Meet Emily Adams Bode, the first female designer ever to show at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. In this episode, she opens up about breaking boundaries, the past that shaped her, and her innovative creative process.
Meet Emily Adams Bode, the first female designer ever to show at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. In this episode, she opens up about breaking boundaries, the past that shaped her, and her innovative creative process. Discover the story behind Emily’s iconic and award-winning clothing line and hear her sage advice on how to turn your dreams into reality.
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Taylor Trudon: You're listening to the In Culture podcast. I'm your host, Taylor Trudon. I'm speaking with women from age 12 on about the pivotal moments that inspired their paths, the grit and determination that powers them forward, and where they're headed next. I'm really excited to share these inspiring conversations with you on the podcast.
Taylor Trudon: For this episode. I'm speaking to Emily Bode. In 2019, Emily became the first female designer to show at New York Fashion Week Men's, a testament to her innovative vision for her label Bode. But Emily is more than just a designer. She's a conservationist, producing one of a kind pieces that preserve histories and techniques that might otherwise be lost. Each piece in her collection tells a story, so I was curious how her own story fits into the narrative of the label, and the kinds of stories she's hoping to tell next. I meet with Emily to find out more.
Taylor Trudon: We've already established that we both spent time in New England. I'm from Connecticut and you're originally from Atlanta, but spent a lot of time in Massachusetts. What was that like growing up as a kid in Atlanta and also in Massachusetts?
Emily Bode: I believe I'm Southern at heart. I was born and raised in Atlanta. Both of my parents are from Massachusetts and we spent the summers in Cape Cod, a couple of times a year. I'd go to all the flea markets up there. I still frequent them. Brimfield is three times a year and it's one of the biggest markets, especially on the East Coast, and that's where we do a huge buy of ours for our one-of-a-kind product.
Taylor Trudon: What was a younger Emily like?
Emily Bode: I did quite a bit of extra curricular as a kid and the understanding of... I had a quite a pragmatic schooling. It was founded on John Dewey's principles, my high school. And that idea carried with me through my college years. I went to Eugene Lang for philosophy and Parsons for menswear design. So I had a love of learning my entire life and I value the education system.
Emily Bode: I also have always had a love of craft and art, so my younger years, my teenage years, I spent a lot of time taking outside art classes and craft classes on the weekends and at night.
Emily Bode: My mother and my aunts always brought me to antique stores. And we have these massive antique markets, and there are rows of shops in Atlanta that cater to antique clothing and porcelain and all sorts of different wares. And I grew up going to those, as well as a seasonal or monthly antique markets in the South, as well as in New England.
Taylor Trudon: And you did quilting as well, right?
Emily Bode: I did take a couple classes in quilting, but it wasn't necessarily, it wasn't something that I was really interested in, in terms of doing myself. I studied industrial sewing in college. I was using my home machine a lot as a kid, but that wasn't the drive to be in the fashion industry. It wasn't the quilting or the sewing, per se.
Taylor Trudon: What was the drive?
Emily Bode: I think it was creating a whole world. As a kid, I had these little shelves in my bedroom that I would curate for each scene. So a typical, like your bookshelf, I would take each shelf and build an entire world in that. And that was something that sticks out to me more than my sewing classes.
Taylor Trudon: While you're creating these worlds and these mini universes, did you know at that age, I want to be a designer, I want to have my own collection one day? Or was there a longer process of discovery?
Emily Bode: It was definitely a longer process. So I distinctly remember not knowing what it meant to be, to have a career in fashion. We had two students our senior year go around, which this is so magical that they did this, but they went around and asked every single senior what they wanted to be when they grew up. And for me, I said, "I want to work in fashion. I want to be a stylist." And I was a little confused. I just didn't know what the difference was between a stylist and a designer. And in some ways, that distinction grew really far apart for me in college, and then now, it's coming back together a little bit.
Taylor Trudon: Can you speak a little bit more about your choice to major in menswear? Why menswear?
Emily Bode: Yeah, so I actually, I've always been interested in menswear. And after, it's been three and a half years of having my menswear company. I get this question a lot. I didn't have an interest and I wasn't intrigued by designing for myself. I had more interest in designing for someone outside, and this was this idea of the other. And I wanted to explore that through creating a lifestyle for someone and creating a world in which his understanding of dressing, his understanding of curating objects in and outside the home was affected by the way that I work.
Taylor Trudon: When you were in fashion school and you were experimenting and incorporating all of these "older pieces of material and techniques," what was the reaction with your peers or maybe your professors, were they like, "Hmm? What is she doing with all of these really old things?"
Emily Bode: Right, so how it happened actually, we used to make muslins, fit samples in school, and they had to be as close to the finished garment as possible, but yet they were made out of a cotton, it's called muslin, that would never actually be used. And so, I started making all of my fit samples out of vintage fabrics and stuff, or fabrics that I liked, so that they could be used or worn. And that's kind of how it started.
