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Steven stands on a patio overlooking the city skyline. He has short pink hair and is wearing a denim jacket. He smiles as he looks into the camera.

Steven Sweet Ruth's DEBUT Collection Celebrates Queer Masculinity

Born and raised in Merced, in California’s Central Valley, Steven Sweet Ruth attended Merced High School before heading to FIDM to complete an A.A. in Fashion Design in 2022. He was then accepted into the Advanced Fashion Design Program. His Lavender Tribune Collection will be shown at FIDM’s Annual DEBUT Runway Show event, livestreaming on March 31, 2023, at 2:30 PM PDT. The collection “is a tribute to LGBT history and elders. I wanted to honor those who have paved the way before me.” We checked in with him to learn more. 

Tell us a little about yourself. I have been an artist my entire life. I've played with a lot of different mediums, but fashion has become my favorite. I truly believe I can find inspiration in anything to create fashion. I am constantly growing and evolving as an artist and a designer. Growing up in a small-ish town, I have never been super up to date with trends, nor do I care, really. I prefer to wear and design what's true to myself, rather than following mainstream culture. This is doubly true in terms of my queer identity. I am a nonbinary transmasculine bisexual. I feel very strongly connected to queer history, especially the queer liberation movement. Queer people as a whole should not have to change who we are to fit into society.

Steven Sweet Ruth's print process page for DEBUT collection 2023

Tell us about your DEBUT collection. I looked to the past to define the future of fashion. I wanted to approach this collection with a focus on masculinity in particular, and the different ways masculinity is expressed within the queer community. From butches and drag kings to trans, gay, and bisexual men, I wanted to celebrate queer masculinity, which takes on a different form than the mainstream definition of masculinity. 

All pieces and looks are completely gender neutral. Every piece is full of details that nod to queer history. Patchwork fabric represents the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Rope cording and leather pays homage to kink communities. I designed my own newspaper fabric print to serve as a tapestry of history, illustrating both our hard-won victories as well as our devastating losses. Oversized fits call back to the struggle of many “female-bodied” persons shopping in “men’s” clothing sections and stores. 

What silhouettes and fabrics can we expect to see? Lots of denim and leather, ropes and belts. The silhouettes are mostly loose-fitting jackets and pants.

Steven Sweet Ruth's print mood board for DEBUT collection 2023

What is your point of view, as a designer? In general, but especially for my DEBUT collection, I want to use my platform as a designer and artist to stand up for what I believe in. Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, human rights are in danger, including LGBT rights. Conservative states are pushing against education about LGBT issues in schools and homosexuality remains illegal in many countries. Trans rights are regressing in the UK. By looking back on our relatively recent history, we remember the fight isn’t over. We don’t have to take this lying down. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going away.

I also want to advocate for the use of genuine leather. Genuine leather lasts longer and is better for the environment than faux leather. I do not support the slaughter of animals solely for leather and/or fur, however. Leather and hides from animals like cows and pigs, for example, are sustainable because they are coming from animals that are already being raised for meat. I believe in using as much of the animal as possible. 

Steven Sweet Ruth's model fitting for DEBUT collection 2023

How do you hope people will feel when they see your designs? I want to invoke a mixture of positive and negative emotions with my designs. I want people to appreciate the quality and detail of my work. At the same time, I want them to read the headlines and feel that pain, if only for a few minutes. When I first learned about LGBT history and the AIDS crisis in particular, I felt connected to my queer elders and ancestors in a way I never really had before. I want the audience to feel that connection with us.

What inspires you as a creative and as a fashion designer? My earliest inspiration is historical fashion, particularly 20th century fashion. I learned to sew by making historical looks for my dolls as a kid. I still draw on historical influences to this day. I like combining elements from different eras to create something entirely new. 

I am also very inspired by music and alternative subcultures, especially punk and metal. For me, being alternative is more than just the music you listen to and the clothes you wear, but your point of view as well. You can’t be alt if you’re still supporting the establishment.

What is a lesson you've learned as you've been working on your collection? Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. I’ve always been a very shy and nervous person, so even initially standing in front of my DEBUT class with my moodboard and explaining my ideas was terrifying. Even though it’s something I’m really passionate about, it feels like exposing a part of myself, in a way. Getting the courage to do this collection and not compromising my artistic vision has been difficult, but well worth it. Many other people have given me advice for the direction my collection should go, some of which I loved and incorporated, and some of which I decided against. I’m very proud of myself for staying true to my vision and not just doing things to please others.

Tell us about your path to FIDM. I started sewing by making clothes for my dolls as a kid. From there, I got into historical fashion, and my mom suggested I go into fashion design for college. I took a fashion class at my high school to dip my toes into it, and loved it. Now I'm still designing with historical influences in mind.

How is FIDM helping you get closer to your career goals? Being at FIDM has taught me a lot about the fashion industry and design as a whole. I would be happy working in the fashion industry as either a pattern drafter or a technical designer. However, because of my background designing for dolls (fashion on a smaller scale), I could also see myself in the toy industry as well.

Any advice for someone considering applying to be a DEBUT student? Don't be afraid to experiment with different styles. Even if you think you’ve figured out exactly what you like to design, it doesn’t hurt to try new things. You never know! You might discover something you really like that you never realized before. I like a lot of different aesthetics, so during my A.A. at FIDM, I went in a lot of different directions. In the end, I think I have reached a more refined version of my style for DEBUT.

Follow Steven Sweet Ruth’s journey on Instagram @stevensweetdesign.

Categories:  Fashion Design Student