Business and Ethics / People of SU

Fashion Forward (thinking)

Written by Tina Potterf

September 28, 2021

Photo of alumna Desi Caswell standing behind a window at a downtown Seattle store, Corre.

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

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Apparel company brings an environmentally friendly and ethical approach to couture.

What for Desi Caswell, ’18, started as a passion project has turned into a sustainable profession—emphasis on the sustainable. For Caswell, this means working for a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to environmental and climate issues but instead is doing its part to make the world—and our place in it—that much better. And it starts with what we wear.

Caswell is director of operations and social impact for Guillermo Bravo, a sneaker and apparel company based in Seattle, and CORRE, a shoe store in the Madrona neighborhood. But this is no ordinary clothing outlet—the Latino-owned brand focuses on sustainable, genderless apparel constructed from ethically sourced products and materials. Imagine this: An old jersey transformed into a designer-quality top. A pair of trainers reimagined to add new appeal to old kicks. But it doesn’t just stop there.

“We create clothes and sneakers that reflect the fashion industry we hope to see in the future—one not categorized or defined by gender, but that is fluid and truly encourages full expression of the individual,” she says.

Starting out as a volunteer helping good friend and founder Luis Vélez with event planning and project management, Caswell became a full-time employee of Guillermo Bravo last October. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations, she also creates and implements business strategies and events at Guillermo Bravo’s Capitol Hill design studio and at CORRE.

“I was drawn to the company because of its focus on making an impact on the fashion world and the way we create clothes,” says Caswell. “Everything I do is rooted in creating a space where people can freely express themselves."

The work has been life changing, says Caswell, and extends beyond the selection of fabrics and recycled clothing to include partnering with models, photographers, factories and mills “that share our interests in fighting for social justice and humane business practices. We refuse to participate in fast fashion and clothing that is created inexpensively and unethically,” she says.

Last fall, Guillermo Bravo teamed up with Seattle U Athletics in creating the Upcycle University Collection, a clothing line that merges sports and fashion. Following Athletics’ branding move from Nike apparel, footwear and accessories to adidas, there was suddenly items no longer usable by the teams that needed a new home.

Enter Caswell, who pitched the Seattle U and Guillermo Bravo partnership to Vélez, who was on board with the idea.

“I was aware that the Athletics department had quite a bit of Nike apparel they would be unable to use and reached out with a unique opportunity to breathe new life into the jerseys and equipment,” she says. “As a former student, proposing a collaboration with SU Athletics would be a perfect fit … . I reached out to my friend, (men’s basketball) Head Coach Jim Hayford, about the project and he connected me with the channels to start implementing the collection. A week later, Luis and I filled our cars with boxes and boxes of SU apparel and started preparing for the project.”

In addition to the haul of Nike apparel, the Guillermo Bravo team received athletic garb spanning decades, with an array of joggers, T-shirts, skirts and jerseys. Says Caswell, “Inspiration was hitting us as we uncovered various logos, embroidered patch work and other materials.”

The boxes of sports apparel sparked a brainstorm session looking at ways to cut, sew and repurpose the worn and weathered items into new creations. “Jerseys and cheerleading skirts that had been sitting in a box for decades were now becoming the feature of our collection,” says Caswell. “We were able to take the integrity of the pieces along with their beautiful branding and recreate them. In this process, we could revive apparel that had lost their original purpose as sportswear, while also paying homage to the players who had once worn them.”

The apparel and footwear lines “flirt between luxury and functionality,” with a dash of the unique and the unconventional. In the case of the Upcycle University Collection, for example, a hoodie is created from old baseball clothing—mostly windbreakers the players don during practice and warmups—and accented with a zipper detail and kangaroo pocket.

“Our future plans include basketball purses—yes, literally made out of basketballs—with gold chain straps and mid-length skirts designed from the old cheerleading uniforms with customizable lengths.”

Caswell’s education has positively impacted her professional journey in a myriad of ways. Graduating with a double degree in Anthropology and Humanities for Leadership, Caswell was born in Seattle but grew up in McKinney, Texas. An opportunity to return to her birth city—and engage in social justice-driven service—drew her to Seattle University.

“Seattle U caught my eye because of its small campus feel, central location in the bustle of Capitol Hill and focus on social justice and community work,” she says. “My professors taught me the importance of discernment: striving toward a career where I can use my talents and passions, feel joy and serve others,” she explains. “It’s also grounded me in the desire to work toward a more just and humane world in whatever career I am in.”

Caswell’s advice for our newest alumni, the Class of 2021, as they embark on their professional paths? Be open to opportunities, be patient and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t have everything figured out.

“When I graduated, I had this moment of panic because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I felt this fear of the unknown. … When I was a student at SU, one of my best friends, Marley, used to tell me that I need to manifest what I wanted in the world. I think I rolled my eyes every time she gave me this piece of advice. But now, it’s one of the biggest things I keep in mind on a daily basis. You never know what opportunities will come your way. Sign up for that informational interview you may not be qualified for (yet). Message that small business on Instagram that sells awesome creative products that you love. Take time to create and foster your passions, both outside and inside your day-to-day work. Growth isn’t linear, but ebbs and flows with the opportunities you take.”

When not at work, Caswell loves to cook and test out new recipes, read and spend time with family and friends. She’s also involved in civic and philanthropic endeavors including the Young Professionals’ Board, organizing events and fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Give me a good book, a campfire and good company and I am happy!”

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