Emily Bode: I actually made my first fit sample for Bode out of one of my vintage quilt tops. So I made a trouser, workwear trouser, out of a vintage quilt top and it turned out so well and I wore it. I just cinched the back really tight and I wore it to a trade show. I was a buyer at the time and people just went crazy. They kept coming up to me like, "Where'd you get those?"
Taylor Trudon: What did that feel like when everyone's coming up to you and you're like, "Well, I made that?"
Emily Bode: I just realized this could work. At the time I was creating, I was writing a business plan for a company that was not actually made from antique materials. It was more of a wholesale-driven menswear brand. And when I made it out of vintage, I thought, I have this like really huge network of vintage dealers that I've been close to since I was a kid and it's something I love doing. I could definitely source pieces like this. I thought it was quite magical if I could become the person that actually succeeds in making clothing from antique textiles and not just reworking vintage clothes.
Taylor Trudon: Was that your aha moment where you were like, I could do this?
Emily Bode: Yeah. I want to say up until this past year, we had every single mentor, almost every single interview, it was that this couldn't work. You can't scale a business in this way. But I always knew this was a scalable business. I think that comes from the fact that I bought antique textiles my whole life, and you know how much there is and how much dead stock material there is out there. That's always something I felt confident in and I just needed to really follow through with it.
Taylor Trudon: Last year, you won a CFDA Emerging Designer of the Year Award and were GQ's 2019 Breakthrough Designer of the Year. No big deal. You've opened a retail store and Harry Styles wore your embroidered satin shirt on SNL. And I'm in love with him, so that would've made me have died a little bit. Do you feel like you've made it?
Emily Bode: Do I feel like I've made it? I mean, I think we're on the way. I think what has allowed me to believe that we're actually changing the industry and affecting material culture is that younger people are beginning to mimic, and they get inspired by the brand. That's when I feel like you know in a way that if you haven't made it, you're on your way. And that's telling. I also believe just by seeing people wear your clothes that are total strangers. That's another big one.
Taylor Trudon: Have you ever been on the subway or a party and someone's wearing a shirt, and you're like, "Oh my gosh."
Emily Bode: So, okay. I actually have. I get pictures a lot from a lot of my college friends everyday, sending me pictures. Or yesterday, they were down in Tribeca and they said there was a guy just standing in the park wearing a Bode shirt. It's just so bizarre to me. But I've only seen one total complete stranger, I didn't even sell him the clothing or I didn't know him as a customer, walking down the street. And that was almost a year ago.
Taylor Trudon: That's so cool. A lot of my friends are published authors and whenever I see someone on the train and they're reading the book, I'll be that creepy person that's taking a photo with my phone and texting it to them. And I'm like, "I'm not trying to be weird, but this is so cool." And it's not even my book. And they're like, "Yeah. No, always send it to me." Because it's such a thrill to see your work out in the wild like that.
Emily Bode: It is such a thrill. It is such a thrill to see your work out in the wild, especially like you said, with celebrity. A lot of times our celebrities are buying them, not necessarily through our store. We just opened our flagship in November. We also have e-comm, but they're buying it in England. We have 105 global retailers. So it's interesting to be like, wait, where did they get that? Where did they buy that piece?
Taylor Trudon: You were the first female designer to show at New York Fashion Week Men's, which is amazing. But also when I read that, it surprised me and I was like ... Did that surprise you?
Emily Bode: It's kind of interesting because New York Men's Week hadn't really taken off in that way. And when I got the call from CFDA that they had sponsors and they had support to give us venues and give us lighting company. That was a pretty new idea, you know? And I think that now you see, especially in London, you see so many female menswear designers. And there's always been women in men's wear. I think it was just this idea of a woman who's running a menswear company, solely a men's wear company.
Taylor Trudon: You alluded to this when you said when you were starting out and people had said, "Well, this isn't scalable," which made me think about maybe setbacks that you've experienced as you've grown this company. Can you speak to maybe a specific time where you were really frustrated and want to give up? Or you just were really facing a hurdle that felt impossible to get over and how you did that?
Emily Bode: I think what's the most frustrating, but I don't know how upset you can really get, but what's quite frustrating is you give someone a brief, and especially in all these competitions. You'll give them a brief, you'll give them a business pitch, and at the end of the day, people are going to believe your brand is however they perceive it to be. You could write a whole book on your brand and people will still only believe it to be how they perceive it.
Emily Bode: So the trick is understanding how to change people's perception of what your brand identity is. And when you look at these major companies who have succeeded, it's what the public eye believes the company to be, to stand for. And you can have as much press around that as you want, but at the end of the day, that's just how it works.
