by Macy Berendsen
Designer Lily Dozer on growing up in Wisconsin, drawing inspiration from craft and life as a student in New York City.
Long before she moved to New York City to get a degree in design, Lily Dozer was experimenting in art mediums and learning to sew at a young age.
“My grandma is a quilter, and so she taught me how to sew when I was around ten. I always really liked fashion– I liked to dress myself. My mom never picked out my clothes or anything. I would always go and pick out what I wanted. That was when I started really liking clothes.”
Lily is studying fashion design at Parsons School of Design, a private art and design college located in Greenwich Village in New York City. Before she even got accepted to Parsons, Lily was creating art in her high school classroom in her hometown of Appleton.
Doing art in high school was a way to experiment and create, but considering art as a career was something Lily struggled with.
“Within Wisconsin, I think that it’s a hard place to choose art as a career path because no one really chooses that. A lot of people in Wisconsin are really creative and they’re really crafty, but I think that a lot more people see it as a hobby rather than a career path. So, having a sustainable career in art was never really something that I saw myself having because it wasn’t around me.”
Freshman year of high school was when Lily started her art medium in design. Thrifting clothes and upcycling them, or thrifting fabrics to experiment with was Lily’s first real introduction to the design and construction of clothes.
“I never really considered pursuing design until I was a senior in high school because I was just really afraid of the risk factor of it.”
In high school, Lily was involved in DECA, formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America, where she created a fashion show as one of her junior year projects.
That DECA fashion show junior year of high school launched Lily into a pre-college program at SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) for fashion design. There, Lily started using dress forms, industrial sewing machines and resources that gave her her first taste of the professional world of design.
“When I was younger, it was more so just a focus point on art and using a medium of sewing to get my ideas out. Then as I grew up and learned more and met more people involved in the industry and met people that wanted to do fashion design. I learned more about fashion design. I was like okay, yeah– this is something that I really want to do.”
Growing up in Wisconsin meant a limited amount of access to resources in the art industry. Wisconsin is known as a blue-collar state, where lots of the common jobs lean far away from the creative career path.
At her SAIC program in high school is where Lily first really learned about art schools and what those could provide.
“I didn’t know anything about art schools in high school. When I went to SAIC, that’s when I really learned the most about college and what I wanted to do and everything because I was surrounded by so many people who were from all over the place that like really focused on going to art school and who grew up in places like San Francisco, where like they knew so much more about art.”
Lily applied to seventeen colleges in high school, one being Parsons, where she currently studies. Parsons School of Design has an acceptance rate of 46%, according to the College Board. Parsons is one of the top fashion schools in New York, others being Fashion Institute of Technology and Pratt Institute.
Lily explained how Parsons is a lot more conceptual than FIT, which is more focused on form.
“Parsons is more so focused on being a designer and making your own brand or working for couture houses, or something like that. It’s more seeing fashion as more of an art form. That is fashion is more something tactile, or something industrialized.”
Next year, Lily will be entering her senior year of college at Parsons. This year, she’s taking a different approach and focusing on the root of her art.
“There’s a lot of different focal points within fashion. That’s what I’m learning about because I’m on a gap year right now. So next year, I’m going back for my senior year. The reason why I want a gap year is because I’m trying to figure out what specifically I want to do when I graduate.”
During her gap year so far, Lily has done freelance costuming work, as well as interning for designers like Christian Cowen and Bonnie Young.
“I’m kind of all over the place with what I want to do because I’ve just been trying a lot of new things.”
Costuming has been a big interest for Lily as she navigates her gap year. Last summer, she freelanced costumed a short film and is now currently freelance costuming a thesis film.
“I danced for a really long time when I was younger. I would really like to do dance costumes and work for the New York City Ballet.”
Now, she is taking the remainder of her gap year in her own direction.
“I’m thinking about taking a break and working on selling my own clothes because that’s something I like and while I’ve been in school I took a lot of time off. I kind of had deep impostor syndrome about if I could actually do it. Now, I am actually working in the industry and meeting a lot of people in the industry and having support from people in the industry. I’m like, ‘oh, this is so so possible.’”
One of Lily’s main focus of her art is craft. Her childhood and upbringing in Wisconsin plays a huge part into how she views art today and how it sets her apart from other designers.
“I love crafts like knitting, quilting, stuff like that. I love materiality. Craft plays a really big role in my work and I think that that’s purely because of Wisconsin. I’ve met so many amazing artists in Wisconsin and some of the best artists that I know are in Wisconsin, like my grandma’s friends who are making these insane quilts.”
Wisconsin is home to many artists who frequent art fairs, farmers markets, and more; utilizing the art techniques they’ve grown up learning, the joy of creating with others and the materials and influences of the Wisconsin environment.
“In terms of Wisconsin, I think that the biggest thing is just this emphasis on craft, people in Wisconsin don’t give themselves enough credit as artists, right? Whether it’s like all the little boutiques and stuff in Door County or like this art fair every year I go to with my grandma in Sheboygan. I’ve gotten like the most insane jewelry from there, and the artists just talk about like, ‘oh, yeah, like it’s whatever.’ That’s so different from how people in the industry in New York would talk about their stuff. I think that its people in Wisconsin are really, really humble about their art. That’s something that I’ve really carried on throughout my current art and that’s something that I value a lot within art.”
One of my final questions for Lily was, if you were given the chance to grow up on the east coast close to New York, or other big cities, would you?
“No. Never, never, never, never, never, never, never. No, because that’s something that as I get older, I think to myself, I am so grateful that I grew up in Wisconsin. I am so so so so so so so so grateful.”
You can find more of Lily’s work on her website lilydozer.com, or on her Instagram, @lilydozer. Macy Berendsen is a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minnesota, but is originally from Appleton, Wisconsin. She is finishing her final year of undergrad at the University of St. Thomas, studying journalism and English. More of Macy’s work can be found on her website, macyberendsen.com.