For Winston Nunley, fun and fashion — with a dash of fantasy — always are in style. The more sparkle, shine, color and fringe, the better.
But clothes like that aren’t always easy to find, especially in mainstream retailers like Target.
“When you go into that store and you realize there are no shiny pants in the boys’ section, you know you have a job to do,” he says.
The 11-year-old from Point Breeze has been designing his own clothes and accessories for pre-teen girls and boys and will spotlight his first collection at a fashion show at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Afro American Music Institute in Homewood. The free public event will be a dress rehearsal of sorts for when he’ll present an ensemble at the Custom Tailors Designers Association conference in July at The London NYC hotel in Manhattan.
He brands his work as — and goes by — the name Windafire. Since the fall, he’s studied under the wing of Pittsburgh-based designer Suz Pisano, but he’s dabbled in design since he was 5.
“I started with just Halloween costumes,” he says, and picked up sewing tips along the way from his mom, Christina Springer, a poet and longtime performance artist. A lot of his early creations were upcycled pieces, such as transforming a T-shirt into a dress or adding fabrics to sleeves to give the shirt the illusion of having wings. Now he creates original pieces, including apparel, handbags, hats and wristies, or fingerless mitts in a rainbow of colors and prints.
When Ms. Pisano was a costumier for one of Ms. Springer’s shows, she asked her if she’d consider taking on her son as a student, something atypical for Ms. Pisano.
“He’s a different kid,” she says. “A lot of it is self-directed, which I don’t think you find that with a lot of 11-year-olds who can stick with something. There’s a lot of joy.”
Together they work on hand sewing and sewing machine techniques, along with adding zippers and making waistbands. He’s learned the importance of planning and pinning and mocks up mini versions of looks on a Barbie-sized doll he’s dubbed “experiment girl” before attempting the real thing.
“His knowledge has been steam-rolling,” Ms. Pisano says, adding that there are some college-age design students who likely don’t have the skills and comfort level that he has with using the tools of the trade.
Classes with Ms. Pisano are incorporated into Windafire’s homeschool curriculum.
“In the context of making that fashion line he learned about habitats and history and math,” Ms. Springer says. She also uses his interest in fashion to teach him about some of his ancestors who were garment workers in the 1930s and ’40s. His great-grandmother is the late Maida Springer Kemp, a labor advocate who traveled the world fighting for the rights of garment workers in countries like Africa.
“I cut my pieces on her table,” Windafire says.
His inspiration is drawn mostly from nature, although select ensembles are inspired by his friends — some of whom will model outfits in his fashion show.
“There’s magic hidden a little bit everywhere in nature,” he says. “In the show you’ll see regular people transform into stuff like mermaids, dryads, Betta fish and more.”
Some pieces from the collection and T-shirts with graphics by Windafire will be for sale. A portion of the profits will go to the Afro American Music Institute and the rest will help cushion the costs of Windafire’s trip to New York City.
The opportunity to attend the conference came about through “complete serendipity,” Ms. Springer says. She occasionally posts updates on Windafire’s designs on her Facebook page. Unknown to her, one of her friends from college is a board member with the Custom Tailors Designers Association and has been following her son’s progress on social media. He extended to her an invitation for Windafire to come to the conference as a special guest and take classes in measuring, fitting and fabric and performance.
“He’s probably going to be the only 11-year-old sitting in the room,” Ms. Springer says.
Despite his passion for fashion, Windafire’s keeping his career options open. Last year he wrote a music album and has a growing interest in video production.
“My plan is when I grow up is to be a designer, slash a musician, slash an inventor, slash a director, slash an actor, slash a dancer,” he says.
But his ultimate goal? “To live a happy life.”