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San Antonio designer brings her world of fashion to life

Courtesy of Gabby Garcia
Illustration of Justice League

Gabby Garcia Congrains is a local fashion designer and illustrator in San Antonio. She began her journey into fashion from Colombia, where she received her education at the Arturo Tejada Cano Design & Marketing School of Fashion. She is the founder of CongrainsDesign and has displayed her work at Brick in the Blue Star Arts Complex.

Texas Public Radio correspondent Jiawen Chen recently interviewed Congrains.

Jiawen Chen: What got you into fashion originally?

Gabby Garcia Congrains: I’ve been drawing since I was 14. I graduated very young from school when I was 15, and my dad was like, ‘You need to do something right now.’ I didn’t know what to do. I did three semesters of graphic design and I did not like it much. I just thought that something always in the clothing was (could be) extra or it did not have to be there or I would, you know, have like this conflict in my head of how a piece could have been. It's very interesting because when you think about fashion and you're interested in and starting, you are so different. It's a lot of things. It's so many things. That, of course, is a process that you just understand.

Photo of Gabby on the runway during her show
Courtesy of Gabby Garcia
Photo of Gabby on the runway during her show

Chen: What made you want to come to San Antonio from Colombia and what struggles did you face?

Congrains: I was with an ex-boyfriend at that time, and he had family here, we both decided to move. We wanted to see if it was better to stay here in the United States. After the first year, I just fell in love with San Antonio. I love my country and, you know, Bogotá is an amazing city. But this is the place where I'm going to live. We didn't know many people in town. I graduated from fashion school two years before that. I was also trying to discover myself, see what I could give here. I had to find a job and wait tables, and did some cleaning also. If I wanted to go back home, my family would be fine.

Chen: Why didn’t you want to go back home?

Congrains: This is my trip. This is my journey right in my life — make your mom proud, your dad proud, to show people that you can. But when things happen and you start to understand and just to really see that it is for you, and that you are alone ...being alone is OK. There's going to be a lot of no’s in this journey. Doing (art) markets you're not going to make a penny. What works for you? What does not work for you? It's something that only you're going to be able to know and understand why you do it again.

Chen: How many of your illustrations make it into actual clothing? 

Congrains: My first runway in 2019, I did a collection of 15 outfits, all costume design. It had an evil queen outfit for the (fashion) awards, which is from this collection. I have some Wonder Woman pieces. I also add a little bit of everything that has a lot of response from the public. Beetlejuice mixing a little fantasy princess with a veil in dark colors. For this last collection for San Antonio Fashion Week of this Fall 2021, I did 10 illustrations and from those 10, I did eight outfits, putting in 250 hours of work.

Courtesy of Gabby Garcia
One of Garcia's designs for the 2021 San Antonio Fashion Week

Chen: What does it feel like to see them come to life?

Congrains: It's crazy. It's very interesting because sometimes you design things and they’re way off. It’s going to be something so different from what you thought and will have alterations, some variations, but it is nothing more beautiful. It's a pleasure to see something on the paper and then turn around and have it right there. It does not compare of course, you are going to always have something different in mind. But again, that's the beauty of the process and you can do it better or the material did not fall how you thought that it was going to be. So you have to do some modifications to it. The feeling is amazing. It's insane, kind of like a dream.

Chen: So right now, are you a one woman show, are you by yourself? 

Congrains: Yes I am, I sew everything by myself. I've been doing this for five years. After five years, I have a decent inventory with my prints on my fashion illustration and it was very hard, you know? You really have to be passionate and have to build something. You can’t expect flowers if you don't put the water in the ground. It’s a lot of focus on discipline. I have to say that I think Brick at Blue Star is where I have grown and been The past five years and staff and everybody, dear friends of mine, I love all of them. Elizabeth, amazing woman. Thank her so much for what she does for our community.

Chen: What are your future projects? How do you see your brand CongrainsDesign for the next year or five years?

Congrains:  It's all just an adventure and a process. The more you do, the more you acknowledge that you know you can do things right. So, I definitely feel that this year has to be over with our shows. I'm also working on this movie, so I'm a little bit booked with some other projects that mean a lot to me to be able to build more and my brand. But it's something that I'm already thinking about, and it takes time to deliver a concept, a brand.

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Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.