Unlike a lot of fashion designers, Soo Choi doesn’t dream of becoming the next Marc Jacobs. “It’s all just money–you’re forced to mass-produce all this work, every season,” says the 27-year-old. For now she finds it easier–and more meaningful–to sew pieces for people who see her designs and decide they must have one. The sleeveless gray wool dress she’s wearing here, made for one of her fellow waitresses at Lula Cafe, is outfitted with adjustable straps that can be used to pull up the hem or change the shape of the garment; Choi says it was influenced in part by the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass. Many of her designs likewise have a nonfashion inspiration she can point to: a trip to Iceland produced a silk dress hand-painted with puffins, and recently Choi’s been collaborating with artist Kelly Breslin on “Spelling Bee,” a project to create clothing inspired by words. For a while she was making dresses and skirts out of men’s button-down shirts, using the shirttails for frills, buttons for polka dots, and cuffs for a bustle–she liked the joke of making superfeminine garments out of men’s power-dressing basics. “If I don’t find a meaning for it,” she says, “it’s hard for me to improvise.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.