In the heart of Newark, on 29 Halsey Street, lies fashion designer Marco Hall's boutique, where he has been weaving his unique tales of style for over a decade.
His name may not be as widely recognized as some high fashion powerhouses, but his creations possess a character and individuality that sets him apart in a fashion world that can sometimes feel uniform, cheap and fast-paced.
From having worked with celebrities such as Rihanna, Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu, as well as having his designs walk in New York Fashion Week and even gaining recognition as a trailblazer from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Hall is no stranger to the world of fashion.
"I got into fashion because I didn't want to look like anyone else," Hall said. "That's how I really kind of started out … and mostly watching my great-grandmother make quilts as a child. So that was fascinating. And I just like working with my hands, just taking things apart and putting it back together."
He wanted to stand apart from the crowd and found that crafting his clothing allowed him to do just that. Although he has found success in fashion, this wasn't his original plan for his career.
"I didn't think I'd be a fashion designer. I thought I was going to be a dancer. Dancing was what I always wanted to do," he said.
Dance has always been a major part of Hall's life. It was a passion that initially led him to audition for The Juilliard School with dreams of becoming a professional dancer, but he left since he didn't have the professional training. His love for dance has remained, translating into the dynamic patterns, colors and movement of his designs.
"I still dance, but now I dance through my work," he said.
Hall's fashion is all about storytelling. Much like the lyrics of a song or the steps of a dance, his garments tell stories of individuality, confidence and self-expression. He acknowledges that the fashion industry has changed, with fast fashion and a race for profit sometimes overshadowing creativity and craftsmanship.
Only a well-trained designer can tell a story, dance or sing through their clothes, but Hall's training was informal, learning his techniques and skills independently.
"I come in with my non-training, I cut freehand (and) I do everything freehand. I do everything by sight — by my mind. So it's kind of hard for you to follow it because it's not a real pattern," he said.
Hall doesn't rely on tradition. His unorthodox approach means he designs by memory, intuition and a strong connection with the fabrics he chooses, reducing the amount of materials wasted.
Hall's work celebrates individuality in a world where fast fashion and mass production threaten to homogenize style. To combat this, he looks to creating unique, upcycled and sustainable designs as key strategies to counter the allure of cheaper, disposable fashion.
The cost of fast fashion is cheap to the manufacturer and the consumer but not to the planet. Many of the clothes from fast-fashion companies are cheaply put together with materials that were not meant to last and will eventually end up in a landfill.
"Landfills received 11.3 million tons of (municipal solid waste textiles) in 2018. This was 7.7 percent of all (municipal solid waste) landfilled," according to the Environmental Protection Agency textile data.
This equates to thousands of clothes and textiles that could've been repurposed or avoided landfills had they been more durable. That is where Hall's quality over quantity moral comes into play. One example he gives is a prom dress that he designed that has lasted for 10 years and has been reused every year since he made it.
While getting custom-made clothing isn't accessible to everyone, Hall believes in recycling and upcycling through thrifting, which is a growing trend amongst students.
As the fashion world continues to evolve, Hall's approach serves as a reminder that true artistry transcends trends and that fashion is not just about what you wear but the story you tell. Sustainable fashion is not just a passing trend but a crucial shift toward a more responsible and compassionate industry.