5 Questions with fashion designer Imani Batts | Pittsburgh City Paper

5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts

click to enlarge 5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts
Photo: Courtesy of Imani Batts
Imani Batts

Imani Batts, a native Pittsburgher from the West Mifflin and Homestead area, has been making clothes and outfits under the store name Catherine Trendz for the last few years, prioritizing sustainability by using upcycled clothing and fabrics. However, her creative collections push the bounds even more, using unconventional materials to tell stories inspired by her personal experiences.

Pittsburgh City Paper spoke to Batts about her GRWM collection, thrifting, and passing on the craft of sewing.

click to enlarge 5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts
Photo: Courtesy of Imani Batts

How long have you been interested in our fashion and textiles?

I've been interested — I will say my whole entire life. To be honest, I had a passion for fashion at a very young age. I remember saying I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was in kindergarten. I had an interest in the arts for quite some time. My uncle is also an artist and he opened my eyes to drawing and stuff like that. But I always was fascinated with clothing.

I've been officially making clothes since 2021, it was a bunch of upcycling. I was in D.C. during the pandemic, so I was just tearing up clothes. I grew up on sewing. My stepmom taught me years ago, but I officially started during the pandemic.

click to enlarge 5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts
Photo: Courtesy of Imani Batts

The things you've made have always seemed to be sustainably created or reuse materials. Can you speak to what got you started, especially when you're using kind of non-traditional materials?

Yes, I started sourcing from the thrift store. I was very much the thrift store girl, always going and finding stuff for myself. So when I started my business I was just like, know what, it has to be more sustainable, and mindful of how much textiles we already have, secondhand, or like at clothing swaps or something like that. But the majority of my stuff comes from my local thrift store.

Using non-traditional textiles is really mainly me just trying to be resourceful. I wanted to have a more sustainable approach with how much product has already been produced. I just try to be mindful and try to encourage people to bring in their own stuff that I can rework — the stuff that they don't use in their closet.

I will find my base material at the thrift store. I like to use blankets and crochet blankets. I do want to get into crochet later on in life, but right now it's very convenient to find a crochet blanket. Actually, someone in my IG fam, she was like, 'You should [get into] blankets so you can use more material,' because sometimes it's hard to get like a dress
you need more fabric. So instead you can use those big fabrics, like blankets, towels, and stuff like that. There's so many different options around the city.

click to enlarge 5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts
Photos: Courtesy of Imani Batts
Outfits from Imani Batt's GRWM Collection

I saw that you had a collection show in May. Can you tell me a little bit more about that, and what your creative idea behind that was?

That was my Get Ready With Me collection (GRWM). I was inspired by my local beauty supply store. I'm currently going through a hair journey right now. I locked up my hair, and I'm seven months. It just had me thinking about the time when I was younger, up until now, and the transformations I've been going through with my hair. The experience and the discrimination that I had at a very young age with my hair inspired the collection.

I was very loud as a kid and my hair was also a representation of that. For example, I had beads in my hair in preschool. I guess, I was running around too much. I was making 'too much noise' and my teacher tied up my beads so they wouldn't make any noise. And so this day that kind of, shaped me, and rubbed me the wrong way. 

When you go into the local beauty supply store as a black woman, it feels like you're in wonderland — like it’s just suddenly different. Every year, if you're down or depressed, you just go to the beauty supply store and they are good, keep you safe, and making you feel better.

So for the collection, I did three different looks. The one was bamboo earrings, because I always wear big gold earrings and I wanted to put that into the collection. It was a matching top and bottom. I'm pretty sure I sewed over 50 pairs of earrings onto the outfit. The second was the berets. The berets were something from my childhood memory that I always loved — you just clipped them in your hair. I bought a decent amount of them and I hand sewed each and every one of them to a skirt. I had enough leftover fabric from a blanket from a past project for the top.

Now the last one, represents the story with the teacher tying up my hair. It was a wooden bead top and it was just so empowering to make something like that. Because when Shaterra, the model, was walking, you just heard her, felt her presence, and that's exactly what it felt like when I wore my beads. When other black people or women wear their beads it is to be seen and to be present. Even if you don't see me, you hear me. It was very symbolic, very intentional.

click to enlarge 5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts
Photo: Courtesy of Imani Batts

Are there any particular people or things around you that inspire you to create? Or is there anything you are currently working on?

Honestly, I want to add on to that collection, because I have way more ideas to get off. So I really just want to feed into that more.

Right now, I am getting ready to make another fall collection. It's gonna be a lot of tapestry pants again. I'm also going to make tapestry hoodies and blanket hoodies and jackets. It’ll probably be dropping in September.

I feel like as a creative, you have to just experience life, you have to go outside and be around people and go to different galleries, different museums, see different people's perspectives, and just talk to people. For example, I went to the Mattress Factory last week, and I saw them doing construction. And there was some orange netting or something that I saw them putting out. But that's it — they were doing construction, and it inspired me and I took a picture of it. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna incorporate it. Yeah, it's very much being present, that inspires.

click to enlarge 5 Questions with fashion designer and upcycling maven Imani Batts
Photo: Courtesy of Imani Batts
Imani Batts teaches students sewing

Can you tell me about your sewing classes? Do you enjoy teaching?

I definitely enjoy teaching sewing clothes. I didn’t know that sewing was not a requirement in schools anymore. I know when I was in high school, we had Home Ec. There was cooking, sewing … and that was my first take on sewing but it was definitely something that, you know, made me think, 'Oh, okay, I can be good at this.' So to know that, for kids, that's not really an option, I was just like, that needs to change. Because at that age, you're just absorbing so much, and sometimes it just takes that one person to begin something. Yeah, I'm very interested in it — I love teaching.

My first teaching gig was at the Andy Warhol Museum. I did a workshop with teens and it was about sustainable fashion and upcycling, and they had a fashion show at the end of their showcase. During the summer I was doing summer camp in Homewood. This was really fun. It was a great experience. The kids definitely need an outlet to at least try new things and see if they like it or not. You may want to go forward with it in the future and build on that skill.

Catherine Trendz LLC. linktr.ee/catherinetrendz. instagram.com/catherinetrendz/