North Carolina is home for Justin LeBlanc.
It is where he attended NC State. It is where he started his career in fashion by participating in Art2Wear. It is where he teaches as an assistant professor of art + design. And it is where he has found inspiration for his collections.
LeBlanc graduated from NC State with a bachelors in architecture and from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a masters. He has interned at Alexander McQueen’s fashion studio in London and was a contestant on Project Runway.
LeBlanc is now back in his hometown of Raleigh teaching, designing and planning his wedding.
“North Carolina is a great place to be, especially for fashion, because there’s a lot of textile mills and a sense of reimmersion of textile,” LeBlanc said. “I’m definitely trying to play a part in it to increase awareness of what we have here and using the past TV exposure to bring to North Carolina and NC State. It’s a great community.”
He feels like it is his time to pay it forward and show why the state is an important aspect of the fashion industry.
“I feel like I really need to showcase the textile in North Carolina, and when people see it, touch it and wear it, they will realize the quality of the material that we are creating in North Carolina,” LeBlanc said. “People will start investing in quality pieces.”
He is often inspired by the textures and visual aspects. LeBlanc was born deaf and currently relies on a cochlear implant, which has allowed him to rely more on sight and touch.
“I’m always looking for interesting texture and textile things that I can expand into something else,” he said. “I like to do things with my hands more than anything else. Anything I can create from there and expand it into a garment — it’s become my inspiration.”
Leaving the big cities, like New York or Los Angeles, has allowed him to carry on this approach to fashion.
“Being in North Carolina, it allows me to have a unique point of view here,” LeBlanc said. “When I living and competing with thousands of fashion designers in one city, sometimes with that competition it gets polarizing, so we don’t have a vision anymore. I think being here allows me to have that focus.”
LeBlanc encourages his students to concrete on understanding their vision and build and promote themselves on it.
“It’s all about branding and being able to identify yourself as a designer,” he said. “It’s also a launching point. It’s a little portal for the outsider to see what the designer is doing, so it’s a little way to express what kind of work they are doing and what kind of client they are looking for.”
Quality, the balance between ready-to-wear and one-of-a-kind pieces and 3-D printing are what LeBlanc plans on continuing his own brand on. Some of his students are starting to experiment into 3-D printing.
“When 3-D printing first started out it was typically plaster but right now it’s starting to evolve into metal to latex all this different material,” LeBlanc said. “I find that to be quite fascinating, because just the other day a student was talking about 3-D printing using mushrooms as a material to print, because it created a leather feel.”
He said he sees fast fashion phasing out and he is excited about this change.
“H&M and Forever 21, they get a new collection every two weeks,” he said. “People will start to recognize the impact it’s making and start to appreciate slower fashion, which focuses on quality makers.”
Although LeBlanc says he is taking some time off to concentrate on his wedding, he plans to use the inspiration for his next project — to build upon his own personal brand.
“I know who I am and I know what I like to wear.”