Designing A New Life

The Streets Could Have Claimed Bishme Cromartie But, He Says, Sewing Saved Him

August 11, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,

Not many high school students have earned a coveted spot on the runway for Baltimore Fashion Week, and fewer still are making a return visit.

On Wednesday, designer Bishme Cromartie, 18, will watch models show off his newest creations he designed under his own label, Ying Edge clothing, which he started when he was 15 years old. This will be the second year in a row that Cromartie has exhibited at Fashion Week.

If his abstract designs weren't enough to make the teen a crowd favorite, he also has an intriguing back story. Cromartie, who in a few weeks will start his senior year at Reginald F. Lewis High School, says fashion kept him out of the street gangs that dominated his former neighborhood in North Baltimore.

After he graduates in the spring, a design college is in his future, preferably one in New York, where Cromartie already has made valuable contacts.

The designer recently tore himself away from his sewing machine to briefly discuss his life so far and his fashion aesthetic.

Question:: Where do you get your inspiration?

Answer:: From everywhere and everything. One time, I was drinking my favorite Starbucks drink, Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino, and that inspired a dress. Another time, it might be a painting. My clothing is known for its abstract shapes. When I see one I like, I try to mimic it in my clothing. For instance, I made a dress inspired by a traffic roundabout, with a very, very circular bottom.

Question:: Will we see a lot of shapes in the line you'll be showing at Fashion Week?

Answer:: The collection I've done for Fashion Week I really adore, but it's something different for me. I fell back a little bit from geometric shapes, because I always do that. The inspiration is spring and origami, and the color palette is pink, off-white and soft gray. The main thing I wanted to show is the different aspects of feminity. There are shorts, skirts and pants. They're sexy, but not too sexy.

Question:: How did you learn how to sew?

Answer:: My aunt taught me. I stayed for a while with her in upstate New York, and I watched her make pillow-cases and bedspreads and stuff, and I thought it looked easy to do. Then, when I came back to Baltimore, I hand-sewed everything. The winter I was 13, my sister, Chimere Didley, bought me a sewing machine for Christmas.

Question:: How did your friends react to your hobby?

Answer:: At first, I tried to hide it. I was not optimistic about it getting out that I am a boy who likes to sew. Then, I made a hoodie for one of my friends, everyone wanted one, and I started making hoodies and selling them for $50 apiece. So they left me alone.

Question:: You grew up in a rough neighborhood.

Answer:: Yeah, at 25th and Guilford. The neighborhood I live in now is a little better. There was a lot of gang violence. Sewing kept me out of trouble. A lot of guys, when they get to be 15 or 16, their mentality is not set right, especially if like me, they don't have a father at home. I had friends who turned to gang stuff. Some are in prison now, and some are deceased. It's sad, because you could see their potential. Because of sewing, I had different goals.

Question:: How did you come up with the name for your clothing line?

Answer:: It's complicated. I used to go to school in upstate New York, and in elementary school, I studied Japanese. There was a children's book about a boy named Ying who found himself and found courage, and that stuck with me for a long, long time. I wanted to use his name when I started my own line, but I also needed something that was edgy and that expressed what I'm trying to do with fashion.

Question:: How do customers find your dresses?

Answer: : I sell clothes from out of my house. I just did a prom, and that was a headache, because everyone needed their dresses at once. I wasn't going to go to my own prom, but the day before, I asked a friend, and she said yes, so I only had one day to whip up her dress.

Question:: How was it?

Answer:: It was great. Last-minute projects are always the best, because you have to think on your toes. And when we got there, there were like five people running around in dresses I had made.

Question:: I meant, how was your prom?

Answer:: Oh. It was fun. I'm glad I went.

If you go

Baltimore Fashion Week will be held at 7 p.m. nightly through Aug. 14 at the War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay St. Tickets: $55 each night. Call 877-759-4116 or go to

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