Taylor Trudon: And that's interesting, because it makes me think. We're both 30-year-old women, we're creatives living in New York and I find I have these conversations with my friends and that no matter how at the top of our game we are, or how many accomplishments or awards, there's still this lingering sense of imposter syndrome, or just maybe moments of self doubt. I think there's a lot of misconceptions where, Oh, you've reached this level of success, like you have. And it's like, Oh, you never have moments where you're second guessing yourself.
Emily Bode: Oh, yeah. I mean, of course I second guess myself. That's something that I need to work on is being independent and not codependent on whether it's an employee or a friend or a partner. I think growing up in your thirties, you start to realize the importance of having independence and not being codependent on any singular person, right? And having different friends for different reasons. We have our childhood friends, we have our work friends, we have mentors. And really understanding your experience as a person growing up in what can be a really catty industry, as well as a really tight knit group of people that are all trying to achieve the same thing and that's affecting culture.
Taylor Trudon: You've mentioned that your grandmother, your mother, your aunts have been super influential to you, especially growing up in terms of your creative process and where you are today. Are there any other mentors that you've really leaned on throughout the last couple of years that have helped you get to where you are?
Emily Bode: My friends from college, for sure. Mentors in as much like, I have this problem at work, have you ever dealt with this? I also do have mentors that I've worked with through the CFTA and through LVMH and some of them have been so influential. They're available at, if I need to call them or text them, in the middle of the night.
Emily Bode: I think it's important as I grow too, is you have to make yourself available to people that you admire and you believe that you can influence. And that's the same with my interns and some of my employees is, these women made themselves available for me. And as I grow up and as I'm going on almost four years in the industry, I want to make sure that I can make myself available as they did.
Taylor Trudon: So from a young age, you've obviously had a really strong idea of what you wanted to do and maybe it was considered to be unconventional by a lot of people. What advice would you give to a young person who has this idea that's different from any other type of idea in the universe and they don't know where to start?
Emily Bode: Okay, so it's a little bit tricky because in some way I believe that there were aspects of my business launching that were serendipitous. I took a photograph for the New York Times, the writer happened to look at my work in photographs, and she asked if I was starting a menswear company. So there were aspects of that that was serendipitous.
Emily Bode: I do have to say throughout my college years and even younger, I networked like crazy. And I hate that word, but I really made it a point to meet as many people as possible. I've always been keen to connect people. I've always connected people. I love this idea of making the world a little bit smaller. And that's some advice that I would give to someone who has a really strong idea maybe, although some things will be serendipitous.
Emily Bode: The people that you involve in your life, that's something that you choose. And my fiance's mom always says this is, pick your friends, don't let your friends pick you.
Taylor Trudon: Ooh. That's a good one.
Emily Bode: And I think that that's really true. I've always been interested in meeting as many people as I can from all over the world.
Taylor Trudon: And I think also what young people have the advantage of, of being in 2020, is that even if they live in a super small town in the Midwest and they don't feel like they're connected, they can literally slide into someone's DMs and just be like, "Hey, I'm a fan of your work. How can we collaborate? What can I do for you?" Because there is always something.
Emily Bode: Right. And that's something that's funny. You always cringe a little bit when someone asks you, "How did you meet that person?" You're like, "On Instagram."
Taylor Trudon: Literally, though.
Emily Bode: But it's so true. Allister, who is one of my good friends, he has modeled in my campaigns. He's my muse. I actually met him on Instagram, because his girlfriend, or his girlfriend at the time, three and a half, four years ago, and I followed each other, because I guess we thought each other had cool aesthetics. And then, one day she posted him and I ran into him at a bar here, and I was like, "Oh, you're this guy?" And people will shape your life even if it's through something like Instagram.
Taylor Trudon: How do you see the future of Bode evolving, especially as new techniques are introduced and technology evolves?
Emily Bode: The future of Bode, I mean, we're trying to create a world and expanding that is expanding retail, and expanding across the United States, but also into our European and global markets. Right now, half of our business is in Europe alone. So for us, it's creating change here in New York by investing in retail, which is something that not many people are doing right now. But it's also an investing in all of our different markets that have shown support of the brand.
Taylor Trudon: Thank you so much.
Emily Bode: Yeah, thank you.
Taylor Trudon: This has been such a great conversation and I'm so excited to see how Bode evolves, and we'll be watching.
Emily Bode: Thank you so much.
Taylor Trudon: To learn more about Emily, visit microsoft.com/inculture, or follow us on Instagram at Microsoft In Culture.
Taylor Trudon: This episode of In Culture was hosted by me, Taylor Trudon. The Podcast is produced by Jordan Ropine, edited and mixed by Nat Weiner, and features original music by Angular Wave Research. In Culture is a production of Microsoft in collaboration with Listen, a sensory experience company in New York City.