Over the past few years, Neville Wisdom has grown to become a distinguished presence as a New Haven based fashion designer who merges sophistication with comfort to weave classic creations that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but feel good. His humble beginnings, cultivated talent and tenacity drive him to pursue what he loves. The product is a brand that continues to flourish and a women’s clothing line that has won the hearts of many. Surrounded by mannequins, patterns, the hum of machines and the faint sound of Reggae music in the background at his Westville studio, we discuss his life, the motivation that drives him and most importantly, his passion for fashion.
Dana: What is your advice for creators and dreamers like yourself?
Neville: Sell everything you own and reduce your life to the bare minimum. Try to figure out what you can live with and what you can’t live without and then shave that down by fifty percent (laughs). Then, get up every day and tell yourself, ‘I’m going to figure it out and find a way and not give up. I’m not stopping. Nothing is going stop me.’ Continual reassurance of yourself is important. Skill alone isn’t going to make or break you. It’s good to have it, but knowledge is also very important. It’s all about just trying to figure out how to get from one point to another. That part is usually the hardest.
Dana: So internal dialogue is key. I wonder where that point is when a person works towards actualizing their dreams, but eventually abandons them? Who knows if they would have kept going, how far they would have been from achieving their goals?
Neville: The way I see it, it’s like crossing a river. When you get there you might stop because it’s easier. The hardest part is facing your fear of getting to the other side. You have to tell yourself that it’s worth it because what you reach might be something really beautiful. Some people never see the other side because of their own personal limitations. To move forward, you just do what you have to do. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is my passion more important to me than having a nice car?’ It’s as simple as that because fear can make or break an individual.
Dana: It sounds to me like you have had quite a bit of intrinsic motivation that has driven you to pursue your passion. Was there anyone that supported you in your vision?
Neville: In terms of motivation there were maybe enough people I can count on one hand or maybe less who supported me. When I think about it there was someone that has been there for me in terms of support. She’s actually one of the persons affiliated with the company, my youngest son’s mother. She was always positive about me going into design. Most people on the outside looking at me and where I was when I decided that I wanted to do this thought I’d suffer because I’d be losing the material aspect which doesn’t mean that much to me. I wanted to pursue my passion and they thought maybe I should go back and get a steady job. It wasn’t necessarily out of negativity, but mostly out of concern.
Dana: Do you think that not having a support system or a very limited one motivated you to do better?
Neville: Adversity always drives me as an individual. The idea of doing something impossible is very cool. Most people couldn’t understand mentally where I was at the time. When I look back on my life, it didn’t matter to me what people said because in my head space I was right where I needed to be and I was very happy there. Even when the bank accounts were negative. I grew up having little or no money at all. I just needed the basic things. Growing up with nothing, I had to learn at a young age how to make my way.
Dana: What are you most excited about right now?
Neville: I’m very excited about the future of the company as a whole and what we’ve been able to achieve through vision and ideas that have been running around in my head for a very long period of time. Now I can physically put my finger on each aspect of it and know what the outcome is; in terms of, being able to make our products, sell them quite reasonably and the people that we meet. I’m most excited that for the first time I’m able to produce exact replicas of completed style designs. Spending more time editing patterns, making sure that they’re a better fit and being able to save that information to transfer easily is really cool.
Dana: I can see that you’re very hands on.
Neville: I’m very hands on. We produce everything that we make. I’ve always wanted to design and make my own product. I have a hand in everything that is produced. I actually am the one who comes up with the initial ideas. Lauren Sprague, Brand Director and I work together. She’ll critique or give me her spin on something. Sometimes we feed off of each other. Other times, I just get into my own little world and say, ‘that’s what I’m making.’
Dana: I noticed at your September 2nd fashion show on Orange Street that your models were real women with varying body types. I really appreciate how you’re showing that women are beautiful regardless of size. What made you choose to do it that way?
Neville: We are selling to customers, not models. In the beginning we started off thinking that maybe we’d use models because they might be easier to fit or work with in order to get that right look. Our customers are the ones that come in here and buy the dresses. It makes sense to show them wearing the dresses in our shows. People can relate to it. If we have a customer who is a little curvier and she sees herself in an individual. She might think, ‘that dress looks really awesome on that lady. It would look awesome on me.’ It’s definitely a better translation to have someone who is like them. In this way, it made more sense.
Dana: Tell me about the bridal collection since it’s new and fresh.
Neville: Bridesmaids have been coming here and we’d make dresses or fit someone for their dress. One of the things I saw was that a lot of the dresses were pretty much the same almost like they were in a box. There is always this idea of having to buy a dress for a wedding and not being able to wear it again which is ridiculous. What I wanted to do was create a dress that doesn’t have to stay in your closet after you’ve worn it because it’s too hideous to wear or if you wear it again someone’s going to know that you’re wearing a bridesmaid’s dress. We created a collection that was sophisticated enough but after the wedding you can stick a flower in your hair, put on some nice shoes and walk out the door to meet up with your friend. It’s very practical, versatile and comfortable.
Dana: Practical, versatile and comfortable all sound good.
Neville: That’s another thing about fashion. It has to be comfortable. Comfort is really a big part of our brand. We don’t believe in the idea of sacrificing comfort for fashion. You can still look very sophisticated and wear comfortable fabric. It’s your body. You really should treat it good in terms of what type of shoes you wear and the type of clothes you put on your body.