Explore Philly first met Shelby Cobra of Vicious Vesture at the Punk Rock Flea market in Philly and knew right away that she was one cool chick! She makes and sells all her own unique clothing items that have a rocker edge. She started her business two years ago with the help of her mom and has been working side jobs as well to keep it running. As an independent designer, Shelby often gets frustrated by the fashion industry and wants to see change. Fashion corporations who mass produce items are making millions off the backs of children in China and underpaid women in Bangladesh. She wants independent designers to thrive, get the support they need and inspire each other to change this industry together.
What prompted you to start Vicious Vesture?
After graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to find a job right away so I started my own business with the help of my mom. The idea for the business of upcycled vests came from the DIY culture of 1970’s British punk rock and the final project of my first internship. I was interning at Rockers Closet, a thrift couture store off of South Street, during my second year of college and I had to throw an “Arty-Party” in the store where I taught the customers and party goers, “How to rock-out a denim vest.” I made and sold my first “Vicious Vests” in a Rockers Closet and have been making them in honor of Sid Vicious ever since.
Where do you get your inspirations for your upcycled vintage designs?
Sid Vicious is my most influential inspiration, his style and attitude sparked a whole revolution in fashion, music and culture. I take inspiration from other music as well, I’m using t-shirts, patches and pins of bands in my designs all the time.
Do you sew your pieces yourself (by hand, sewing machine)?
Yes, I make everything myself. I have 3 different kinds of sewing machines and I also hand-sew a lot of items as well.
Where do you get all of your up-cycled clothing / accessories? (thrift stores, friend clothing swaps, etc.?)
I regularly go to thrift shops around the city and in Ardmore. My grandmother is also the queen of thrift shopping, she honestly has given me some of my best finds. I am also always accepting clothing donations!
The prices seem very reasonable – how are you able to keep them affordable for your customers?
My customers are paying for the quality and uniqueness of my items. I price my items based off the time I put into making them and the materials I used to make them. I want my items to be affordable, so I try to be reasonable with my prices.
Do you mainly create clothing pieces for women?
Yes, but I am always trying to expand my menswear. It is so hard to shop for men, and it’s not as easy for me to find men’s vests or jackets in stores, so a lot of my menswear is custom made or made from scratch.
I saw that you do create some custom items – how often do you receive requests for that type of work?
Custom items are my favorite ones to make! I love bringing people’s ideas to life and making something just for them. I usually get orders from people in bands for jackets or vests that they can wear onstage. Some examples are I’ve made are a cut-out skull t-shirt for my brother, Brendan, who is the drummer in Philadelphia’s doom metal band Manananggal, and I made a custom vest that I am always adding to for my boyfriend John who is the keyboard player in Philadelphia’s electronica band BlendMode.
Is there anywhere else that people can purchase your items besides your website?
I try to do festivals in the tri-state area as much as I can. The last one I did was at the Punk Rock & Heavy Metal Flea Market at the Queens Museum in NYC. I will also be at the next Punk Rock Flea Market in Philly in December! My dream is to eventually own my own storefront in Philly selling vintage items as well as my own upcycled and original creations.
What is your best-selling item?
Rocked-out motorcycle jackets! And they are so fun to make too so I am always restocking them!
I was very intrigued by the Vicious Couture line (love the red dress!!) – do you create couture items like these often / will you ever sell them on your site?
The red dress has become somewhat iconic for me, I made that one in my last year of college for a Humane Society competition. Instead of using fur, I used metal to trim the dress. My couture line is a side project, I show it in fashions shows around the city, the last show was Philly Urban Fashion Weekend in July where I teamed up with my friend Zuri Kinnard to create a collaborative line of couture clothing. I don’t list these items online but people who are interested in them can contact me, I usually make couture items on custom order.