CCAC Alumnus Designs Eco-Friendly Clothing
As a child, James Yoest was always interested in his mother’s old sewing machine. By the time he reached his teens, sewing became his passion and he began making simple bags. He soon progressed into making clothes and is now one of the newest faces in the world’s fashion scene with his eco-friendly clothing designs.
James was raised in the North Hills area of Pittsburgh and enjoyed playing dress-up as a child. In addition to playing dress-up, James also enjoyed costuming and took classes in acting, dance, drawing, ceramics, pottery and jewelry design. However, the sewing machine was where he found his creative niche. “From that moment on, sewing and fashion became an integral part of my life,” he says. “Fashion became a creative outlet for me and I dreamed to be a part of it.”
According to James, both his mother and grandmother loved to sew and provided him much guidance and inspiration. His mother taught him basic sewing skills and his grandmother gave him all her sewing supplies and critiqued his work. When he was in eighth grade at North Hills Junior High School, he had a class with Donna Fryer, a family and consumer science teacher. It was in this home economics class that James discovered he had a talent for designing and making clothes. “Ms. Fryer was an amazing inspiration for me,” James says. “I continued to work with her throughout high school and she helped me design and make my very first custom suit during my senior year.”
Throughout high school, James participated in the choir, drama club and the environmental club. He also worked part-time at an art supply store and taught a macramé class at Michaels Stores Inc. in the North Hills. In his spare time, he read fashion magazines, watched fashion programs such as CNN Style on television and continued to sew. It was at this time that he began to incorporate his love for fashion with his interest in nature, recycling and environmental concerns.
Following his graduation from North Hills Senior High School in 1998, he decided to attend the Community College of Allegheny County because it was “affordable, close to home and offered the courses I wanted to take.” At CCAC’s North Campus, James pursued a degree in general studies with a focus on environmental studies. He worked with several academic advisors whom he credits with helping him plan his educational path. After two years at CCAC, James decided he wanted to pursue a career in eco-fashion, with the goal of someday owning his own clothing store. Rather than staying to complete his associate’s degree at CCAC, James decided to transfer to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) to study fashion merchandising.
While at IUP, he collaborated with other fashion students to host a campus fashion show entitled “Fashionably Late,” in which he showcased his own designs. After graduating from IUP in 2003 with a BS in fashion merchandising and a minor in small business management, James accepted a position as a visual specialist at the former Lazarus-Macy’s department store in downtown Pittsburgh. He continued to design and make eco-friendly clothing, which he sold at Luxx, a boutique in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. James also worked on several Indie charity fashion shows with Salon Nuvo in downtown Pittsburgh. Although he enjoyed working and living in Pittsburgh, James soon realized the city was not ideal for launching a career in fashion. Thus, when Lazarus-Macy’s shut its doors in April 2004, James decided to take the next step on his educational path and enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
As a student pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in California, James says internships were extremely valuable. In 2006, he traveled to New York to intern with Kai Kühne, a German-born model and designer. As the head intern, James helped prepare Kühne’s fall 2006 and spring 2007 collections. In 2007, James interned for Margaret O’Leary, a San Francisco-based knitwear company that is currently exploring the use of eco-friendly and sustainable materials to produce socially conscious clothing. James graduated with a MFA in fashion design from the Academy of Art University in August 2007, and began working with Nice Collective in San Francisco, a designer clothing brand for men that is popular worldwide. In addition to working for Nice Collective, James also works as the men’s sales lead for Urban Outfitters in San Francisco.
Following graduation, James was one of 11 Academy of Art University fashion design graduates to showcase their work in the main tent at the 2007 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City. James and textile designer Sharon Chia-yu Yeh collaborated to design a sustainable collection of clothing made with organic, conventional and reused fabrics, including an old parachute. “The Mercedes-Benz show was amazing,” says James. “It was an honor to be a part of it. It opened my eyes to the fashion world.”
Since eighth grade, James has dreamed of designing eco-friendly clothing, and continues to pursue his dream today. As an up-and-coming eco clothing designer, James realizes that a move to New York will eventually become inevitable and possibly life-changing. Not only could a move to the East Coast help further his career, but it will bring him closer to his parents, Donald and Nancy, and brother Michael, who all reside in Ross Township and to his brother, Gary, a 1994 CCAC graduate, who lives in Irwin.
At a time when many industries are attempting to “go green,” James says he is thrilled that the fashion industry is on the move toward turning green. Many designers are now using environmentally sensitive fabrics and are turning these fabrics into haute couture. Designers such as Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Donatella Versace are among the many that featured eco-friendly designs during New York’s Fashion Week. James says he’s excited that some of fashion’s top designers are exploring sustainable fabrics—something he has done since he was a teenager.