When she was a little girl, Morgan Grabarz absolutely loved princess dresses.
But rather than dreaming of becoming the next Cinderella, Grabarz grew up wanting to be more like the Fairy Godmother – who, with a little magic, creates for Cinderella a spectacular ball gown.
“I think it was princess dresses that really got me into fashion in the first place,” said Grabarz, now a 20-year-old college junior. “I’ve always loved the whole fashion industry and when I was younger, I used to say, I want to be a fashion designer; I want to have my own clothing line; I want to be the next Michael Kors. People would always laugh, but it never faded for me.”
Grabarz, a 2018 graduate of New Hope-Solebury High School, was taking steps toward realizing this future goal as a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. But then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and Grabarz was forced to leave the fashion capital of the United States in March.
Her freelance position at Ann Taylor’s headquarters cut, a possible internship opportunity at Calvin Klein lost and the application process of studying abroad stopped dead in its tracks, she returned to her hometown of New Hope, retreating to her “happy place.”
For athletes, this place is the field. For dancers and actors, the stage. For Grabarz, it’s the sewing room in her house.
Stifling disappointment with productivity – surrounded by posters of past designs, a vintage cabinet exploding with fabric, a draft table pulling double duty as a clothing rack – she sat down behind her beloved sewing machine this past spring … and didn’t leave.
“When I came home, I was just sewing all the time because that’s what I do when I have free time,” she said. “(My designs) were just sitting in my sewing room not being worn. So I thought I should really start selling them and start having people wear them. That’s what makes me really happy – to see people feeling beautiful in my clothes, so I decided to launch my own brand.”
Appearing, initially, to be a year defined by opportunities lost, 2020 has seen Grabarz realize her dream of becoming a business owner and a fashion designer – all before the age of 21.
This past summer, she launched her first clothing line, a collection of crop tops and bustiers for women that capture the essence of the Big Apple. She soon followed that up with a fall/winter collection of T-shirts for men.
Her designs also include skirts and women’s tees, as well as a holiday collection featuring coats, shirts and even festive face masks, which Grabarz has been sewing throughout the course of the pandemic.
Inspired by the life she left behind when COVID-19 entered the global lexicon, Grabarz designed her crop tees to be loose-fitting after hearing so many people say their weight had been fluctuating during coronavirus shutdowns. Hook-and-eye closures in the back enable the bustiers to be looser or tighter, she added.
“I felt myself missing New York a lot,” Grabarz explained. “I missed my friends and I missed the city life, so I decided the inspiration of the collection was going to be my life that I’ve had the last two years. I really wanted to portray the emotion of what it feels like to be 20 years old and living in New York City.
“It’s energetic and vibrant. I wanted to create show-stopping pieces that would make people feel powerful and beautiful.”
Grabarz, a 2020 recipient of the Jim Hamilton Shad Memorial Scholarship, has brought some of that big city panache to the Delaware River towns. In addition to being available online, her designs have appeared in store, and in the windows of, Sojourner on Bridge Street in Lambertville, N.J., just a few miles away from New Hope-Solebury High School, where, not that long ago, Grabarz tread the halls in her pink Dr. Martens boots. Known for her eclectic style, she earned two superlatives in school: “Most Artistic” and “Most Likely to Create My Own Company.”
“But back then I never would’ve imagined two years later I would be doing it,” she said. “I thought it was something that would happen much later in my life. I guess now is the time.”
Asking her friends to model her designs, Grabarz conducted her first fashion show at 13 during a middle school talent show. She took private sewing lessons, as well as classes in New York City. She sewed constantly and held fashion shows all around the New Hope area – her family encouraging her passion every step of the way.
“I’m so lucky. My parents are so supportive of me and they have always been very supportive of my fashion design,” said Grabarz, who also has one brother.
Grabarz, who’s interned for Zac Posen’s design department, Fabric to Finish in New York City and Urban Outfitters’ headquarters in the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, loves all types of fashion.
“I am very passionate about red carpet fashion and runway. If I could have my own runway show in Fashion Week, that’s the dream for me, but I also recognize the importance of ready-to-wear,” she said.
And whether it’s an elaborate gown or T-shirt, Grabarz creates every piece of clothing with one purpose in mind.
“I just love to make people feel good in what they’re wearing,” Grabarz said. “I think the way you dress – if you feel good, I think it will make you feel more confident. And that’s just something I love about fashion.”
Visit morgangrabarz.com or follow Grabarz on Instagram, @morgan.grabarz, for more information.