By W. Patillo III
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
It’s midnight on a random school night, and while most students are sleeping, Gabb Derwen is up late focusing on fabric as a needle punches through over and over.
Derwen, 22, coming from a single-parent household in Baltimore, said he always had dreams of attending college. But, it wasn’t until he enrolled at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore in 2015 that he found his passion for fashion. He declared a major in Fashion Merchandising.
“Growing up, I was always an outcast, but I didn’t care,” said Derwen, explaining that his “dare to be different” personality and behavior separated him from his peers. “I realized that regardless of my dreams, some will support it, and some will not.”
In March 2017, Derwen said he was satisfied that he had finally found the right path, so he dropped out of school to pursue his goals full time. During his transition, he worked part time at Cold Stone Creamery near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Seven months after dropping out of UMES, Derwen showcased his first collection of fashions at the land-grant historically black university in Princess Anne County. He exhibited his own designs and his mentor, Quincy Jones Jr., helped open doors.
“The message behind his brand,” said Jones, “is to be different and wear whatever makes you feel confident.”
Derwen’s clothing brand started as StRange FRuit” but now is known as StRange FRuit Lifestyle Brand.
“I used to think sewing my own garments would be too difficult back when I first started my clothing brand,” Derwen said, “but as the years went on, it got a lot easier.”
Derwen’s brand name came from a desire to capture history. “Strange Fruit” began as a poem published in 1937 by teacher Abel Meeropol to protest the lynching of African Americans and other American racist actions. Jazz singer Billie Holiday performed and recorded “Strange Fruit” in 1939. Since most of the lynching victims were black men, the song’s lyrics became a metaphor linking a tree’s fruit with lynching victims.
At 20-years-old, Derwen created his first clothing item, a high low tank top. The item resembled a regular tank top front with a black and white American flag print, while the back – made of a long tan jersey knit fabric – hangs lower.
So far, Derwen’s biggest challenge has been a bubble trench coat. He said the coat merges a bubble coat, also known as bombers or puffer coats, with a traditional trench coat. This new hybrid garment is both stylish and suitable for the weather, he said, boasting that this piece once sold for $150.
Derwen quit his part-time job when sales started pouring in. He said his grind to be successful attracted customers, friends and the community in general.
“I love his brand and the idea behind it, but he needs to lower some of the pricing,” said customer Kirshaundo Wallace, Jr. “You can tell he dedicates himself to his brand, but he needs to find a way to make a bigger logo stamp somehow.”
Derwen said the bigger picture is to be the first African American designer who becomes a fashion staple in the industry. He said his dream is to become a legendary fashion Haus like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Balenciaga and Christian Dior.
“I feel I will be able to change the lives of my family and the generations to come,” said Derwen of his creative skills and talent. “I will create jobs not only for my family but for those who look just like me.
“I want to say to anyone who has a dream of being something or someone great, always remember consistency, patience, dedication, hope and serenity are essential keys to success,” he said.