Marshall Columbia

Andres Burgos
Andy Polanco
Jo Rosenthal

At the young age of 24, Marshall Columbia has made waves in the fashion industry with his effervescent line of bags and garments. Based in Brooklyn, Marshall actually began his brand during quarantine because of the extra time he had on his hands. The designer  dipped his toes in the industry early on in his New York journey by working with a costume designer all while maintaining his composure in an ever growing, hustling city. 

Now able to focus on his own work, his bags fly off the shelves of every website they are attached to, making Marshall’s pieces something that everybody wants. Not many people can say that. With his fantastic use of color and an even more fantastic work ethic, Marshall is someone everyone should know. Puss Puss had the pleasure of sitting down with Marshall to pick his brain on everything from how he spent the quarantine, where he sees himself in the industry and what advice he has for someone who wants to do the fabulous work that he does. 

Jo Rosenthal: What is your New York journey? 
Marshall Columbia: I moved to New York about three years ago from Denver to study fashion design at FIT. Pretty soon after moving here I met Diego Montoya, a costume designer, who hired me as his assistant. It was an amazing experience working with him especially for someone so new to design. I worked on projects for drag queens like Sasha Velour, Shangela and Bob the Drag Queen. So while I was a full time fashion student I was also working all my off days or mornings at his studio. When people told me New York was going to be a hustle, they really weren’t joking. As I was finishing school I ended up getting a job with HBO as assistant costume designer for the show We’re Here. Although costume design has been so much fun and taught me a lot, I’ve always known that starting my own brand is something I’d want to do in the future. And as the pandemic prematurely shut down production for the show and locked us all in our homes for months, it was a perfect opportunity to focus on my own work. I started making handbags out of necessity to make money and then a collection of clothing grew from there. 
JR: Talk to us a little bit about your process…
MC: Spending time in an ideal world is one of the things I enjoy most about what I do, and I reflect a lot back on my earlier childhood as a source of inspiration. I had some of my happiest memories running around the house in my sister’s ballet costumes, playing with her Barbies, making crafts and knitting and playing dress up with my neighbors. Thankfully, I didn’t really understand the concept of gender norms, which was the beauty of that time in my life. The early exploration of my own queer identity was in those moments, even if I didn’t understand that either. Later on in life as I grew into my understanding of who I am as a queer person, it felt as if I was coming full circle with who I was as a child. With disregard for what is “normal” or expected of me, I have grown into this space of creative freedom once again. Ultimately I want to bring that energy into my designs. There is a growing freedom to how people dress within my generation and in the younger generation and I only want to expand that with my work. We can still be playful with how we dress at any age. I don’t want to grow out of being a child in a sense and I don’t think anyone else should either.
JR: Would you consider yourself more of an artist or more of a designer?
MC: I think being an artist and designer is interdependent. I love the concept of dressing real people to make them feel confident and comfortable and sexy, but there’s also a concept behind what I do and an energy I try to create in the spaces my clothes exist. But I don’t think I would ever classify a garment I make as a piece of art. For me, clothes are clothes. 
JR: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
MC: Aside from spending time developing ideas, I really love seeing people wearing what I make. And I love seeing when the context of the clothing changes because of people’s person styles. Everyone wears them differently. I can’t wait for when I am able to produce larger quantities of clothing for people to wear. My dream is to see some random person out on the street one day dressed in a piece I designed. 
JR: What are you working on right now?
MC: Right now I’m just working on some more designs to come out in the fall and winter and also a few collaborations with other designers that I’m excited to share.  I’m not pushing for a big collection release quite yet. I think it’s more important to just get more work out as it comes in small waves. On that note I also think the way designers release clothing or collections doesn’t have to continue to be how it has always been. I’m still figuring out what that will look like for my brand but I don’t think conventional fashion shows will be the answer. 
JR: How did you spend your quarantine?
MC: The lockdown was actually the reason I was able to start my brand right now. It was a much needed break mentally. And honestly unemployment gave me the funds to just work on developing my ideas and brand. I was able to build my website, create a line of handbags and make a mini summer collection all out of my apartment living room. It was not a glamorous space to work in but I am very thankful for the time I had. And recently I just moved into my first studio separate from my apartment! At the beginning of quarantine I wouldn’t have thought I would be in a place to be able to make that step, but the support from everyone over these past few months has been so amazing. It makes me really excited about the future. 
JR: Who are some friends / artists that you’d like to shout out?
MC: There are so many designers out there that really inspire me with their work. Mowalola, Erika Maish, Paula Canovas del Vas and Timo Sassen are just a few of the young designers I can think of off the top of my head that really excite me about the future of fashion. I also want to shout out knitwear designer Shradha Kochhar. We’ve been collaborating on some really fun things we’re excited to share with everyone soon!
JR: What advice do you have to someone who wants to be you / do what you do?
MC: Well obviously I don’t have all the answers as I’m still trying to figure out a lot of things myself. But the biggest thing is trust your intuition!! It’s so important to listen to yourself and trust that your point of view is special and worthy of people’s time and money. Another piece of advice someone once gave me is to just put as much work out as possible. It doesn’t matter if I can only afford to make one look or a fifteen look collection. Just keep pushing yourself to produce as much work as you can. That’s what’s helped me to develop my point of view even further. The more you make the more you begin to understand yourself as a designer. 
Photographer: Andres Burgos
Stylist: Andy Polanco
Hair: Kazu Katahira
Makeup: Hiroto Yamauchi
Production: David Thompson
Talent:  Sebastian Rosemarie @ Unite Unite 
Interview: Jo Rosenthal