As a freshman studying Fashion & Textiles at SUNY Oneonta, Mallory Kerman had never owned a pair of Levi’s. Peek into her closet now and you’ll find SIXTY pairs of the classic denim brand.
The Class of 2018 alumna doesn’t have a shopping addiction, and she didn’t win the lottery. Her talent and hard work have landed her a job as Lead Tailor and Embroidery Artist at a Levi Strauss & Co. retail store south of Los Angeles, and her impressive denim collection is one of the perks.
In her role at Levi’s, Mallory is in charge of all customization. She works one-on-one with customers to make their denim dreams come true – whether they’re simply looking for a better fit or they want their jeans to be distressed and covered with embroidery.
Mallory also manages logistics by coordinating pickups, shipping and delivery of orders. In her downtime, she creates unique display pieces, which customers can purchase. She “celebrates a little inside” every time a piece she designed is sold.
“I get to be really creative in what I do,” she explained. “We have a denim recycle bin, and sometimes I’ll dig through it and pull the Levi’s leather patches off the backs of jeans. I made one of my favorite pieces by patchworking a bunch of them together to make the bear from the California flag for the back of a denim jacket. It sold so fast, it was exciting!”
Mallory’s love of apparel design blossomed inside SUNY Oneonta’s sewing lab.
In Dr. Annacleta Chiweshe’s Innovations in Wearable Art class, Mallory learned how to make garments using unconventional materials and got her first taste of working with denim. It was an eye-opening course that helped her think outside the box with design.
During her sophomore year, Mallory studied abroad in Milan. Living in Italy for six months and getting to visit fashion hotspot Florence was “an amazing experience.”
Mallory’s senior year back at Oneonta was full of hands-on fashion design experiences. She did an independent study with Dr. Chiweshe and created a collection for the Student Fashion Society’s annual spring fashion show.
The best part of SUNY Oneonta’s Fashion department is that students and faculty are “like one, big family,” Mallory said.
“We’d all be in the sewing lab late at night, working and talking and helping each other, listening to music and ordering food sometimes,” she said. “It’s a really cool way to learn and grow. It’s basically like being on Project Runway but with a much longer deadline!”
Stitching Her Way to Success
An LA internship with a luxury fashion brand during Mallory’s senior year opened the door for her to return to the West Coast for an assistant position after completing her degree at Oneonta.
“I moved three days after graduating without anywhere to live or a car,” she said. “It wasn’t really my dream job, but I knew I wanted to be back in LA, so I jumped at the chance.”
Several jobs later and Mallory had discovered that sitting behind a computer was not for her. She wanted to be hands-on, like she had been at Oneonta, with her foot on the pedal of a sewing machine.
When she met her first embroidery machine at a small retail shop, she fell in love and began working there, learning how to embroider names and intricate designs and getting experience in denim tailoring. She also learned that she loves working with people.
“It was a really good feeling to see someone feel really good in a pair of jeans I tailored to fit them,” Mallory said. When it was time to move on to a new challenge, Mallory noticed a job opening that seemed right up her alley at Levi’s – and she’s been there ever since.
Mallory’s next goal is to start her own business, Rebel Rose Custom Embroidery. And she’s well on her way, having purchased an embroidery machine of her own and created a logo and website. Right now, she’s only taking orders from family and friends. Her favorite order so far was an embroidered portrait of rapper Lil Wayne on the back of a denim jacket.
Her favorite material to work with is, of course, Levi’s denim.
“Because I’ve gotten to work so closely with it, I’ve definitely become a denim snob,” she laughed. “I pretty much only wear Levi’s now. Anything else is just not the same quality.”