It all started at a summer camp in the mountains of New Hampshire.
Every Saturday night the campers would get together for a weekly square dance. Sam Fox senior Emma Rubinson’s first foray into fashion was cutting up T-shirts with one of her friends so they had zany outfits to match the camper-agreed-upon crazy dress code for the dances.
Rubinson is now on the cusp of receiving her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in fashion and is the creator of a TikTok account with just under 110,000 followers, where she shares her extensive knowledge about the inner workings of fashion to the online world.
Reply to @peppergilly14 my first born child
♬ original sound – emma
After that square-dance-filled summer at camp, Rubinson took some sewing classes throughout middle school and got into upcycling: the process of repurposing goods, like shopping bags, newspaper and candy boxes, into new creations. “I’ve always been interested in taking materials and seeing how far I can push them.”
On a flight to Israel during her senior year of high school, Rubinson used a pair of giant needles to knit together shredded up T-shirts. She had rounded up around 200 T-shirts from friends that she shredded into T-shirt yarn. After spending around 100 hours on the project, she had finally completed a gown-length dress.
While Rubinson has since parted ways with that dress she made at the age of 17 (affectionately referred to as “my first-born child” in one of her video’s captions), she brought it back into the public eye on her TikTok account.
Like a lot of people cooped up over the past summer, Rubinson’s friends told her that she should download the popular video-sharing app. Her friends not only succeeded in the initial push for her to download the app but also successfully encouraged her to post fashion content.
“For some reason, I was bored enough that I was like, ‘I’m just gonna do it,’” Rubinson said.
While the initial decision to start the account was largely made out of boredom, the decision to grow her audience was driven by the potential for the opportunity that the app held. Rubinson saw TikTok as a way to grow a platform for her work and drive traffic to her Instagram, her website and her online store. Besides those tangible benefits, she recognized the importance that TikTok could hold in the workforce.
She realized she could sell herself not only as a passionate designer but as someone with a deep knowledge of this burgeoning media tool.
Rubinson currently has a total of 1.2 million likes on her videos and her most liked video, showing viewers how to sew a circle skirt, checks in at around 1.1 million views.
Her videos are clearly being put to good use by some of her followers, with one viewer commenting “I just made this and I LOVE it,” and another commenting “this is the easiest way I’ve ever heard this explained” (both comments made complete with some emojis, true to TikTok form) on her circle skirt video.
Her initial goal was to hit ten thousand followers so she could join TikTok’s creator fund and start getting paid. The next goal, which she has also met, was to reach a hundred thousand followers so she could start receiving sponsorships.
“I’ll show you what I got,” Rubinson said on our Zoom call, reaching for a white water bottle from ‘The Coldest Water’ brand. “This is my first sponsorship. It has my name engraved in the back.”
Rubinson’s current goal to reach a million followers is spurred not only by the immediate financial benefits that come with it, but from a drive to draw attention to her work.
“How sick would it be to have a million followers to release my collection to?” Rubinson said, referring to the collection she’s making as part of her Wash. U. capstone project.
Rubinson is currently a part-time student at Sam Fox, taking two studio courses to work on the capstone collection that all fashion students are required to create for their major.
“Mine’s about dreams,” Rubinson said. “I’ve always just been really interested in dreams and challenging our concept of reality.”
Her fascination with dreams is manifesting itself in her work through different materials—some of which are light reactive, others that glow in the dark, some that are holographic and others that change their appearance under black light.
“I’ve just done a lot of research into dreams over my life,” Rubinson said. “I feel like it’s personal and it’s something that people can relate to, and it was also an opportunity for me to just go crazy with whatever.”
“You can’t tell me that’s not really a dream.”
Rubinson is stitching together her phantasmagorical fashion world in the basement of Bixby Hall. She shares the room with the six other seniors completing their capstone projects and the resources they each have in their personal workspace: a sewing machine, a desk, a cutting table and a mannequin.
The confines of her workspace have not stopped Rubinson from thinking outside her present reality, into not only her world of dreams and the subconsciousness but into the world that she will be entering post-graduation.
“I’ve very strongly drawn a line between clothing design and fashion design,” she said. Rubinson spoke about wanting to become a fashion designer as opposed to a clothing designer with a level of certainty that comes only from years of engrossing oneself in a certain field.
She explained that, in her eyes, clothing design is “meant for a consumer,” “a purpose;” that its foundation lies in its practicality. “I think that it does involve design, but it’s not the type of design that I want to be doing,” she said.
“I think fashion design, to me, is more of an art form,” Rubinson continued. “I think that it can inform a lot of trends and a lot of things that you see in the market…but I also think that it has this extra level of creativity.”
Developing T-shirt yarn and finding the “beauty in extremes” lines up well with Rubinson’s constant pursuit to reach new levels of creativity within her work. For now, she’s channeling her creativity into her capstone project while keeping an eye on her future.
“I’m thinking in kind of two realms right now,” Rubinson said. “One of them is I need a job when I graduate, and one of them is my big dream of wanting to own a fashion couture line.”
It was clear from talking to Rubinson that since first beautifying T-shirts for square dances, she has worked endlessly on weaving her creativity into fashion. And now she just has over 100,000 followers ready to see what she does.