By Donalevan Maines
Steve Guthrie has designs on making Houston a center for clothes manufacturing. The out designer of contemporary womenswear employed two shops in the Bayou City to assemble the new summer and fall items he will unveil at a pop-up show in Montrose on July 13. The garments weren’t just Made in America, they were Made in Houston.
“I could probably do it cheaper, remotely, in Chicago or New York, but I would not have the same control and access,” he explains. “Here, I can go out on the shop floor and look at a seam; if it’s not right, I can fix it then.”
Without the advantage of being able to personally supervise the assembly of his collection, Guthrie explains, a problem could cause him to have to delay production or accept faulty merchandise.
Championing local manufacturing is just one key role that Guthrie plays in Houston’s emerging fashion industry.
As a professor in the Lifestyle Arts & Design Careers Division at Houston Community College’s central campus, Guthrie teaches aspiring designers how to make, market, and merchandise their work, and inspires them to take cues from their own cultural identities to produce apparel that’s distinctly their own.
“My favorite course is a trends class,” he says. “Some of my students are geniuses. They come up with things that are unlike anything else, anywhere.” The school teamed up this spring with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for a Fashion Week-style runway show. The student designers produced edgy, creative work inspired by the museum’s recent Sculpted in Steel exhibit of Art Deco automobiles.
Guthrie’s own “rockabilly” aesthetic as a fashion designer is a modern take on bad girls from a more recent era. “Oddly enough, I grew up listening to Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison, who I adored,” says Guthrie.
The Port Lavaca native also enjoyed growing up with his own personal seamstress. “My mother made clothes for me and my sisters,” he says. “She was also a costumer who had a flair for the grandiose. I started sewing and patterning when I was 15; in my high school years, I made clothes for myself and my friends.”
Guthrie laughs, confessing, “It was the new wave/punk era, so I made drop-crotch pants, Indian-inspired—a lot of black, baggy clothes.”
Living in Bryan-College Station as a teenager, he says, “Houston was my playground, so I got to see how the cool kids dressed here. Houston has an underground movement that pushes the boundaries of fashion, making it their very own. I embrace that part of Houston as a fashion mecca.”
While the Houston smart-set’s gala fundraising season drives the local market for cocktail dresses and gowns, Guthrie says “there is a whole lot of artistry in ready-to-wear clothing, too. We do have ‘it’ here, but the only way to keep it is for people to buy local.”
That brings him back to his push for supporting more local manufacturing, a convenience Guthrie became accustomed to when he spent a year in San Francisco as an assistant designer at Mansoor Scott, which produces a contemporary womenswear line of functional, everyday fashions.
“That is where I got the calling to do it,” he says. “We did in-house design work in the studio I went to work at every day. I was the production facility liaison, and I would walk over and bring them a pattern for production. Those were sweet days. Returning to Houston, my whole goal was to do this locally. Of course, here it involves driving, but I take my patterns and materials from my studio at 59 and 610 to two production facilities in west Houston. My garments are made next to machines that make industrial garments and baby garments.”
Guthrie, who is a “card-toting” member of The Chickasaw Nation of Native Americans, grew up in a number of foreign countries where his father worked in the oil industry, including Malaysia, Mexico, and Ecuador.
After graduating from A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Guthrie earned a degree in international business and business law with a minor in French in 1992 from Temple University in Philadelphia, then consulted in IT, oil and gas, retail-chain management, and project-management education.
The past 12 years, Guthrie has lived in Houston with his partner, Tom Combs.
Guthrie returned to college for a master’s degree in instructional technology (education), followed by a master of fine arts in fashion design from the Academy of Art University.
In 2009, he debuted as a fashion designer under the moniker 4thWard, creating custom cocktail and formal attire for local and national clients before launching the first Steve Guthrie collection of contemporary womenswear in 2015.
His pop-up show on July 13 will be held at Focus, an eye-care shop “in the gayborhood” at 515 Westheimer from 6 p.m to 9 p.m., with his designs shown alongside items by Houston glove designer Damari Rubio.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.