Clothing designer inspired by science
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the new businesses being developed at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies incubator in Middlebury.
MIDDLEBURY — The world’s top fashion designers can spend hours plying themselves with coffee and Red Bull while waiting for the right inspiration to map out their latest patterns.
Ariele Faber believes an endless supply of patterns can be found in nature and are there for the taking — if you look hard enough. And Faber looks very hard — through a microscope — to identify the unique patterns within living tissues and plants, patterns that she then photographs and transfers onto a growing line of scarves, bowties and neckties.
That marriage of science and fashion is the backbone of Faber’s new business venture, called “Cerebella Design.” The recent Middlebury College graduate has been selling her wares for a month and has visions of making Cerebella a major force in the fields of fashion and environmental education.
“I’m very excited,” Faber, 23, said on Tuesday during an interview at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) headquarters in the former courthouse on Middlebury’s Court Square. “Word is definitely getting out beyond my friends and family.”
Faber graduated from Middlebury this past February after having majored in neuroscience and architecture. She also completed her pre-med requirements.
While Faber has had a long appreciation and talent for science, she has also been drawn to art. And she learned in college that the two subjects can work in harmony. During her sophomore year she took a course about cell biology and genetics. That course offered students the opportunity to view life in its most minute detail, and Faber found the images colorful, at times complex, and pleasing to the eye.
“I first saw photomicroscopy in action when my professor was taking pictures of images in the microscope, and I have always been a person that loves both science and art,” Faber recalled. “This idea of making science education more tangible and approachable to other people who maybe did not find themselves in a science lab, started to percolate. The idea of making those images into patterns that were more palpable started to develop.”
She delayed pursuing the idea for two years while completing her school work. It was also during this time that she enrolled for a semester at the Textiles Summer Institute at the Rhode Island School of Design.
“With the additional technical skills to establish a local production and manufacturing workflow, I returned to Middlebury to finish coursework at the college and grow this idea into a reality,” she said.
Thus was born Cerebella, which loosely translated from Latin means “beautiful thoughts.”
Cerebella uses digital printing technology — which is increasingly used in the fashion and upholstery industries — to transfer real-life, biological designs onto silk and cotton-silk fabrics. Imagine fabric being fed into something resembling a large ink-jet printer. And we’re taking about very large and expensive equipment that is being used by only a handful of companies in the U.S., according to Faber. She has been farming the work out to a couple of different digital printing companies.
The patterns themselves start at the microscope. Faber takes pictures of select images from various slides, and then makes those images into patterns. She then turns those patterns into digital files that are sent to the printer. The printer transfers that pattern onto fabric that is then turned into Cerebella’s clothing items.
Faber has thus far produced pattern designs borrowed from some very interesting sources. Her nine patterns include microscopic depictions of tapeworms, starfish eggs, frog skin, whale skin, a section of human trachea and a tiny spider known as the pseudoscorpion. Each design features vibrant colors. Faber challenges people to identify the biological provenance of the various designs. She said people are, more often than not, surprised by the source of the image.
“It’s a good conversation-starter,” Faber said of the designs, which she hopes can also provide “teaching moments.”
The patterns are so pleasing that the scarves, neckties and bow ties could be a part of anyone’s wardrobe, though Faber conceded they might have a special allure for people in the science, health care and education fields.
Faber began taking online orders for her products a month ago through her website, cerebelladesign.com. Business is looking promising, to the extent she is thinking about taking Cerebella to the “next level.” That would involve hiring another person to help out, as Faber is currently a one-woman band. She is also thinking about transferring the designs to larger clothing items and interior design supplies, such as wallpaper. Faber also wants to develop an educational arm of Cerebella to use the clothing as a way to make science more relatable for students in area schools.
“We can promote science through art,” she said.
And she knows she will never run out of ideas.
“There are an infinite number of patterns,” she said, alluding to nature’s bounty of flora and fauna.
GREAT PLACE FOR BUSINESS
Faber is grateful to VCET, the college and several Addison County businesses that have helped her flesh out her business plan. She is committed to growing the business in Vermont.
“Middlebury has been an excellent place,” Faber said. “I’ve been to enough cities and places to recognize a gem when I see it.”
Faber is one of around a half-dozen entrepreneurs in the building who are incubating their budding enterprises with guidance from VCET officials. Others include an energy efficiency business called “Faraday”; a fitness company called “Recess”; “GivingSomeThing,” an online donation platform through which people can easily send real goods to nonprofits; and “Shacksbury Cider,” a new hard cider company based in Shoreham.
VCET, which launched in 2005 in Burlington and opened an office at the old courthouse in Middlebury in 2011, has a mandate to increase the number and quality of technology startups in the Green Mountain State and to accelerate next-generation job creation in Vermont. The incubator is designed to foster the success of “high-opportunity” technology firms by providing their founders with substantive business mentoring along with traditional incubator services such as low cost, flexible office space, shared resources, capital, networking, training and the like. It also provides access to some venture capital to fund start-up activities.
The nonprofit is affiliated with UVM and partners with Middlebury College, Norwich University, Champlain College and the five Vermont State Colleges.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.
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