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Former resident making waves in area fashion world

Samantha Rei Crossland spent much of her school years in Hastings. She went on to become a successful Twin Cities fashion designer. Photo by Photosynthetique1 / 2
Models pose in the Samantha Rei fall/winter 2015 collection, “Black Pearl,” which was inspired by 1920s Shanghai. Photo by Fairshadow Photography2 / 2

Last year, a former Hastings student earned a prestigious award. Samantha R. Crossland was named one of City Pages’ “Artists of the Year” in 2014. She has been featured in several publications, including the Star Tribune, L’etoile Magazine, Cloud Orchid Magazine, New York Times and Maxim. And, she recently published her first book, which she both wrote and illustrated herself.

Crossland is a fashion designer – one whose career is clearly on the rise. She is currently occupied with her newest label, “Samantha Rei,” which she launched in 2013. Most recently, she debuted her Spring/Summer 2016 line, “Ruby, Opal, Pearl” during Fashion Week Minnesota on Sept. 25 in Minneapolis. The collection is inspired by her great-grandmother Ruby and a need to connect with her heritage.

But Crossland didn’t always want to be a fashion designer.

“Weirdly, it was kind of an accident,” she said. “I wanted to be an illustrator when I was a kid.”

She and her family moved to Hastings when she was 4 years old. When she was in middle school here, her father introduced her to comic books, she said. On Saturday mornings, she and her brothers would watch the Saturday morning cartoons together, and then her brothers and her dad would go out. She, however, would stay home and ended up watching the fashion shows that came on after the cartoons. When she was 13, she started sewing under the guidance of her mother. Still, as she progressed through school, it was the art classes that attracted her attention and she took as many as she could.

Crossland left Hastings during her senior year of high school. She had been bullied a lot, she said, and got an opportunity to attend the Perpich Center for Arts Education. She jumped at the chance to not only escape the bullying but also to advance her artistic training while finishing high school.

After graduation, she went on to the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. After one year of art school, she transferred to Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

She considered fashion school, but most fashion schools were either too far away or too expensive, she explained. Her would-be husband was also attending culinary school here, and then there was the Great Recession.

“I couldn’t justify leaving,” she said.

Now, though, she’s happy to still be here and represent her home.

“I am head over heels in love with the Twin Cities,” she said, and, as an extra bonus, it’s a good place to be working in fashion.

“At this point, our fashion scene in the Twin Cities is booming. We’re doing amazing, big things. We’re picking up where Chicago left off 10 years ago.”

The business

Crossland was just 20 years old when she started her fashion business. She was a fan of Japanese pop culture and her mother was a fan of Victorian fashion, so it’s no surprise that Crossland found her niche in Lolita fashion, a Japanese street fashion inspired by the Victorian period.

“That was my niche for about 13 years,” she said.

Her first label was Blasphemina’s Closet, which brought Lolita fashion to the U.S.

“I was one of the first Lolita labels in the United States,” she said.

Two and a half years ago, she rebranded herself, ending the Blasphemina’s Closet label and launching Samantha Rei. Her current designs are more modern and more accessible, she said, but she hasn’t given up on the feminine, modest style that she’s become well known for.

Ultimately, Crossland works to make people feel beautiful.

“It shouldn’t be about what someone views them as,” she said. “A person’s worth shouldn’t be what the person on the street thinks they look like.”

And while awards and accolades are nice, those aren’t what motivate her. It’s the notes from her customers, the stories people share with her about how her clothing makes them feel.

“I feel really humbled by it,” she said. “I want to help them feel the way I did not feel growing up. And I want to be a part of it. I don’t necessarily want thanks or accolades… I just want to help.”

Of course, becoming a successful designer hasn’t come easy.

“Fashion is a really tough industry to make it,” Crossland said.

She’s seen incredibly talented designers who have yet to be discovered, she said, and others who are still learning the trade but happened to meet the right person to give them a foothold in the industry.

“It’s about patience,” she said. “You have to be so patient because it is so much work. … Fashion shows are work. Parties are work. You have to be on and you have to be talking to people and constantly talking up your work.”

At this point, all of Crossland’s work is made personally by herself and a handful of interns. Ideally, she wants to create a production facility dedicated to making her designs – although she would still be directly involved in the entire process as she is now.

She is also working on a sub-label with a friend, she said, which she’s excited to announce sometime in the (hopefully) near future.

The book

On Oct. 10, Crossland will be celebrating the release of her book, “Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration,” which she both wrote and illustrated. Although she has never been a steampunk designer, there’s a certain similarity between that and Lolita, so she was approached to write a book.

She had written and illustrated a comic book before, she said, but this was a unique project.

“I’m used to drawing for myself and making things in three dimensions,” she said. “I make clothes, I make things with my hands.”

So it was strange to find herself sitting at a desk for hours on end, drawing and working on the computer.

The release party is set for Oct. 10 at Clubhouse Jäger in Minneapolis. Crossland will be signing books during the event.

Support

Crossland’s parents are still in Minnesota, although they don’t live in Hastings anymore. Their support has helped her achieve her dreams.

“They are my biggest cheerleaders,” she said.

She considers herself lucky, thanks to the support of her husband and family and a lot of “really amazing patrons,” she said.

“I’m really happy I got to do the thing I wanted to do with my life. … I get to have fun and make beautiful art that goes on people.”

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