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September 17, 2015

South Philadelphia designer inspires with 'rockabilly' aprons

Style Design
Alana McGovern Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Alana McGovern, right, designs "rockabilly" aprons as part of her RetroShreds fashion collection. The aprons were on display as part of a showcase at Chhaya on East Passyunk Avenue.

These aren't your mother's aprons, but they could be your grandmother's.

Meet 30-year-old Alana McGovern, a self-taught, South Philadelphia-based designer and seamstress. She's been designing and sewing "rockabilly" dresses and, yes, aprons, out of her living room for the past eight years. Her style, she told PhillyVoice, is to take customers back to the 1950s in a way that's more authentic than you might see portrayed in a Katy Perry video.

“Back in the ‘50s, this was our parents and grandparents wearing these clothes, and they weren’t doing it to be 'sexy.' It was just the look," McGovern said. "I want my pieces to look like they belong in a different era, not to be a modern-day take on a different era.”

McGovern first took an interest in sewing while living in Louisville, Ky., where out of sheer boredom she took to the library to read collections of how-to's. She began experimenting until her designs eventually progressed to a point where she was making all of her own clothing while others remarked she should do more with her talents.

In 2008, she started Retro Shreds -- a fashion collection born out of that rockabilly look and a passion for practical.

"I go for practical lines and designs that aren't too flirtatious or tight, and they’re made to last a long time," she said. "There are some dresses I’ve had for ten years that I wear once a week and are still around.”

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A sampling of Alana McGovern's collection of aprons, displayed at Chhaya 1819 East Passyunk Ave. McGovern said her aprons are typically popular as a more affordable piece, priced at about $50 each. (Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice)

The aprons, meanwhile, came about from a more literal interpretation of "shreds." With a habit of buying fabrics in bulk, she felt it wasteful to scrap the extra footage; so, she started to mix and match until the stitches from her needle led her to an apron.

After creating a few, her manager at a coffee shop in Peekskill, N.Y., took notice and encouraged her to show them in the space. She started a yearly tradition of apron-showing at the shop. When she moved to Philadelphia this year, she extended that tradition to Chhaya on East Passyunk Avenue (where she's a barista). She just wrapped up her first Philadelphia apron showcase and said she plans another in February for Valentine's Day, only with the addition of models for her aprons to emphasize her anyone-can-use-one spiel.

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Two aprons sold at McGovern's Chhaya showcase. All of her Retro Shreds pieces, she said, are sewn to be more structured than stretchy. (From Facebook)

"Aprons are eye-catching, and in the end everyone can actually use one if you spend any time in the kitchen, or a garage or a sewing room," the designer explained. "But also, you know you’re getting something unique that will actually fit you and you can use for years and years."

In the meantime, she's working on a new line of dresses and jackets for the winter, as well as filling custom orders from her Chhaya showcase. And, obviously, dreaming up new aprons.

"I have a few tricks up my sleeve for a lot of aprons, but all of my aprons end up being pretty unique because I think about them as I go along. There's no planning," McGovern stated. "I don't know what I'm doing until it's done."

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