the story of cilium
Cilium is a clothier with a philosophy that celebrates and explores innovation, transformability, and gender non-exclusivity.
Cilium’s conception sparked in 2009 with dear friends Tilly d Wolfe Lapidos and Thom Barranca. They shared a home and their wardrobe, and began to question the concept of gender as it related to clothing. They began making transformable, unisex, sustainable clothing together under the name TILLYandWILLIAM.
Their path together took them to show at New York Fashion Week in 2013, 2014 and 2015. They would pop up at designer markets like Multitask, Pop Souk, Popular Demand and countless others. They’ve sold at boutiques such as Elkel NYC, Treehouse Brooklyn, Kaight Shop, The Rising States, ? The Store and more. In 2016 they co-created Vox Bizarre, a two-week boutique in Bushwick with an in-store sewing and photo studio and a whole schedule of events with designers Casey Caldwell, Claire Fleury & Lactic Incorporated. They showed a collection at the underground rave Psychic Winter. They’ve designed capsule collections for the team of Mix Queer Experimental Film Festival in 2014 and 2018. They grew out of their living room studio in 2014 to share studio space with Claire Fleury at Manufacture NY, then a basement studio in Flatbush, to the space they share now in Gowanus called Studio99. Their journey was a twisty turvy wander through life as a design duo of two creative friends.
In 2018, they debuted their new name: Cilium. See, Tilly really became Tilly - a nonbinary person using they/them pronouns and a name that fits their fluid gender. Thom was always, and yet also was never William. The name of the clothes wasn't supposed to be about them, the clothing has much more in common with Cilium - the protective layer around the cell. The name of the brand, like their ever-changing clothing, needed to transform. And ultimately Thom desired to find his own way in the world.
Tilly d Wolfe now wears nearly all of the hats of Cilium. Designer, pattern maker, cutter, sewer, natural dyer, shipper, photographer, customer service, social media, web designer, and is writing this bio.
They have since shown Cilium at the DapperQ runway show at the Brooklyn Museum in Sept 2019, and at the Phluid Project in March 2019.
For a glorious year, they were working and selling Cilium at DRTY SMMR, a DIY clothing boutique and venue in Bushwick. It’s a dreamy space with designers Alfredo Leija who designs the DRTY SMMR collection, Tre’von Reffell of Dry Clean Only NYC, accessory-maker Hard Themme, artist Flash o Boy and a world of local music and art. Both DRTY and Tilly took a little break during the pandemic for self-care, mutual aid and surviving the apocalypse, but now are beginning to re-emerge.
They have been sourcing the black modal fabric you see all over the website from the same supplier since 2012. The Beech trees that make up the Lenzing Modal are grown in forest farms in Austria, turned into a fiber in South Korea, knit and dyed in North Carolina, and warehoused in New York. It’s a super soft and luscious fabric, and among the more environmentally sound options in the world. They are searching out fabrics that are made hyper locally, and abide by both the Fibershed and the Cradle to Cradle principles by having a net positive impact on the earth and soil. This takes time, and resources, and Cilium is what you might call a slow fashion brand; resisting the breakneck speed of fashion by making staple clothing that morphs to the wearer throughout the day, and over time.
It’s hard to be an anticapitalist and a business-owning fashion designer. Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion by Tansy Hoskins is a good primer for the ways Tilly sees the world of fashion. The fashion industry is a major source of environmental destruction and human suffering. The apparel industry preys upon people who’s lands and lives have been ravaged by neocolonialism. Fashion is the #2 polluting industry on the planet, second to the oil industry, and polyester and nylon are made of oil! Fashion is outrageously racist, from the ways it appropriates styles from Black and Indigenous cultures, making them “cool trends” for white people, but not for the people from whom the style was stolen, to the disproportionate representation of unhealthily thin white models, to its history of chattel slavery that built the cotton industry. This dissertation could be lengthy. This article on Sustain Why Is Fast Fashion Racist is a quick and deep dive into more of it.
Black Lives Matter, Black Trans Lives Matter, All Black Lives Matter. White folks, please give money directly to Black people in your community. Give money to Black Trans Women. Reparations are owed. Buy from Black-owned businesses. Cilium is not a Black-owned business. Tilly is white, and actively anti-racist as best they can be, and always learning. Please work to help abolish the police in your community, and build up systems of support that make police and prisons obsolete. That is what Tilly, on a good day, is up to when they’re not making clothes.
The clothes. Some days it feels so silly for Tilly to be making clothes at a time like this! But then people remind them that they love how they feel in them. That people are experiencing gender euphoria in their Cilium. That people can feel more like their authentic selves in the clothes that they make. For these moments, they remember that it’s important to put Cilium clothing out into the world, and make them available to people. So Tilly makes the garments, one at time, order by order, with love, at Studio99.
They have worked with interns along the way: Daryl Bright in 2013, Matthue Keck in 2014, Louise Croff Blake in the summer of 2019, Zoph Lennon Mars for 6 weeks in Jan-Feb of 2020, and 6 weeks with Jo Haynes & Josue Hart, socially distantly. These 6-week internships are paid thanks to the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, which has a Pride Path program that sets up LGBTQ 18-24 year olds up with would-be unpaid internships, and pays them $15/hr! The 5 year lapse of intern-less existence was due to influence by Rosa Ng who started a campaign in 2014 demanding pay for interns. Tilly was an unpaid intern on 5 different accounts in their early years, but realized it’s not okay to “hire” people to work for free.
Cilium is Tilly’s calling. It is their labor of love. It is their duty to the world. There is much to be done in this world to restore right relationship between all beings on this planet. Hopefully through making this clothing, and generating genuine connections with people who wear clothes, grow textiles and express themselves in the countless ways of humanity, they can help shape change.
TRANSFORM. EVOLVE. SHARE.