Wilbur dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, so he went to night classes for women’s apparel at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Everything was going fine until he got to sewing class. He couldn’t sew; he didn’t know how. A few minutes after he began his professor would appear at his elbow, bend her already stooped frame closer, and screech out everything he was doing wrong. The list was always long. Every week he dreaded the class a little more.
If I can’t sew, I can’t be a fashion designer, he thought. He finally dropped the class, packed up, and left school. He had failed his dream.
Wilbur’s boyfriend suggested they could do something together, so he went to cosmetology school and learned how to cut hair fierce. He styled people instead of their clothes. His boyfriend was happy, his own dream so close, and Wilbur remembered what following a dream could be like.
His boyfriend saw his unhappiness, and urged him to follow his dreams, “Don’t use bills as an excuse. Just do it.”
He sketched his first collection and found some men to put it together, to sew it for him, based on the sketches. It sold. He designed more women’s wear that others sewed and sold, but he himself never quite made enough money with it. He struggled for 15 years and slowly sunk into $100,000 of debt.
He quit, but what was he going to do instead? Was his dream not meant for him after all?
Hurricane Sandy struck New York, and it also happened to be Wilbur’s birthday. He was in his forties, sitting in the dark in his mother’s house.
He said, “God, I can’t do this anymore, and I’m very angry with you, and you need to show me what the next step is, because I really don’t think you gave me this ability, this skill, this talent, for nothing, and so I need you to reveal it to me because I can’t do this.” And then he looked up, and kept living his life, and waited.
After the power came back on he saw an email from his sister: “For your birthday, I wanna send you to this one day bag making workshop.”
He said, “Okay, God, I hear you.” And he went and got ready to put his all into something else.
Wilbur sews all his bags himself, and, 5 years later, is still going strong.
Wilbur Pack Jr. is one of the founders of the Black Acessory Designer Alliance, along with Velvet Lattimore. BADA’s goal is to Empower Black and Minority Accessory Designers and to Help Facilitate Their Prominence in the Fashion Industry. badaunite.org
Wilbur owns SKWilbur – in 2013, after being consistently asked by curvy women to offer his elegant designs in larger sizes, Pack set his sights on creating better wardrobe options for the full figured fashionista. He is now winning over both men and women with his line of handcrafted bags made in NYC. skwilbur.com
Velvet owns Vedazzling Accessories Boutique, which has a storefront in Brooklyn and also features other Black accessory designers. “This industry is cut throat and it is especially hard on African Americans who are typically undercapitalized and have difficulty securing orders from mainstream retailers.” vedazzlingaccessories.com
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Wilbur: It’s all about networking. I think networking is really really important. We’re probably not going to get the loans. We may not get the money, but we can reach out to somebody who can then reach out to somebody who may know somebody else who can get us maybe a micro-loan, or maybe help us with our kickstarter campaign, or help us with our digital marketing.
Wilbur: It is a major financial drain if you don’t have someone investing in you, or if your grandmother didn’t die and leave you a pile of money…it’s really difficult to become the next Marc Jacobs, so to speak…So it was Hurricane Sandy here in New York, it was also my birthday…and I was sitting in the dark in my mother’s house, and I was like “God, I can’t do this anymore, and I’m very angry with you, and you need to show me what the next step is, because I really don’t think you gave me this ability, this skill, this talent, for nothing, and so I need you to reveal it to me because I can’t do this. I was like $10,000 in debt, and it just wasn’t working. And I had struggled the whole 15 years, and that struggle is exhausting, exhausting, and so my sister sent me an email….and she said “For your birthday, I wanna send you to this one day bag making workshop.” And I said “Okay, God, I hear you.” And so 5 years ago that part of the journey started, and I sew all the bags myself, I had to get over that fear of the sewing machine.
Velvet: I have friends that are 9-5ers and they just don’t understand. You have to have friends that are creatives. …For the last two years, I [have been] in a neighborhood that’s transitioning. And my store is struggling: we don’t have leases anymore ‘cause they want us out, so we’re on the month to month, and I’ve been so stressed…and I mentioned it to a friend of mine, and this person [has] a 9-5 job…and the person said to me “Well, if you just closed, things would be better. Why don’t you just close the store and go find another passion?”…And the next week I talked to Wilbur and Wilbur came up with some other ideas…That’s what people in your community who get it are like. They get it. So they’re like “Oh, girl, you can do it. Why don’t you try getting a part time job and doing this and doing this.”
Velvet: We try, from the venue to the drink sponsor to the food, everything has to be a person of color or be in alignment with what we do.
Wilbur: Women have organizations where they can build each other up that men are not invited to…because women have been, I’m not even sure the word, they do not get full respect, they don’t get equal pay, we could go on and on. I respect that they have their own groups to elevate one another. So why can’t people of color have their own group too?