Combating Injustice With a Uniquely Queer, Athletic Aesthetic

Dustin Loveland (photo by Jim Barcus)

Rage at systemic abuse drives Kansas City fashion designer Dustin Loveland’s spring collection

On a cool March evening, Union Station was buzzing as Kansas City Fashion Week kicked off. The crowd was adorned in their best, most innovative looks. Vendors, photo walls and media bustled behind the curtained entrance. The lights lowered, music boomed and models began stomping, sashaying and swaying down the runway. Just before intermission, the music shifted as men and boyish nonbinary people made their way down the runway in swirls of pink, blue and orange. Their garments were sporty and genderbending.

Unbeknownst to nonbinary designer and sewer Dustin Loveland when he chose these models, all eight are members of the LGBTQ+ community — a first for Kansas City Fashion Week.

Loveland’s collection, Wall Yeller, premiering in front of hundreds of onlookers, marked a culmination of many months of work, both artistically and personally.

Loveland’s design career began with spandex and athletic wear. Leaning into that, he designed eight polished looks that were wholly unique. Though there is a clear theme in the athleticism and coloring, each look became its own character in Loveland’s mind, including the racer, the coach, the tennis player and the skater. Some of the garments include exuberant prints he and local printmakers, Ruben Castillo and Kate Horvat, designed and printed. Though this took a full two days to complete, Loveland was elated to be working with his printmaking roots again.

Mentor and former Project Runway contestant Joshua Christensen reached out to Loveland and encouraged him to apply to show at Fashion Week. The encouragement was balm.

Both deeply personal and larger cultural abuses in the fashion industry — Loveland cited “wage disparities, federal labor loopholes, emotional manipulation, and misrepresenting altruistic missions” — had left him in a state of rage and stasis. Ultimately, Wall Yeller was born out of this anger and the gratitude that came from working through it.

Wall Yeller’s title comes from a term used in the long-running reality series “Big Brother.”

Fans of the show who try to warn contestants about lies or traps are called wall yellers because they are known to shout their warnings over the high walls of the Big Brother house. This reality show trope formed an important symbol in Loveland’s mind: The walls around systematic injustice are high, unscalable, and, for many who want to make a difference, seemingly insurmountable — yet the yellers persist. Loveland elaborates, “‘Wall Yeller’ is dedicated to those people who are surviving in unwelcoming industries and communities and are contributing — even in the smallest way — in making it better for others like them in the future.”

Anger as a Creative Driver

With roots in printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute, Loveland shifted into fashion in 2017. He worked in an array of smaller fashion brands, hoping to boost small businesses, which, he was surprised and disappointed to discover, are not immune to abuses and injustices.

In one particularly harrowing event, he was assigned to teach sewing skills to disenfranchised people, primarily women of color who had experienced addiction, abuse and/or homelessness. The program was framed as a way for them to gain real-world job skills and reap financial benefits, but he soon realized that the women were being exploited by being paid by the piece rather than an hourly rate. After crunching the numbers, Loveland discovered these workers were making much less than minimum wage. He assumed the owners of the company would correct this mistake when he brought them his findings, but he was met with indifference instead. This incident was just one of many that spurred anger in Loveland and caused him to leave commercial fashion.

“Runner” from Dustin Loveland’s “Wall Yeller” collection, which takes its title from a term used in the long-running reality series “Big Brother.” (Wall Yeller Collection: photos by Atherton Photography)

Loveland did not get stuck in the mire of rage; instead, he picked up literature and practices, like incense making, that shifted his perspective and enabled him to learn something about himself and the way he wants to operate in the world. He was also able to hone his artistic voice and push these experiences into his fashion collection.

Wall Yeller stitches these personal practices with the physical materials of spandex, self-made prints and hues of pink, blue and orange. These colors were intentionally selected because of their relation to fire. Some meditative practices incorporate incense as a way of, “telling time through combustion,” Loveland said. The stick or swirl is lit at the beginning of a meditation, emitting one scent for the duration of the session, and shifting to another to pull the meditator back to reality. Because Loveland had been experiencing a shift in his own life from anger to gratitude, he wanted to convey a theme of change through combustion — setting fire to one layer to reveal something new.

Wall Yeller is a bright, playful collection despite being born out of difficulty. It is also unique in its genderless menswear/nonbinary focus. Loveland will continue along these lines and is currently producing patterns for gender-expansive audiences. While fashion’s current offerings for sewing patterns tend to be more traditional — button-ups and khakis — Loveland is excited to pull from his queer, nonbinary lens to fill in gaps in the industry, especially with his uniquely queer, athletic aesthetic.

For more about Loveland, visit dustinloveland.com.

Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

Leave a Reply