GARMENTS GALORE: Pajama Design Lab offers classes, workshops for aspiring clothing designers
At the Pajama Factory in Studio 17, among the sewing machines, stacks of fashion magazines, hand-drawn design mock ups and limbless mannequins bearing unfinished designs – a stark contrast to the cutthroat-fashion-industry stereotype exists – one where diversity and imagination are encouraged, patience a virtue.
That place is the Pajama Design Lab, which claims to be “reinvigorating that history of connecting sewing machines and fabric with stitchers producing pajamas for the first time since the 1970s,” when the factory still produced pajamas.
But there’s a lot more creating going on in the lab outside of pajama creations. Pajamas are just a “good place to start with design because it’s such a basic thing,” according to Valerie Beggs, creator of the Pajama Design Lab.
Beggs, who was a clothing designer at Woolrich for 12 years prior to starting the Pajama Design Lab in 2012, said her vision is to encourage the human drive to create, specifically clothing. So the lab offers workshops and independent “design coaching” classes for those interested in the woven thread.
And the woven thread is something Beggs knows a little bit about.
Aside from the time she spent as a clothing designer at Woolrich, if years were stitches, her clothing design experience could probably make a cozy scarf.
When asked for the total years that she has been working in the industry, Beggs laughed: “I don’t know, my whole life.” But after a moment of thoughtful calculation, but no absolute certainty, she came up with about 42 years.
Beggs is the oldest of five girls and fondly remembers when her mother and grandmother began to teach her the trade.
At 10 years old, Beggs knitted her own hats for when she went ice skating and sewed clothing for her dolls, which she claims were “the best-dressed dolls around.”
Eventually moving on from the hats and dolls, Beggs navigated the streets of New York City in the ’70s while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology, a dream university for many who want to exclusively study fashion. She had a part-time job sketching in design room on Seventh Avenue at 19 years old.
Later, at 26, Beggs started her own business while living in Martha’s Vinyard, an island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
She used Woolrich fabric to make the clothing at her business, causing Woolrich to eventually take notice. During their campaign to modernize their image at the time, they decided to hire Beggs; she accepted, making central Pennsylvania her new home.
Beggs was their senior sportswear designer, a perfect fit, since designing outdoor clothing is her favorite.
She offered insight as to why in particular she’s drawn to outerwear as opposed to the more “fancy” side of fashion, and why she always has considered herself a “clothing designer before a fashion designer.”
“You know on that list of life necessities – food, clothing and shelter?” she asked. “Clothing comes before shelter … I love that – it places really high on the list of life necessities. I like to make things for real life that are both inventive and expressive,” Beggs said. Beggs also still works as a freelance designer. Equinox LTD, an outdoor gear company that makes “the fundamental tools for Earth travelers,” also located in the Pajama Factory, is one of her clients.
Out of a long-held desire to teach the craft, the design lab was born.
The lab offers workshops and one-on-one sessions for designing and patternmaking, as well as offers sewing classes to eager learners of all backgrounds.
Beggs especially loves to teach children because of their capacity for unbounded imagination.
“It’s amazing how kids connect and their natural ability to think creatively,” she said. Often the children will either design clothing for themselves or their moms, she said.
The interest in Beggs’ fashion design-and-textile expertise even grabs the interest of other area artists and tenants at the factory, too.
“One artist came in wanting to help him design a straightjacket to use as part of an art exhibit on the state of mental health in the country,” Beggs said.
Student Tristan Lee is one of Beggs’ “most productive” students.
Lee showed his designs at the STRUT runway event that was held at the Pajama Factory Mayfest on May 10.
Lee said Beggs has been his “main inspiration in pursuing design on a larger scale.”
“I told her my first ideas about my line – and she loved it,” he said, reflecting on when he had only just started.
“Now a year and some-months later, I have a full collection,” Lee said, adding sentimentally, that without Beggs, he wouldn’t be where he is now – a real fashion designer.
Lee eventually hopes to have his clothing in stores worldwide.
Ultimately, Beggs just likes to help people realize their creative visions and potential.
“It’s so satisfying, to express yourself and to make something. There’s a phenomenal sense of accomplishment in making the things that are important to us,” she said.
“It’s the human drive to create, you know, it’s so strong – and every one of us has it.”
Pajama Design Lab
1307 Park Ave.