When Ithaca College sophomore Michael Zilvetti isn’t doing schoolwork, he’s designing and promoting his own fashion line.
His brand, Barbed New York, is set to launch on Nov. 18. An official look book will be out on Nov. 11. The idea for Barbed came out of a high school math classroom where Zilvetti doodled in his notebook to pass the time.
“Out of those doodles, this kind of idea of barbed wire as a symbol came out,” Zilvetti said.
As he went onto college to pursue integrated marketing communications, Zilvetti grew an interest in bringing those sketches to life through wearable art.
“I was always interested in streetwear, hip hop fashion and skateboard culture and that turned into me wanting to actually make something out of it,” Zilvetti said.
Zilvetti admits to having little background in fashion aside from his admiration of skater and streetwear brands like Supreme and Palace. Clothing serves as his medium through which he chooses to bring art into the mainstream.
Zilvetti said the motif of barbed wire repeated throughout his designs symbolizes how he feels artists are constricted and held back in a society that values technology and innovation over expression and connection.
“We focus all of our attention on STEM and science and math, and you have to do that to be successful, but art is what makes us feel something,” Zilvetti said.
Barbed wire is not impenetrable, but climbing it is dangerous. Similarly, Zilvetti said, pursuing art is possible, but difficult.
“That’s kind of the idea that a lot of artists face, where it hurts to be an artist, but you do it anyway,” Zilvetti said.
Honing His Skills
Before college, Zilvetti’s doodles and ideas existed only on paper. During his first year at IC, he decided to take Edd Schneider’s graphic design class, where he used his designs for class assignments.
“I took his class because I wanted to learn how to do actual graphic design, because I’ve always done doodles,” Zilvetti said. “I wanted to learn how to make that into something that you could print or you could put on a website. Something that’s high quality but not fine art.”
Schneider said he remembered Zilvetti using Barbed for an assignment for which the class had to create a style guide — a set of standards major companies use to dictate how to present their visual designs.
“Mike used Barbed for that project. I can remember what it looks like right now. It’s just nice to see something that’s done for my class have real-world use,” Schneider said.
Entrepreneurship, Schneider said, is a skill Ithaca’s Park School of Communications tries to focus on.
“The more you can tell faculty about your own interests helps them serve you better,” Schneider said.
Zilvetti said the biggest challenges he’s faced have been staying in touch with manufacturers to ensure the quality of his clothing is consistent and creating completely original ideas that don’t simply follow trends.
“It’s been a long process kind of doing one thing after another making things that don’t look good at all and I would never put on a shirt or a hat or anything,” Zilvetti said.
He said he kept creating projects he wasn’t satisfied with until he made something he was proud of.
After Zilvetti digitally designed his pieces, he had to research manufacturers to make sure to choose a reliable company. He then requested samples to check the quality before going through with his orders.
Zilvetti said though Barbed’s first season focuses mainly on branding, he has already begun designing the second. He said his brand will stand out from other similar lines because he plans on collaborating with lesser-known artists and musicians to showcase their talent.
“People make really cool things. There are so many cool bands and cool artists and graphic designers and I have so many friends just at school here who, in their notebooks are doodling a photo-realistic eye during class,” Zilvetti said. “And that person has never published anything. They’ve never had their work seen by anyone on a large scale. I want to make that possible for people through Barbed.”
Zilvetti’s ultimate goal is to keep designing his apparel but to hire a team of people to take care of the business side. He said he hopes Barbed will be grouped into the industry of hype-based fashion where only a few desired products are available to thousands of fans.
“A big goal would be if I could open up a pop-up shop for a weekend and have people in the door,” Zilvetti said. “That’d be amazing.”