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Howard University alum starts design business, heads to New York Fashion Week

Thursday - 7/4/2013, 7:47am  ET

One local business owner expands her brand beyond D.C. with her Simply L3ve line. (Courtesy of Michelle Gibson)
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Natalie Tomlin, special to

WASHINGTON - Live, laugh, love. As cliché as it may be, up-and-coming fashion designer Michelle Gibson, 21, knew she wanted to use her life mantra to name her eco-chic fashion line during its inception just two-and-a-half years ago.

"That's me," she says. "I like cute little things like that, and out of those three, it was love. That is what I always wanted to remember."

So, Simply L3ve was born.

Gibson's environmentally conscious designs have come a long way in a short time. She was just a sophomore at Howard University when she founded Simply L3ve and she started by showcasing three looks in her first year.

Fewer than two years after establishing her business, she featured her line in D.C. Fashion Week's Emerging Designer Showcase. This year, she's headed to New York Fashion Week.

"It was crazy because I wanted to do [D.C. Fashion Week] for so long, but I said, 'I'm going to wait until I get the line up.' But my professor ... kept pushing me to do it and send in my stuff and see what they say, and they accepted so fashion week we went!" Gibson says.

She had three weeks to prepare for the show, and with her mom's help, she sketched, sewed and chose models for her first big production.

"It was intense," she says. "It was a good experience and I learned a lot because a week after that I opened the online store."

Choosing from 100 models at the model call was the moment Gibson realized she had become what she had only dreamed of before.

"That was the first time I realized, ‘Wow, I'm a designer.' It was really, really cool."

Although Gibson didn't begin sewing and designing her own clothes until her college years, she was interested in personal style at a young age. She says the way girls would take their school uniform and make it their own always fascinated her.

"Looking at fashion magazines was the closest I ever got, and it always felt like this outside world ... you never see the behind-the-scenes of life as a designer," Gibson says. "You just see clothes in the store. That's why I wanted to study and major in it because I wanted to learn all about the industry."

Being the daughter of two scientists didn't make her choice to study fashion at Howard University easy.

"It was very, very hard," Gibson says. "It wasn't until now that my mother will walk into my studio and almost burst into tears because ... she can see how much I've grown very, very fast. They're supportive now."

The May 2013 Howard graduate is now focused on expanding the name of the brand and building its reputation here in the District, but someday she hopes to move to New York or California.

Like her 'live, laugh, love' mantra, Gibson uses three words to describe the essence of Simply L3ve -- chic, feminine and sophisticated.

"I write these three words on my sketchbook and see if [my sketches] fit these three things," she says.

After taking a fashion sustainability course at Howard, Gibson knew she wanted her line to be as sustainable as possible.

"I want to change the perception that they can just be really cute clothes that so happen to eco-friendly at the same time, rather than it just being in that niche market," she says.

Simply L3ve uses organic, recycled fabrics and plastics and Gibson is transitioning to all-natural dyes in an effort to always be moving forward.

She also hopes to slow down fashion by including the practice of made-to-order designs rather than mass-producing every color and size.

"The production would be huge," she says. "We're just making things for that certain person."

Customers can purchase Gibson's pieces on her website or via her second online store on OpenSky, a "Facebook for shopping" where members can discover and share emerging brands and make connections with small businesses.

Gibson receives new opportunities weekly to showcase her collection, but she remains selective so she can focus on continuing to build the line.

She often works with other emerging creatives in D.C., but most of the time she does a lot of the work herself. From modeling her own clothes to writing about her experiences on her blog, Gibson takes on many roles to promote Simply L3ve.

Gibson's favorite aspect of the design process is finding sources of inspiration from nature. She is constantly taking pictures of everything around her and uses the photos to create her own graphic designs on Photoshop.

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