From the moment I got the tip from Carlos Torres on Jennifer Collins-Mancour, I was intensely curious. I think of Torres, also known as “Cat made That” as a gifted, cutting-edge, visual artist and music maker. As Collins-Mancour and I sat down over coffee, her bonifides and street cred became quite clear.
Her roots run deep. Her mom was a quilter. Her grandmother a seamstress.
As a career, it started for Collins-Mancour in a design sweatshop where she learned how to sew industrially. She learned pattern drafting and fabrication at a craftsperson level. At the end of a four year run, Collins-Mancour knew she didn’t like the manipulative nature of some fashion, designed to make a certain segment of the population feel bad about their bodies.
It reminded her of long ago, when she was an eight year-old, ashamed of “her K-Mart blue collar clothes the other kids mocked.” She would rip them up and re-sew them herself into a personal construction.
As an adult, her career shifted to a more creative, much more positive space, costume design and construction. She worked with Playmakers Theater and the Carrboro Arts Center. More recently Collins-Mancour is responsible for the Luchadora’s championship belts (Durham’s fantastic ladies of wrestling for good causes). Collins-Mancour is also designing the 2014 DURM Hip-Hop Summit’s championship belts, which was the occasion for her meeting Carlos Torres.
Collins-Mancour’s fashion skills are currently on exhibit and display at the Bull City Arts Collaborative. She has found a way to preserve one of modern civilization’s most treasured possessions the t-shirt. Collins-Mancour in truly Durhamanian style upcycles old t-shirts into new garments. She saves our memories and creates a new highly wearable garment.
Collins-Mancour is working with Holly Phelan-Johnson, locally famous for her HappyMessArt Studio over on Iredell and more recently her micro BazaarArt Markets. Despite the specialized machinery Collins-Mancour requires, including a serger and an industrial straight stitcher, she is able to keep her product priced to sell at under $40. And on top of that most of her clothing is gender neutral.
It is her expertise that allows her to work quickly. When I ask her about employing local labor to do some of the legwork, a long tradition in textiles, she is firm that she is only going to do it when she can afford to pay a living wage. She does not want to exploit the low cost (potentially immigrant) labor that might be around Durham.* She is actively trying to produce non-exclusive fashion without making that dollar off of the laborer’s wage.
Collins-Mancour fits that Durham ethic because she has been part of it for so long. Her husband is a local legend. She helped install the Paradise Garden Project with amongst many others Lee Moore Crawford, a show that you should have caught at the Carrack.** In addition to her show at the Bull City Arts Collaborative, Collins-Mancour has pieces at Recyclique on Hillsborough Road, she will be at the BazaarArt Market at HappyMess in September, and she will be in The Makery at Mercury Studio, again with Lee Moore.
We heard that because so many of the gender neutral garments in the Bull City Arts Collective show have sold, Collins-Mancour is now taking custom orders. That’s right Durham, you can save and still continue to wear your favorite t-shirt from a concert, a place, a team. Collins-Mancour’s technique allows her to preserve some of the decorative, recognizable element and weave it into the upcycled clothing.
She is also making new pieces for the closing celebration of her exhibit, ReVamped.
On display at the Bull City Arts Collaborative thru 8/15.
*There are certainly good arguments to be made in contravention to this point of view.
**Every week you don’t go to the Carrack you may miss something great.