun pouches, and then later altering my own clothes. Industrial Design didn't feel natural to me, but once I switched my focus to fashion, I felt a lot more comfortable and confident in my skills. It felt like a natural fit. I could work on a project for hours and not even notice the time passing."

Building Skills in the Netherlands

Last year, Broekman completed a successful six-month internship for the sustainable fashion brand Unravelau, located in the Netherlands. Unravelau focuses mainly on custom-order garments made from reclaimed fabric and repurposed garments. The opportunity joined her love of one-of-a-kind garment construction with her interests in sustainability, while also providing her with valuable international work experience and a chance to brush-up on her Dutch language skills. An added bonus was the opportunity to practice her craft in a very unique location. "The studio is in a location called the Upcycle Center," she explains, which is essentially a recycling center with artist and design studios onsite. People can drop off old clothes and other materials that they don't want anymore, and the artists and designers upcycle them into new things."

Broekman's primary project during her internship was a women's suit made out of patchwork denim for Valerie Bos, the co-founder of Dutch vegan meat company Knakwortel and owner of Van Loof, a sustainable marketing agency. Broekman played a key role in design, development, creating samples, pattern drafting, and fittings. In putting her skills to work, she was able to effectively show her talents, work ethic, and willingness to learn. "I'm pretty confident in my skills, and I'm really open to learning new things. I'm also a really quick learner. I think that came across in my interview to get the internship, and that was the feedback that I got at the end."

Unravelau's custom patchwork denim suit, made from secondhand jeans

Building a Collection

Back in Detroit and on campus, Broekman is wrapping up her Advanced Studio and Exhibition course, where she is tackling another welcome challenge - developing and presenting an individual collection. "Putting together a collection has been a real jumping-off point for me - knowing that I am capable of creating an entire body of work. The senior seminar class really pushed me," she says.

Broekman's senior seminar collection, called "Wear Your Groove on Your Sleeve," was inspired by a range of performers - and their costumes - including Elton John, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Dolly Parton. Costumes provide an intrinsic opportunity to examine the relationship between sustainability and fashion. "When you're in a costuming environment," she says, "things are constantly getting recycled. If there is a rip in something, you're most likely going to mend or repair it instead of throwing the whole outfit out and buying a new one. Things are built to last, and they're built to handle lots of movement and wear and tear. Costumes have to be made with that durability in mind from the start."

ABBA inspired outfit from Broekman's Senior Seminar Collection, Wear Your Groove on You Sleeve
Dress inspired by Chapell Roan's song Pink Pony Club from from Broekman's Senior Seminar Collection Wear Your Groove on You Sleeve
A Bleachers inspired outfit from Broekman's Senior Seminar Collection, Wear Your Groove on Your Sleeve

Weaving Inspiration from the Past

Broekman describes herself as "a huge fashion history nerd," and her coursework in Art History has helped to fuel this passion. "I feel like everything that I make is infused in some way with references to different historical garments that I discover through research," she says. "A lot of my inspiration comes from images that I have been exposed to through Art History, and especially what people were wearing in portraiture. Broekman cites the example of Marie Antoinette's style - elaborate, extravagant, even ridiculous, gowns and accessories, which incorporated current events in politics, science, and culture into their design.

Broekman also finds inspiration in found materials and traditional motifs, reflecting her open mind and creative capacity. "A lot of my inspiration comes from materials that I find at thrift stores - anything from curtains to buttons to hem tapes - or just things around my own environment," she explains. "This past winter, I was inspired to design some fabric prints based on German Christmas cookies that we have around during the holidays."

Many of these found materials have found their way into her current designs, many of which reflect weaving skills acquired during the pandemic. "Before we were back on campus," she explains, "I took [a] beginning weaving [course] online. We were weaving strictly using hand looms ,which was new to me. I wasn't sure if I would like it or how to apply it, but recently I've been incorporating weaving into a lot of my work. I just wove a skirt out of trims that I have collected from garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores."

Woven Trim Skirt, created from secondhand trims collected from thrift stores and estate sales
Detail of Woven Trim Skirt

Looking Ahead

Broekman thinks it is important to be flexible and pragmatic, and she is looking for balance when it comes to her career path. For example, she explains, "I would love to go back and work in the Netherlands, but sometimes life doesn't always work out in the ways that you expect. If other opportunities come up, then I might take a different direction." She adds, "I'm not really interested in being a big name designer and the stress that comes with that. I am ok with being a smaller part of the fashion picture. I would like to have a fulfilling job that I enjoy and have some time to do some of my own work on the side."

Broekman is applying for a broad range of positions from color and trim, to costuming, to teaching sewing in high schools. She sees a great opportunity for Detroit to stake a larger claim in the fashion world. She explains, "It can be easy to make excuses and say, 'Well, there's no fashion industry here,' but there are a lot of companies and a lot of designers located here, and they are doing a lot of really cool things - for example, Donovan Dewberry, Deviate, Tracy Reese, and of course Carhartt and Shinola. We also have the auto industry and the history of manufacturing. There are a lot of possibilities. I hope that people keep coming here and that it gets bigger because I do think that there's a lot of potential."

Reflecting on her own experience at WSU, Broekman encourages incoming art students to be open to trying new things, find your passion, and trust your instinct. "Push yourself as hard as you can," she adds. "Your professors can only push you so hard. You're the one who has to make the work, so if you are motivating yourself to do better, then in the end you're going to be happier because you're going to have created something that you're proud of."

To learn more about Broekman and view her work visit:

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